It was a Sunday afternoon. There had still been no mail from my boss. I was out on the streets. The sun was out in the sky. And there was a song in my heart. For the first time while on a project I had taken time out to come sight-seeing. And even the name Forbidden City held some kind of a forbidden charm.
“Where you from?” My reverie was interrupted by a singsong Chinese feminine voice.
I turned around to see a smartly dressed woman.
“I am from India?”
“India? That is a nice country. You come here for vacation?”
Sigh! How I wish I were. But not for the middle class the pleasures of foreign vacations.
“No. I am on work. Just had the weekend off. So came to see around.”
“That is nice. I too am here on vacation.”
Excuse me! You too? Who else is on vacation? Anyways sarcasm is not your best friend when you are sightseeing in a foreign country.
“But, aren’t you Chinese?”
“Yes – but from different city.”
“Shall we hire a guide and see around together?”
This was an interesting proposition. Isn’t that the solitary male traveler’s fantasy – finding an interesting female companion to see around with. Anyways I was old and married and all that. So that probably wouldn’t apply to me. Or should I say shouldn't? Still meeting and getting to know foreigners was something, wasn’t it? Conversing and getting to know various cultures, broadening your horizons and all the other good stuff– isn’t that what travel is all about? Hadn’t I always wished I could socialize with random strangers during travels as they show in movies? Here was an opportunity serve on a golden platter.
“I inquired with people. They said there is nothing to see till five. We have an hour to kill. Why don’t we have a drink?”
It was quite cold and I could do with a cup of hot chocolate. But I had just got here – I wanted to at least see something before I went indoors. In a place where sunshine is limited, it would be criminal to waste those precious hours of sunshine indoors.
“Isn’t there something we can see before five?”
“No. There is nothing. Let us come back at five. Come with me. Let us have a drink.”
She was pointing in the opposite direction. I am generally a very pliable and accommodating person. But at times I have these stubborn moments. Something told me I didn’t want to turn back.
“Isn’t there a place to drink that way?” I asked pointing ahead.
“No. There is nothing that way.”
What was I to do? Here was my irrational stubbornness arraigned against an opportunity to make friends with a local at a foreign country. Places, I could see pictures of even on the internet. Meeting people was the key and I was letting a golden opportunity slip by. Maybe this stubbornness was my mind’s way of resisting a new experience. Was this why I never tended to make so many friends? I needed to change and become more sociable. Haven’t people been telling me this from childhood?
“Hm… I think you should go ahead for the drink. I will move on.”
A disappointed expression came over her face as she turned around and walked on. She did not try to convince me to come with her. She had accepted my no with dignity. I was immediately filled with regret. But what was done was done. No crying over spilt milk. Anyways I did not have much time, I convinced myself. I could not have afforded to spend some of my limited time inside a coffee shop or wherever she intended to take me.
I walked around Tiananmen Square clicking some selfies and some non selfies with my mobiles. What do you call the usual pictures taken with mobile anyway? I tried to figure the maps and made my way towards what looked like the entrance to the Forbidden City. I would not have time to explore inside. Probably I could just have a look at it from outside.
As I entered the passage that I hoped would lead me to the Forbidden City, I hear a sing song voice. “Where you from?”