A Russian Tea Date in the Himalayas

daniel adler travelLast post I mentioned a Russian girl I had kissed on the cheek. Now I will tell the story.

Four nights ago, as I was brushing my teeth I heard a very strange sound from the bathroom. It was between a deep gagging and a cough. Brush in mouth I walked into the shower and saw the haunches of a girl. They belonged to one I had seen around, taller, blonde, attractive. She might be German, I had thought. I resolved to talk to her, to ask why the hell she was making that hideous sound.

I was just about to begin my flossing routine when she walked out, toothbrush in hand. “Hey, why were you in there?”
“Warm water.”
“Where are you from?”
“Moscow.” I walked over to her. Her straw-colored hair was pulled back from her round broad face, from which she wiped water. Her blue eyes were deep-set, and her thin lips anchored the lower half of her well-defined face. She wore an athletic jacket over a flat chest and wide swimmer’s shoulders. In the dim fluorescent light, with the dark behind her, there was something intensely intimate about the scene, as though we could have been the only ones in a Hitchcock motel.
“Moscow’s crazy,” I said. She shrugged.
“What’s your name?” This is always a good sign.
“Daniel. Yours?”
“Nice to meet you.” She held out a delicate hand, with fingers not long. “How long have you been in India?”
“I’m here for five months. Last year I was here for nine months.”
“Nice! I’ve been traveling four months, and I’ll go another eight. What do you do here?”
“I do yoga and volunteer.”
“Do you volunteer with the Tibetan ex-political prisoners?”
“No, I volunteer with children.” Her English was good. “What about you? I always see you alone.”
“I am alone because I am a writer. I sit on my veranda and write.”
“A writer?” She leaned against the wall, and passed her thin, small hand over her mouth, showing me tiny pink nails. The bathroom doors behind us closed, first one, then the other. I denied myself the urge to turn around to see who it was. Our conversation could easily become guest house gossip. They were probably taking note, thinking about how bathroom meetings could bring people together and imagining the romance that would follow. Or maybe that was just me.

“Do you write?”
“I’m a journalist. I mean, I don’t write for a newspaper, but I blog and that kind of thing.”
I knew we were made for each other. I had been waiting for a woman like her. Now if I could only lure her into my room…
“Cool. Do you want to talk about it over some vodka?”
“Ha! Vodka, I don’t know why you think I would drink vodka–”
“It’s your national drink.”
“It’s our national drink, but I don’t drink. Since the New Year’s. And I never liked vodka to begin with.”
“Oh. Sorry. I only ask because I bought a bottle in Poland and I’ve been wanting to get rid of it.”
“Oh, you have vodka? I see.” We stared at each other in comfortable silence.
“You are a strong woman. For not drinking.”
“No. Not strong.”
“I think so. I tried not drinking at a party last week.”
“What party?”
“A party with a bunch of Americans and TIbetans. There are no Americans here; they’re all in Mcleoudganj. And when I got there, I thought I wouldn’t drink. I was like the only sober one. I wasn’t having much fun. Everyone was talking and I was just watching. So I decided to get drunk. And pretty soon I was laughing with everyone, we were talking, I was making friends. It was great.”
We both laughed. Then we stared at each other for a time that would have made another most people uncomfortable. “I’m sorry I keep staring. You are a fine woman. It’s nice to look at you.” She smiled and shook her head. I remembered I was still holding my floss in two hands, in the pre-floss position. “Do you want to keep talking after I finish flossing?”
“I am going to bed soon.”
“Ah, you’re going to bed. Well, what are you doing tomorrow?”
“Yoga and volunteering, but I am free in the evening.”
“Do you want to get dinner?”
“I usually make my food here because I eat raw foods.”
“But maybe I can have a salad or we can have a tea together.”
“That would be nice.” We stared at each other again, and I felt, absurdly, the beginnings of an erection. I thought about kissing her.  I realized if I was thinking it she was too. “Do you mind if I kiss you good night?”

I leaned in and she turned her cheek. I felt its downy softness against my lips. I pulled back and she backed up nervously when she realized that I was not satisfied. I turned her head and kissed the other cheek. It wasn’t as prolonged a kiss, nor was it as delicate and serene. “You are a fine woman.” She backed up and smiling, shook her head again. “See you tomorrow.”

Our tea date never came off. The next morning was overcast. I saw Shira after I showered. He asked me about the Russian girl since it was Junko who had gone to the bathroom while we were talking. As his wife, she had obviously told him. As he mentioned her, I turned to see Anna walking down the concrete steps to her room. She was wearing violet pants, a gray sweatshirt, and she held spinach in her hands. We made sustained eye contact until she dropped her glance before walking behind the water closet. I figured she’d soon be making lunch.

From my veranda I can easily see the kitchen. Sure enough, she was there. I took the path through the garden, to talk to her. She was standing at the kitchen table, and she didn’t notice me until I said hello. She was washing spinach leaves individually in a small tin cup. We made chitchat until she moved into the kitchen, cutting up a mango for her raw salad shake. Her neck made me want to reach for her and kiss it. Her hips, undulating from her gray tanktop into her violet pants made me want to put my arms around her and nuzzle her back. I asked her about her weird diet and her yoga class as she squatted to use the blender on the ground. Squatting seemed to be natural for her. She began to answer, then stopped while she blended. After the blender stopped, she stood and asked, what do you do?

“For lunch?”

“During the day.” I told her my routine as she pushed the pulpy yellow mango from the rind onto her plate. An Israeli appeared behind us. She asked if we worked here. As if white people would work at this guest house. Anna said no, but she could make chai. That was all she knew how to make. And the Israeli accepted! She said, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but the invitation had been made. I stood watching her open the cupboard. “You’re so nice,” I said. Now that she had a job to do, she couldn’t be bothered with me. The kitchen was too crowded with both of us in it. She was looking for the chai with the ginger and the cardamom. “Do you want me to get out of your way?” I said.

“I don’t feel…” she trailed off, still looking for something. “Okay, I’ll see ya later,” I said and walked around the seating area and through the grasses to my veranda. I watched her bitterly, silently cursing the Israeli who had destroyed the slight intimacy I had been trying to recreate from the night before.

After this event I kind of forgot about Anna. I told Shira about it and he summed it up beautifully: “Cold Russians.” I figured she was too weird and I set about living.

The other night I went to sleep early because I wasn’t feeling well. I woke up when some punk kid opened my unlocked door. “Hey beat it!” I shouted throatily. She closed the door. Since I was awake I decided to get out of bed to pee. From the steps I heard that sound– that glandular hawk and spit. At first I didn’t realize it was Anna, I thought it might be some kind of animal, but when I saw her I chuckled. “Well, well, well,” I said. She was willing to chat. It seemed I had been a bit hasty in my judgement of her cool behavior toward me. We talked a little about our plans for tomorrow, Sunday. I said if you go to the waterfall let me know. She agreed and went her way.

Now I realize that I was on my period last week, which is why I felt insanely attracted to Coral, and why I had to kiss Anna good night. No longer bloated, I am able to think about women from a neutral perspective. And so…

Last night Shira and I were talking on the patio. I was looking out at the mountain, leaning on a teal-painted column. His vantage included the bathroom. He stuck his tongue out and raised his eyebrows. “The Russian girl.” I turned to see her blond ponytail and red-dressed back enter the bathroom. When she emerged, as usual, we had a bathroom conversation. I asked her what she did today.
“We went to the waterfall.”
“And you didn’t tell me?!”
“It was the baby waterfall.”
“Oh.” Anyone could go to the baby waterfall; it was man made. I think. She excused herself before she blew her nose into her hand and washed it. I had come to expect this– it was partly her gross bodily sounds and the physical nature of the body and all that’s associated to bathroom routines which attracted me to her and defined our relationship. I said, “I wonder Anna, what it would be like to have a conversation away from the bathroom.”
“We’re going to Tom Yam…”
“Yes, my brother and mother and I, to check our e-mails. If you’d like you can come.” I pondered having a date with Anna and her family, and realized maybe that was her test– if I could take her family, I could take her. I was ready.

I said, “I’ll be right back,” which she didn’t understand, so using my finger to point here, I said, “I’ll see you here. I went to my room for my computer and waited on their patio for their door to open. Her little brother came out, a cute blond little boy of eight, with an iPad and a stuffed animal. His name was William. If you’re good with her little brother, you’re good with her. We sat on the veranda step in the twilight. He showed me his zombie iPad games. One of the Indian babies, attracted to the iPad’s glow, joined us, pointing and repeating, “This,” one of the few English words he knows. He had a toy monster truck, Hot Wheels size. I thought about the dichotomy between these two toys and the children who played with them…

Then Anna’s door opened. I stood. Her mother was tall and slender, blonde, blue-eyed, with high cheekbones and a pouty lower lip. She was hotter than Anna. She wore a trendy sweatshirt with black and white letters on it and introduced herself to me as Irina. She seemed slightly bored. I was intimidated by her, so I let her and Anna walk ahead, and I stayed behind with William.

At Tom Yam Thai, we sat on the covered pillows. After a slight pause in figuring out where to sit, I was going to sit next to Irina. But she wanted William to sit next to her. I paused in my intention and rerouted to sit next to Anna. The owner brought Anna a knife and plate, as though he knew what to expect, and Anna took out a couple of mangoes. She offered. I said I didn’t want to take her dinner. But no! She’s stopped her raw food diet. I accepted. Again, I was embarrassed by my inability to eat with my hands. Seeing how helpless I was, she showed me how to turn the skin inside out in order to get the meat. These were perfectly ripe, sweet, deliciously juicy mangoes. I watched Anna suck on the rind, getting every bit of mango off, and lick her fingers. I was thinking that a woman eating mangoes was supposed to be sexy, but something in Anna’s perfunctory nature almost the opposite. I left some meat on my slice, afraid that by putting the rind entirely in my mouth I could contract a disease specific to Indian fruit rinds. I folded it so she wouldn’t see how much I left, or worse, did like Shira and put my scraps in her mouth.

Camron is my favorite waiter and he came around for our order. He has asked me for help with his Swedish girlfriend, who’s thirteen years his senior and who believes herself to be only eight years older; who he impregnated and loves madly; and who is his one small chance of escaping from India. We each ordered a tea. When Anna’s came she said it tasted like garlic, like maybe they used a garlicky knife to cut the ginger. I said send it back. She said nah. Her mother drank one cup and wanted another. She called Camron over and he asked if everything was all right. She said no, I want hot water for this tea bag, and slammed (unintentionally?) the glass on the table. “What is this?” Camron said, and slammed the glass on the table. “I want hot water for this tea bag,” she said. Suddenly all the focus in the empty restaurant turned to Irina and Camron. “Is that all right?” she said. He took the glass ignoring her. “Is that all right?” Anna yelled after him.

These Russians. So… authoritative. So… not in the mood for bullshit. It turned me on. Anna unwrapped chocolates and cake she had bought earlier. She stood to take a call on Skype, leaving me with her mother. We chatted. She asked me where I was educated, and I felt like I was being interviewed.  She tilted her head to one side when I mentioned I studied philosophy. She told me that William was born in Portugal and her husband, not Anna’s father, is British. He works in hotels, for Hilton, Marriott. Irina seemed to like me. I liked her. I briefly imagined her cheating on Anna’s step-father with me, but sidelined this thought for Anna’s sake. Camron came back with her tea. She smiled obsequiously at him, but he didn’t notice or seem to care. William distracted me, and Irina, bored now that I was no longer paying her attention, stood to leave; she had taken the night bus yesterday and was very tired. As she left, it occurred to me that she hadn’t left any money, which meant that she expected me to pay for herself and her daughter.

Camron came over to clear out table. “These people, where did you find them?”

“They’re from my guest house.”

“I don’t like them.”

Anna came back from her Skype call. She and I talked briefly about Russian literature and how the language is not as “literaturny” as it was before the Revolution. But she grew annoyed at being unable to express herself in English. Because she’s so Russian, it seemed like she blamed me for it, as though it were my fault I didn’t speak Russian and for punishment, she was going to end our conversation. She got a text inviting her to a guided dance class tomorrow at 7 for $4, where they tell you how to dance in a meditative style– like pretend you’re an animal, or scream and be yourself, etc. It sounded interesting and I imagined how good a blog post it would make.

William and I played around the way big brothers and little brothers do. Anna lay down. I could tell she was tired. I said let’s go. The bill was 100 rupees and I only had 100. I gave it to Camron before  Anna could produce any money and she looked at me in surprise, but didn’t offer me anything. I wasn’t sure if it was tacky for her mother to assume I would pay, or if it was part of her approving my courtship of her daughter. Maybe she had forgotten altogether about paying. Is such a tactic specifically Russian? As we walked down the path and to Anna’s room, I felt the nervous reluctance that comes the moment before a first kiss, but this lasted only a moment. Her little brother was there. I wasn’t going to try anything in front of him, even though she probably wouldn’t have minded– she was sixteen years older. I said good night, see you tomorrow and wondered if I would see her tomorrow, as well as how long her mother was staying in her room, and whether if I did see her again in an intimate setting, I’d be able to kiss her.

Why do men have to initiate the kiss? She’s the kind of woman I’m afraid to initiate it with, although she did let me kiss her cheek when we first met, although she didn’t want me to kiss the other cheek. I walked to the bathroom with William following me. He asked me to hold his iPad but I made a face and he said fine. He announced when he was finished and said good night. I walked to my room, wondering if the next time I’d see Anna would be in front of a bathroom.

That first meeting we had– that was unique. What happened? Watching Anna eat that mango should have been sexy; we should have been able to click over tea; I should feel more attracted to her, but I can only think about how I don’t want to go to that absurd dance class, and how flat-chested she is, and how Shira called her Cold. It was an adventure having tea with her and her family, but the reason I’m still in the Himalayas is I’m taking a break from adventures.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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