The curls dance on her forehead, wild and untamed, to the rhythm of an autumn zephyr. She spreads the blanket and sits down leaning against a rugose pine tree. The earth is still soggy from last night’s rain; she sinks her palm into the dewy grass and her short red nails sparkle in the sunshine. She sees him in the distance walking towards her, carrying the lunch basket from the car. She tries to remember the last time they were alone, undisturbed and with ample time.
It was two months ago when he got a day off from work and had ordered lunch from the Chinese eatery near his home, eating spoonfuls of oily noodles from each other’s plates, and they had let the sauce dry on the dishes as they talked for hours comparing notes on their childhood, travels and books. Later they sat cross-legged on the rug watching Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, and at dusk he had kissed her for the first time, as they stood on the balcony and watched the sun go down in the distant hills. They talk on the phone every night, pass each other in the hospital corridors, share rushed lunches in the canteen, strain to hear each other’s voices in crowded cafes on weekends, and feel the quiet assurance of interlinked fingers as he drives her home after long days at work.
He suggested the picnic two weeks ago but had to wait for their work leaves to coincide. He picked her up at five in the morning and had stood grinning as her father shouted a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ from the second floor balcony. They rolled down the windows, fought about the choice of car music, bought bottles of water from a shop on the highway, sneaked sidelong glances at each other when they were overcome with sudden bouts of coyness and tried to mask the shiver of excitement on their first outing together. He swerved the car through the narrow hill roads and after a few hours stopped near a forest resplendent with dappled autumn foliage.
He flops down on the blanket and she takes the basket from him. She notices with some amusement the work he has put into planning this picnic; carefully folded napkins, sandwiches with neatly removed crusts, snacks with hummus dip, cream puffs, three apples, a pulp fiction novella, an iPod dock, a camera, two wine glasses and a bottle of red. She plucks twigs of grass, aware of his eyes on her. He laughs at her discomfiture, stops the assault on the grass and takes her hands into his.
They laugh at the awkwardness of being a new couple, and decide not to let it mar their day. They explore the nearby woods; run their fingers over moss-covered tree trunks, photograph leafy canopies, soak in the sunshine and dip their bare feet in a stream that runs through the woods. On the walk back they come upon a pair of brown puppies curled up on a rock and sunning themselves. He picks one up for her and she recoils in fear; and it is then he learns about the day when she stepped on the tail of a neighbour’s dog with hitherto unused fangs! With mock solemnity he speaks of discarding his plans of rearing eight full-grown Alsatian dogs in their home. She blushes at this offhand remark of setting up a home together, in a future of yet unspoken promises and possibilities.
At brunch they are ravenous and the sandwiches, cream puffs and apples disappear fast. He puts on some music and they read out passages from the 1930s hard-boiled detective story populated with ‘moustache-twirling, cat-loving, trigger-happy’ gangsters and sly, buxom molls who are secret agents in disguise! The racy narrative and the absurd characters delight them, and their laughter scares away a pair of birds from the tree under which they lay sprawled. His fingers brushes away the curls that hide her eyes from him and they watch in companionable solitude the blue shards of skies through a cover of pine leaves.
He tells her about his dog, his first car, his old school, his brother and a predictable Star Wars obsession. She tells him about her total lack of cooking skills, early morning swims and her fascination for Pamuk and Nabokov. Later, her cheeks are flushed, and she can’t tell if it is the jubilation bubbling in her heart or the wine.
They pack up the blanket in the basket and walk towards the car. She doesn’t want the day to end, and trails behind him. He turns back to look at her and she knows he feels the same, and her heart overflows with endearment. On the drive back home they park the car on the side of a busy road and watch the sun go down behind a grove of trees and the birds returning home in the evening sky.