Ryu barked in the Vienna apartment.

She paused her daily morning exchange of thought with words on the computer. She glanced at the time blinking below, on the left hand corner of the computer screen. It was 10 am, and yet another Friday. She clicked the mouse on the “save” icon and dragged herself away from the warmth of the radiator below her writing desk to walk across to the kitchen.

Emptying out yesterday’s water into the sink, she refilled the kettle and fastened it back on the electric plate cabled into plugs hidden in a secret crevice below the kitchen counter. She lit a tee candle, with the aroma of oranges, and placed it in between the slim legs of a samovar simplified by modernity into an uncomplicated stand for teapots.

“Who’s there…? Who is there Ryu?” she repeated in a tone reserved to talk to children. And hearing her voice dripping with affection Ryu barked some more. While the water in the kettle grumbled to boiling point she threw in two heaped teaspoons of black tea leaves from a tin labeled “Darjeeling”, into a transparent pot made out of glass that is resistant to heat. She gathered the colorful tablecloth, with the Made in India tag, and shrugged off crumbs left over from a previous meal into the kitchen sink. Arranging it back on the square dinning table she thought,

“The cleaning lady should be here any minute!”

She smiled at the thought of Nina, a retired street car driver and now caretaker of a housing complex at the foot of the Vienna woods.

Both women lived here, one the wife of an international bureaucrat from the orient and the other an Austrian working woman. The two had stood face to face for the first time nearly two decades ago in the dimly lit room garbage room where all household waste was dropped into gigantic containers painted in green but with a terrible odor after it was tucked tightly inside large plastic bags.

Twenty years ago Nina was tall and blue-eyed, with blonde hair that dangled down to her waist. She also had a beautiful bosom. If it were not for the crooked, coarse knuckles that grew out of flat, very broad hands none would have suspected her peasant background.

With a cup of tea in hand, the lady of the house strolled over to the entrance and pressed one ear to the closed door. The bang-bang sound of Nina’s broom was still faint.

She returned to place another cup on a saucer on the table. The teapot was filled to the top and waited above the candle in the centre of the table. Dried tea leaves soaking in steam stretched out their twisted limbs in the hot water that had already changed color from transparent, to urine yellow, to wine red. A stick of freshly lit rosewood incense from The Pride of India store on a nearby street had barely begun to bellow its scent when the doorbell rang. She patted her hair back behind the ears and opened the door.

“Hello, you…” smiled Nina in a pair of faded blue, filthy looking jeans, leaning on a pole attached to a broom. Her shoulders hunched. She put her weight on one leg and the frayed T-shirt revealed a bosom that no longer cared how it looked. Now she kept her hair short and resembled a jungle of multi colors from constant dyeing that was sapping joy out of her scalp. She was nearly ten kilos plus her weight from two decades ago and these days an indifferent shade of grey was permanently reflected in her eyes.

Nina panted a little from having swept the stairs from the top floor down.

“Hey Nina! You! Come in, come on in.”

And Nina did come in bringing with her strong smells of chemical soapsuds coupled with stale perspiration and whiffs of food cooked a long time ago. She left the broomstick standing against the L-shaped space where two walls always meet, outside the door.

“Why don’t we have lovers like Shahrukh Khan?” complained Nina pulling a chair.

She slumped down on the seat to sulk.

“And more men like Shahrukh Khan…?” Nina sighed.

“What music would you like to hear today?” she tried to help Nina cheer up.

“Bollywood music please. Om Shanti Om music. I want some happiness today. And a glass of water please.”

She looked for the soundtrack of Om Shanti Om, the Bollywood film starring Shahrukh Khan watched by them together and slipped it into the compact disc player that she kept in the kitchen.

Sitting down opposite Nina she poured tea for both.

Then she asked as gently as she could, “What is it Nina?”

“You already know everything. It is the same old story,” Nina slammed the now empty glass of water on the table.

“Tell me again if it will make you feel better,” she smiled.

“You don’t really want to know, do you?”

“I do”.

“The same boring mess over sex, money and ego…all the salary drowned in alcohol. He is sleeping with a girl younger than his daughter and still demands to have sex with me. I refuse. I feel sick.

You know what…? Recently he has been squeezing parts of my body as he “makes love” in ways that makes me feel that I am no longer as taut as his young lover. Last night he was so drunk and so annoyed that he picked up the brass statue of the elephant god, you gave me, and flung it at me. The children don’t like talking to him anymore and I avoid him too. How can everything be my fault…? Indian men are not like that, I know…No man, I think, is like he is…”

Nina talked as if to herself, her gaze having bolted out of the grand picture window before her to vanish into the verdant vales of Vienna’s most valuable neighbourhood in the 19th district.

She just looked at Nina. What could she say?

She smiled and slid the teacup meant for Nina closer to her friend.

The tea tried its best to comfort sagging spirits.

Nina distracted herself from the way she felt by concentrating on the music playing in the background.

As she listened to drums roll, clarinets clash and sitars serenade her sighing subsided.

A smile radiated eventually from unknown recesses of her soul.

Her toes tapped and she poured herself some more tea. After a few more sips she swayed on her seat. Soon her hands were waving above her and the head jerked from side to side. She had heard this music so often that she was able to also parrot some of the lyrics.

She picked up the teacup, did a bottoms up, and took position. She pushed the chair far into the table and thumped her feet for a while before letting her limbs fly into space. Nina shook her body up and down, down and up and went faster and faster. Her arms gradually began to swing like a serial killer giving that finishing touch to a favorite victim.

Then Nina stopped for a quick second to pull her friend to the floor.

She tried a step but an ankle twisted. So she kicked off the shoes and went up and down and down and up and round and round, in imitation of Nina, matching each movement …jiving, twisting, swinging, rocking and a rolling, all at once.

Her hair lost all its pins and clips and it hurt on both sides of her body, below the rib cage. She could hardly breathe but the thought that she should stop did not occur to her.

Ryu tried ballad on hind legs jumping alternately before one woman and then before the other, adding sounds to music already so mesmerizing.

Rosewood essence mingled with fume from candle, tea brewing in pot, with breath that once lay dormant at the bottom of lungs, dog smell with human sweat that sprayed salts all over the place.

Tears streamed down two pairs of flushed cheeks in quick succession by the time the music ended and full-throated laughter from the pit of the stomach made it unnecessary to say much else.

The two women slumped down to the floor while Ryu waited for the next move. The giggling trickled down to a finale as Nina looked for the mobile phone vibrating in one of her pockets.

“I am coming,” she spoke into the phone a little less out of breath and probably to her husband who works each Friday in the garden, circling the housing complex while she cleans the floors and the staircase indoors.

Both women stood up and hugged each other before parting.

“There is a Shahrukh Khan film showing in town,” Nina announced triumphantly.

“Shall we go on Sunday for the 9.30 pm show?” Nina’s suggestion was accepted with a smile.

After Nina disappeared down the stairs along with her broom, she closed the door and walked to the largest window in the room to open it wide. For a while she let the fresh air flagellate her before deciding to shut out the cold.

She returned to the computer and saw Ryu hop up to his favorite chair and to evaporate into the upholstery.

Perhaps its a good thing that Nina has no clue what some Indian men are really like, she sighed!