This follows on from "What's John Donne doing in a Taxi?"
Priya stood in front of the main door of the luxurious residence where the party was taking place. She looked anxious as if she was having second thoughts and just as she was about to press the bell she suddenly turned to face Kismet again.
"Oh hell, Kismet. What am I doing here tonight? Tell me how do you feel? Have I gone crazy? Are you going to be totally out of your depth here? Are you already regretting your decision to come with me."
"It's all right, madam. Want to know what I think? I think that you should stop worrying about a thing, madam. I think that you and I should have some fun tonight."
She turned to look at him. Her eyes opened wide when she saw his half smile and the twinkle in his eye.
"Well then, we'll do it. But for heaven's sake, please remember to call me Priya."
As she spoke, she pressed the doorbell. Almost immediately, the door was flung open by an attractive middle-aged woman who threw her arms in the air in delight as she saw who was standing in the threshold.
She gave a cry of welcome and immediately embraced Priya.
"Priya, my darling! Here you are. How wonderful to see you."
She turned to look at Kismet.
"And who is this handsome young man? Come on. Tell me. Who's your friend?"
Priya looked a little nervous and hesitated for a moment.
"Hello, Monika. Please, let me introduce you. This is Kismet. Kismet, this my dear friend, Monika. Monika and I once worked together."
"Yes Priya and what good times we had, hey dear?"
Then Monika suddenly grabbed their hands excitedly and pulled them into the house.
"Come on in, you two darlings. Come in and meet everyone."
The party was one of those smart yet casual affairs so suited to the tropical humid climate of Durban. Designer slacks were popular as well as elegant tops for the women and stylised shirts for the men.
At first, Kismet was the only one not known to the others. Those standing near him were politely curious. He faced all their questions with an urbane charm. With polite remarks and a charming smile, he fended off attempts to discover details of his background.
Priya, in a small group of her women friends, often looked over to his side and could not help noticing how calm and unruffled he remained. However, although she found herself wondering about his savoir faire in the pit of her stomach, she had a feeling of dread. She knew that it would only be a matter of time before someone would ask him what his occupation was.
That question was not long in coming.
Three or four waiters had been carrying trays of drinks expertly to all corners of the large room. There were serving a variety of cocktails and several hard drinks. Kismet had during his brief stay in Durban acquired a taste for the local speciality and so he asked for a double Cane Spirit.
After the first few rounds of drinks, Monika invited everyone to come to the dinner table. With waves of her hand, she showed everyone where their seats were. She was considerate enough to re-arrange a few places so that Kismet could sit next to Priya.
After an initial toast and the serving of the hors d'eouvres, an ascetic looking woman, Lorna Jones, began peering at Kismet over her spectacles from across the table. In fact, for some reason of her own, she had not been able to take her eyes off him. After several minutes she finally asked her question.
"Ah, Kismet! Your first time here I see, young man. You're not one of us. I mean you're not one of the Durban crowd, are you? You have this Eastern name and look. Fascinating name, of course. Destiny and all that sort of thing. You're obviously from the land of spices, fragrances and, of course, magic. Would you mind very much if I asked you a few questions? It's just that I'd like to get to know you."
Kismet nodded as he looked at her with complete understanding. "I understand that perfectly. You are quite right to wonder who I am. Please ask me any question that may wish to."
"Thank you Kismet. that is so kind of you. You see, you seem to have an aura. I think that's what makes you so fascinating to us."
Kismet looked at her intently as if he was seeing something in her that he hadn't seen before. As if he had discovered an awareness in her that he had not suspected before.
" I thank you for saying that. Please ask away."
"Now first of all, Kismet, are you free to tell us what it is that you do? Of course you need not tell us anything. It's just me being uncontrolably curous. Forgive me please."
Priya had never before stared so fixedly into her glass of wine. With a degree of discomfort she began to feel as if her ears were on fire. She turned anxiously towards Kismet and whispered urgently but very softly in his ear.
"For God's sake Kismet. That's Lorna. Just stay out of her clutches. She's going to ask you very awkward questions."
Her warning was to no avail. From next to her she heard his incredibly calm voice replying to her question with great courtesy.
"Lorna, how perceptive you are. You've immediately noticed that core of the exotic East beneath my Western veneer. Yes, I was born and grew up in India but I did spend some time in the UK. Oxford actually."
"But, Kismet, you haven't answered me yet. What is it that you do?"
Priya had become impressed by the way Kismet was handling Lorna. She stole a glance at him. She was amazed. He seemed to be actually enjoying the whole matter, while there she was, squirming in her seat.
"Let me tell you, Lorna. I am Kismet by name and Kismet by nature. As you so rightly pointed out, I'm an agent of destiny. I take people from where they don't want to be and transport them to places where they really want to be. Yes, I use these powers at my disposal to help people fulfil their destinies."
Priya was staring into her wine again but by now she was seeing in the ruby liquid sources of merriment. She saw little laughing dancing faces in her glass. Suddenly she was ridiculously close to the point of bursting out laughing.
Darren Malhoney, an elderly man with greying temples, also sitting on the other side of the table, turned to look at Kismet with undisguised interest.
"What a fascinating answer that was, Kismet but I can't help feeling that you're hiding something. However, please let me ask you a question too. I hope that you don't think that I'm being facetious. I'm asking because you've really aroused my interest."
He leant forward slightly across the table. The others at the table had grown silent. It was as if they expected something unusual to happen. Knives and forks were poised in mid-air and glasses of wine remained untouched. Eyes darted from Darren to Kismet and back again. It was as if everyone wanted to know more about the new guest.
Lorna too was leaning forward. She appeared to be searching Kismet's face in order to discover something more about the enigmatic man but It was Darren who spoke first.
"Kismet. I've heard so much of Indian poetry. Tagore and Rumi for example. Good God man, your works go back for thousands of years. Are you familiar with those creative writings? I would suppose you are."
"Of course I am, Darren. Very much so. It was the custom in our house to hold regular poetry and prose readings."
"Are you able to share a poem with us? One that you particularly remember."
"Oh I'd be glad to do so...but is everyone here interested in what I'll say? Perhaps I could speak to you later about it."
Lorna was quick to interject. Others had begun to notice the spark of interest in hey eyes and had become very quiet.
"Oh, please go on Kismet. Give us your poem. I'm quite sure that everyone is very interested."
It was a reflex action on her part but Priya uttered the tiniest groan and instantly raised her hands to her cheeks.
Everyone looked at him intently and nodded expectantly. There was an air of anticipation but mainly of curiousity. Priya did not dare look up. She did not want Kismet to see the fear that would surely be visible in her eyes. She felt that her nervousness might be seen by him to be a betrayal that may rob him of his powers. She need not have worried.
Kismet gently cleared his throat and then explained that what he was about to recite was a translation of an ancient Sanskrit poem called the Saraswati Moonstone.
"I'm persuaded by your kindness and your interest to recite this particular poem which I think is appropriate for this evening."
"It's called Moonstone and it's about a precious stone that was once owned by someone who lived thousands of years ago. This person, I believe, lived on the banks of the ancient and most sacred river known as the Saraswati. You may have heard of those famous cities if Harappa and Lothar now long gone. Only their ruins remain today. They once thrived on the banks of this river."
"One day, perhaps 5000 years ago, there was a great disaster. A mind boggling geological rupture. Tectonic plates shifted on a grand scale. The path of the river changed. A huge crack had opened and the mighty water plunged into the bowels of the earth."
Someone could not help interrupting.
"Is this all real or are we talking myths here? I mean the water had to flow somewhere, not so?"
"Scientists say it's the truth. More and more scientific support is coming to light all the time. To answer your question, they think that the river began to flow underground to the present Gulf of Kambay off Gujerat."
Kismet looked around the table.
"Well that's enough now about the background I think. Let me get to the poem itself."
"Moonstone of the Saraswati."
"O barren banks of the Saraswati
Those dry shores that once spawned life
Where sacred water lavished glory
On ancient cities now forgot.
There I found you Moonstone
Teacher of ancient truths
Gem filled with veils and mists
And colours that had words for me.
You taught me how cupped in my hands
You just lay there dark and sombre
Throttled In my grasp your heart was cold
Your singing voice had lost its chord.
But when I held you up high above
To feel the glow of the morning sun
I saw your veils of blue and green
As they danced and swayed in pure delight.
But it's in the moonlight where you found life
Your veils enchanted and seduced
And while you coyly hid your face
I knew your kiss was near at hand.
Moonstone great and ancient teacher
You showed me how to set her free
You whispered to me give her light
For then you'll know for whom she dances.
After he had finished, Kismet looked at Lorna and then Darren. He gave them each a slight nod. Then he turned to the others at the table and thanked them for the opportunity to recite the piece.
As he sat down he rested his hand briefly on Priya's shoulder. She looked up at him and her smile as a blend of amazement and pride.
That happened during a brief period of silence. Then the applause came. Not thundering. It was subdued but sincere.
Lorna was enthralled and mouthed a "thank you" at him. Then he turned to Priya and looking into her eyes, softly said "that was for you, Priya."
Someone sitting next to Priya grabbed her arm and whispered excitedly "Priya he's gorgeous. Where did you find him?"