She arrived at exactly 1 p.m., as they had agreed. At the large garment store on the ground floor of the shopping mall, she remembered him telling her. He had told her he would arrive a few minutes early, to be there to receive her. When she told him that that was not necessary, he said that that was absolutely necessary and the right thing to do.
Now, there was no sign of him. She looked around carefully. No, he had not come. She went over their conversation of the previous evening. No, there can’t be a mistake about the place of their meeting. Yes, they did consider a few alternatives, but finally settled on the mall, each repeating the place and the time as if it were an address or a telephone number, given by one to the other, that they were cross-checking for the sake of safety and accuracy. She glanced at her watch. 1.07. Well, that’s not too late. Traffic. Something remembered at the last moment. An unexpected errand. It’s a big metro and a few minutes’ delay can’t be taken too seriously.
She had taken some care in dressing for the occasion, and also applied some make-up. Her natural beauty delectably accentuated, she looked quite stunning. Come to think of looks, he was also quite handsome. Besides, he carried himself well, giving off more than a suggestion of being smart, which probably indicated intelligence as well. It pleased her to be approached directly, to be asked for a cosy chat and coffee on a Saturday afternoon. A one-to-one was always interesting, for she did not believe in hanging out as a bunch, the girls sloping over the arms of the boys. She had her own independent presence, stride and pace.
She now realised that she was attracting the attention of the passers-by as much by her appearance as by her being alone. She moved along the windows of the store, casually scanning the display. She soon grew restless. She was there for a purpose, and hated to go through the motions of entertaining herself by aimless window-shopping. 17 minutes past one. Vague thoughts of owning a mobile phone passed through her mind. But the futile waiting and the mounting frustration of her anticipation of a nice, agreeable afternoon began to affect her. 20 minutes. She was positively angry. Must she leave?
From a vantage position on the first floor, he watched her. True to his word, he had arrived a few minutes early, only to prepare himself for an experience he knew would satisfy his ego immensely. He had not only succeeded in getting her to meet him, but also in making her wait for him. It was indeed a double triumph, and no one would ever again dare doubt his talent and skill. The last twenty minutes had proved quite an amazing experience. He could not wait for the culmination. Although he detected a moment ago something of a decision in her body language, he was certain that she would be so overwhelmed on seeing him that her frustration would simply evaporate. He even wondered what she might do in her excitement and thrill, as he took the escalator down to the ground floor.
She spotted him as he descended, stationary on the escalator. He stepped off the escalator and walked towards her. In those few seconds, several things registered on her mind. His smile. His swagger. His complete lack of urgency. It all added up to something. She knew it. Two more paces and he was right in front of her.
With a most disarming smile, he said “Hi!”
Her vicious backhand slap across his cheek sent him staggering back, his eyes bulging in shock and pain. She strode towards the exit, and the automatic doors opened, allowing her and her fury and her satisfaction to leave the mall.