"Thanks" Johan stopped Lanie's desk on the way to his own and placed the notebook on her table. She, busy searching for something, looked up, startled at the sound of his voice.
"Yeah...yeah" she said distractedly and suddenly peered at his face with a suspicious stare. "Say...was there a torn piece of paper in this notebook? Around two or three paragraphs scribbled in a blue pen?" He shot her a furtive glance and nodded slowly.
" Do you write in your free time?" he asked casually.
"Um...yeah" she said reluctantly as she flipped through the pages of the notebook and extracted the piece of paper. She glanced at it once and stuffed it into her bag without sparing it another look.
"It's a beautiful piece" he offered awkwardly, embarrassed at the fact that he had read it without her permission.
"You think so?" she smiled briefly and looked away. A slow, sad smile. A brittle, ironic, dejected smile.
"What is it about?" he asked quietly. He placed his bag on his desk behind hers and dragged a chair to sit next to her. "I mean, I know that it was wrong of me to read it and whatever, but I didn't get that 'traditional Indian house' reference."
"It's. . .uh. . .how shall I put this?" she struggled to explain, "The story's based in eastern India, circa 1857, during the First War Of Independence."
"So. . .this is basically a British woman imprisoned during the war?" he said.
"No . . .no. . .She's being sheltered by the local zamindar. . .the landlord."
"Isn't this a mutiny of sorts?" she could see that he was trying his best to grasp the complex situation.
"Yeah, but not everybody revolted, you see. The landlords were wealthy because of the British, so they didn't want the then-current system of governance to change."
"Oh. . ." he sat back, satisfied with the explanation, "So, romance in the background of violence?"
"I'm trying" she smiled modestly.
"Why India?"he asked, "I mean, I'm pretty sure that there are hundereds of other wars to write upon."
"I'm Indian" she said disdainfully, giving him a pitying look. He looked stumped at the revelation. "You read my name on the book, didn't you? Lavanya is an Indian name. My mother is east Indian. Part Bengali, part Oriya. My dad is American, though.."
He strtched out his nad at her words. "Well, it is nice to meet a talented mongrel like you, Lavanya. It seems like you got the best of both worlds."
"Lanie, please" she shook his offered hand.
"Johan" his eyes crinkled as he smiled.