The Played by Reena Kapoor

Panting, he reached the theatre’s grand double door. The usher at the door looked sympathetic but wouldn’t let him in, “Sorry Sir, the play started. You’re going to have to wait for the next break when there’s a set change. You’re lucky they’re allowing latecomers at all. Should be about 20 minutes…” He exhaled slowly and nodded at the usher. 

But his mind was racing. She was going to be upset! Usually her texts started about an hour before the event. Surprise! She hadn’t texted him at all. Oh well! She’s probably livid or just made peace. He chuckled at that. At least he always showed up. That was a promise he’d made to himself. Life lessons he’d noted from his father who boasted about his masterful “work-life balance”. Well almost, because his mother died rather young so was it really…? Anyway!

 He walked over to the concessional and bought himself a beer. Might as well make use of the time. And get ready for the third degree that was coming. Surely she had to understand his schedule by now. After all, they had been dating for over a year. Well, let’s just play it cool. And see where it goes… Hopefully not like the blow up three months ago when she’d walked out. It had taken him a week of flowers to win her back. Yeah, but she was worth it. Except for this timeliness madness. Tap tap tap. His foot needed to stop. The usher was calling him. What, 20 minutes already? You see?! Where does the bloody time go?

“Can I see your ticket, Sir? 4G-12. So, go right into this section to row G. It’s the sixth one from the front. There is no row A. Then enter your row to the right. Just count down from 15. I can see your empty seat,” the usher rattled off pointing inside. 

He dove into the dark theater. They could have let one light come on if they were allowing in latecomers, he thought hurrying. Figures in black were dashing about changing the set on stage. He felt like all eyes were on him. He reached the row and saw her. She was talking to the guy next to her, who looked over at him trying to squeeze into the row. Then she turned to look towards him. She was smiling as if she’d been enjoying a joke with the guy. She gave a small wave. Gorgeous, as always!

 He reached her and sat down and leaned over to kiss her. She kissed him back. What?! No anger, not even a hint? Is the new play putting her in a good mood? Or maybe… Well, whatever it is, I’m good with it! He settled in his seat and sighed deeply. The play resumed. Life was good. A few scenes passed. He was getting restless. Really plays were her thing. He did show up every time. Not exactly on time but he did. Maybe that’s what was counting in his favor. He chuckled louder than he intended. “SSHHH!!” She was looking at him in mock horror. That’s when he noticed. She was holding hands with the guy next to her. What the…!!? Is that a brother or cousin…? Wait a minute who holds hands with a brother or cousin?!

 He couldn’t stop shuffling. He pointedly stared at her in the dark hoping she’d look at him. But nothing. She was so into the damn play. What was the name of the play? Looked too complicated. Too many people, too much talking. How did people do this? Finally, the intermission! The lights came on. He looked at her and the man. They were both smiling at him. No, she didn’t have a brother. And she hadn’t let go of his hand, “Hello darling! You made it. Meet Jim.”

 He refused to look at Jim. “What’s going on here? Who is he? What’s this…” he said pointing to their interlocked hands. 

She laughed giddily. “Oh honey! I’ll explain. At least say hello to Jim”. He glared at her. She let go of Jim’s hand and took his, “Darling! I am making this work for us – just like you wanted. This is a three-way date. This way you can take your time, and I am never waiting… And everyone’s happy just like you wanted.” 

That stupid Jim was smiling amiably. He could have punched him! “Wait a minute. This is not what I said…” he could hardly get the words out.

“Of course, you did!”, she interrupted. “This is… what did you call it? Ah yes, a win-win. In fact it’s a win-win-win! Didn’t you say that was the most important rule of work and life? And you know what? I think you two are going to get along just fine!” She laughed loudly, looking over naughtily at Jim. That same laugh that had gotten him hooked in the first place.

Growing up all over India as an “army brat”, Reena Kapoor’s poetry collection Arrivals & Departures reflects her wandering sensibility. Her work has appeared in Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Visible Magazine, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and India Currents. EnActe Arts produced four of her plays. Visit Reena athttps://arrivalsanddepartures.substack.com/.