By T. Dasu
Stephen couldn’t reconcile the girl in front of him with the picture his boss had painted. George must have been crazy. Did he seriously expect this girl to go to hostile, remote places in Pakistan? It would be madness to send her out to hobnob with spies, informants, and jihadis. She could barely walk in the sun.
“She can help us,” George had said. “She speaks Hindi, Gujarati, and Urdu. She works for BigSearch, Inc., and as a part of her job travels to remote villages - particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan, near the Indo-Pak border. They’re popular points of entry for terrorists, second only to the Kashmir border. And nobody would suspect her! Her boss swears by her smarts. She is exactly what we need.”
She might be sharp, but she was not their type at all. Deceit and distrust were prerequisites of the life of an undercover CIA agent. She hadn’t shown either of those traits.
He pushed his plate away and settled back on the beach blanket, his hands under his head for support. George had said to find out if she had met Tariq Rehman, the Pakistani writer. Rehman was traveling quite a bit lately. He had been spotted by electronic eyes at crowded venues all over the world - at airports, sporting events and music festivals - within hours of sightings of suspected terrorists at those very locations. And now Rehman and Sid seemed to have become best buddies. They talked several times a day. George wanted to know about what.
“I’m going to take a nap,” Stephen said.
Really? Nina was taken aback. What kind of date was this?
“It’s too hot right now. We have another hour before it cools down.” He glanced at his watch. “We can see the lighthouse and head out to the open sea for the sunset after that. There are newspapers and magazines in the gym bag if you’d like to read.”
He saw the look on her face and laughed. “Trust me. You won’t last until sunset without a nap. I highly recommend one.” With that he covered his face with a newspaper and fell asleep almost instantly.
Nina shook her head. What was the point of going all the way there to take a nap like a couple of toddlers? She fished for the New York Times in the gym bag. It was surprisingly heavy when she tried to push it away. What did he have in it, a nuclear reactor? She threw the pillow on it and leaned against it to read.
***When Stephen woke up, the day was cooler, the sun less fierce and much lower in the sky. Nina had fallen asleep despite scoffing at his advice. He rolled over on his belly to take a closer look at her. She wore no makeup. Her skin was the color of molten honey with a faint blush from the heat and wine. Large eyelids lay closed under long, arching brows. It was a tranquil, contented face; her lips curved with the hint of a smile even in sleep.
He remained like that for a few minutes with his face barely inches away from hers. A faint perfume rose and ebbed with her breathing. He had a wicked impulse to kiss her. But his inherent decency prevailed, and he rolled away and sat up. His eyes were instantly drawn to her feet. Earlier he had watched surreptitiously while she’d removed her shoes and her feet emerged, soft and brown, with glorious metallic-peach nails - a welcome surprise given how severe the rest of her outfit was.
“Nina,” he said loudly. “Wake up.”
She woke with a start. Stephen was squatting on his heels next to her. She sat up and straightened herself. It was embarrassing beyond words, not to mention shocking, that she had fallen asleep within feet of him.
“There’s a restroom in the lighthouse if you’d like to freshen up.” He broke into a wide grin and discomposed her even more. She looked away quickly. He was different when he smiled - younger and not so hard edged, almost charming.
They climbed the rough-hewn rock steps to the lighthouse. It wasn’t very tall. Inside, a spiral staircase led to the top, where a makeshift viewing platform encircled the lighthouse.
The view was breathtaking. To the left the bay stretched out to the town they had left behind earlier that morning. In front of them and to the right, the open sea shimmered. The sun had acquired an orange glow as it made its slow descent in the west. Seabirds rode invisible air currents and glided past their heads.
Stephen looked at the boats that plied the ocean below and began to whistle an old rowing song his grandfather had taught him. Could it be that he was actually happy? When was the last time that had happened? More than twenty years ago, when his grandfather was still alive, and his parents, although alienated and distrustful, still lived under the same roof.
“Look.” He grabbed Nina’s arm. “Dolphins!” He took a pair of compact binoculars from his pocket, unfolded them, and gave them to her.
He turned her impatiently by the shoulders to point her in the right direction. The dolphins must have just had a good meal. They were lively and playful. They circled, jumped, and rolled, solo and in pairs.
Nina forgot her fear and leaned precariously over the rail with the binoculars. “Oh my God, they’re beautiful!”
They shared the binoculars and took turns watching the dolphins. They didn’t notice how low the sun had sunk in the meantime.
“We should leave,” Stephen said abruptly.
They raced down the stairs, packed their things, and boarded the boat. It chugged along slowly into the open water, where they could get a clear view of the sun’s disappearing into the fiery ocean.
Stephen killed the motor. The boat rocked gently with the waves. They were bathed in the glow of the sun and the sea. It was a spectacular show - the water swallowed the orange orb bit by bit until there was only a ghostly, crepuscular light left in the sky.
Stephen turned the boat around and headed back to town. Lights came on one by one along the shore, and dusk gave way to a star-filled sky. Neither he nor Nina uttered a word.
He returned the boat to the marina, and they walked home in continued silence, completely contented. When they got to Stephen’s dock, Nina stretched out her hand.
“Thank you. I had an absolutely fantastic time.”
He took her hand but, instead of shaking it, leaned forward on an impulse and kissed her - a soft, long kiss on the lips. She was startled. There had been no hint or warning.
“I should go,” she said quietly.
“Of course.” He released her and buried his hands deep in his pockets.
The moon shone down on her as she walked back to the Alis’ place with her head bowed. When she got to the door, she turned around to see if he was still there. He was.
Excerpted from the book SPY, INTERRUPTED: THE WAITING WIFE by T. Dasu. Copyright © 2015 by T. Dasu. Reprinted with permission of IndiaWrites Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.