Modern adventures of an ordinary girl

Prologue

“We are not going there, the man is obviously a drug peddler,” I told my roommate and friend, even as Mitu shuffled around the hotel room, looking for her heels.

We were in Miami — I had moved to the United States on a work gig and a search for a housemate had led me to Mitu. My advert had called for a female, Indian (who else is going to tolerate the smell of turmeric, coconut, and other spices in the kitchen?) working roomie who could share the rent and was otherwise free of hangups.

Queries started coming in soon after the online post hit Craigslist. Only, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that most “working Indians” in the US were IT professionals, and the lion’s share of them were in the land of opportunities to scrimp and save as much money as they could before they could return home. Not exactly the kind of company I was seeking. I wanted to live, to see places, and make memories.

The first girl who walked in was a vegetarian. I am a Bengali, and a bona fide fish and meat loving one at that. One can imagine how that went.

The second girl came dressed in a Salwar suit, with a strong smell of coconut oil wafting from her as she walked into the living room. Now, this was downtown Chicago — the midwest of the United States. This was a workday — I pulled very early hours and got done by 4, and this girl had texted to say she would come straight from work. Who goes to work in Chicago wearing Salwar suits and drenched in coconut oil? On a regular weekday?

But I immediately scolded myself for giving in to superfluous, judgemental thoughts, and decided to give it a fair chance. After all, I can spend entire weekends in pajamas, binging on Netflix, not showering.

“Hey, so this is the house. It has only one bedroom, but there are two beds in there. You can take the one I’m not using. I have Wifi, cable and Netflix, and you are free to use the kitchen and everything else as you want. And I know your office, it’s just three stops on the Redline,” I chirped.

“Yes, thanks. I can keep my utensils and grocery separate if you want.”

What? I just said…. That’s the first thing she has to say? Ok, nevermind.

“So, what do you do on weekends? You said you’ve been here a year, so you must have done quite a lot of traveling?”

“Not really. I don’t go out. I haven’t travelled at all. My uncle and his family live in Naperville, I go there.”

All weekends for the entire year, I wondered. “Do you have friends? I sometimes have friends come over. Yours can too, no problem!”

“There are no Indians in my division, so I didn’t make any friends,” said the girl. And it was then that I knew that I could never bunk with her.

The third girl had given my shorts-clad legs such a look of disapproval I felt like I was walking down time-warped India of the 80s. Or Jackson Heights in New York. Or Keshavganj, the small Indian town I had grown up in — and god knows I hadn’t moved out of there to get judged for wearing shorts inside my own home. That’s why, when Mitu responded to my email, I only halfheartedly invited her over for a look-see.

When the bell rang, I was prepared for another disappointment, and ready to make peace with the fact that I won’t really find a roomie. It wasn’t like I needed the money, though it wouldn’t hurt to have more in the bank. The hunt was more for the company — coming back to an empty apartment day after day can get very tiring, no matter how many dinners and drinks and engagements you go to. And one can’t read or stream online all the time.

Mitu, Mitali Mahajan, was friendly, did not judge my clothes, did not spend all weekends at her uncle’s, and did not reek of coconut, or any other oil. She was…. for want of a better word, normal. Normal, like how one would expect a working girl in her late twenties to be. And, oh joy, she was part-Bengali. She had moved to Phoenix some years back to work, but was in Chicago for a year-long work project. And she had the toned body of a cross between an athlete and a model, which immediately made me conscious of my rice-eating self.

“I’m mostly out, travelling for work all week. It’s just the weekends I’ll really be in,” Mitu had said, in a very strong American accent. (International school in India, years in Arizona, and a job as a public relations agent, she explained when I couldn’t control my curiosity and asked).

Mitu had quickly settled in and we had become friends. We ate aloo poshto and maach (when we could find it) for lunch, went out for drinks, talked about our families and boyfriends and lived the proverbial life of two single women living by themselves in a big American city.

Now, we were in the middle of our first fight. We had travelled to Miami, unable to take the dreary Chicago winter any more, and Mitu had gotten talking to a bunch of men who had claimed the table next to us at Mr Chow. There was the usual light conversation, and the exchanging of numbers, followed by quintessential American “nice to meet yous.” Only now, he had texted her with an invite to a party at his place, which my middle class Indian mind had filed under “obviously ignore.”

And so I had changed for bed.

“We turned in early yesterday, Pritha. We did your thing. Why can’t we do my thing today? We are on a vacation in Miami. Even the restaurants don’t open before 12 in the afternoon!”

Mithu’s words were getting heated by the second, and I could feel my own temper rise. This guy was not my idea of a fun hangout. And come one, looks couldn’t be all that deceptive. Who wears a baseball hat backwards, dangles gold chains, walks around like Snoop Dogg, and texts random women to come to his house for a party late at night?

But then, Mitu’s points were valid. We were on vacation, and we did do “my thing” the first night. Which was basically scoping out the hot bars littering the beach, having a delicious dinner of lobsters and other Instagram worthy food accompanied by some strong cocktails, and then heading home to sink in the luxuriousness of the hotel bed. Barring the one instance where the maitre d had come up to say I couldn’t take off my shoes even though I was sitting, and the high heels were killing me, it had all been very enjoyable.

“Snap out, Priya,” I told myself. “You obviously can’t let her go to this party alone, so better get out of bed.” To be honest, it wasn’t all my sense of duty for my friend. By now, my curiosity was piqued… if we didn’t have adventures now, when would we?

After bargaining that we wouldn’t carry swimming costumes — my way of putting my foot down to say we can look, but will not get in random people’s pools — I got dressed.

Fifteen minutes later, we were Ubering to a noticeably tony neighbourhood of South Miami, where the houses looked like they were sets on a television show. Front and back yards, garages that could hold four cars, and private pools with every property.

Turned out, it was Miami Snoop Dogg’s birthday (or at least, that’s what he claimed). There was a hot tub with the pool, and a bunch of young women (and some men) milling around the house, pouring in and out of the many bedrooms. Some were naked.

In the middle of the party, a girl suddenly took off her bikini, padded out of the pool, and started slow dancing with a frosted glass wall. I pride myself on not being a prude, but this threw me off completely. Unable to join in the clapping and cheering, I slinked away, looking for Mitu. She was still in the pool, dipping her feet in and sharing stories and more did the rounds.

I hit the home bar, which could put any middling pub in Bangalore to shame. Miami Snoop Dogg materialized from somewhere and poured me a drink.

And then, just like that, he told me me he was related to Pablo Escobar. I saw Mitu walk up to us, in time to hear that last bit of conversation. We quickly resorted to Bengali.

“Listen, I don’t want to end up dead in this house. Or go to jail with these guys.”

“Did he just say Escobar? Also, your eyes are quite red, by the way.”

“You’re one to speak. Can you believe this? Could this be more cliched?”

“I know, right? We are in Miami, and of course the rich guy throwing the crazy party is related to Escobar.”

“I think he means for it to be a pick up line.”

“Most probably. But hey, do you really want to stay and find out?”

“Ladies, I know you aren’t like the other girls here. Listen, I know how to respect women. Why don’t you stay over for the night, and I’ll get one of my valets to drop you off to your hotel first thing in the morning. It’s only a few hours now, anyway,” our host slurred. There’s a universality in the spoken language, rather, in its tone, that lets us understand if something is off, even if we don’t really understand the language. Our conversation was clearly giving of minor distress signals.

20 minutes later, we were back at our hotel, somewhat relieved, but also laughing about our little adventure/misadventure.

“I told you, this wasn’t a good idea girl.”

“Oh shut up. Now we have stories to tell our grandchildren.”