It had been a long, dark, and stormy day in central New Jersey. A large hurricane had broken up off the coast of the Carolinas, and its remnants were moving up the eastern seaboard. I had not been anxious to tackle the 14-hour drive home in such a storm.
So, I had slept a little later than usual. It was late morning when I finally checked out of my motel room near Patterson, NJ. The desk clerk warned me of the approaching storms. Road conditions were expected to deteriorate and become hazardous. I had a hard time believing that road conditions in New Jersey could get much worse than they were under the best of circumstances.
As I headed south, traffic on I-95 was practically bumper to bumper. It was moving slowly, but moving in the constant rain. Occasionally, an intense thunderstorm cell would pass through the area and make driving even worse. I seemed to be making very little progress.
I should have expected nothing less than a hurricane as I headed home. A hurricane was a fitting way to end a stressful week in the New York City area. In spite of the weather and traffic, I was relieved to be heading south, toward my home in rural eastern Georgia.
I had not been in New York City on a pleasure trip. My job as a private investigator had taken me there. I had spent most of my time in New York City in the seedier areas of Brooklyn and The Bronx. A forty-four-year-old, balding, over weight, white man can easily get himself killed working in some of those areas. Though I had successfully completed my assignment, I was still feeling the stress of being an outsider in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.
Travel was becoming exceedingly slow. By late afternoon, I had only gotten to the northeastern edge of Philadelphia. Traffic on the I-95 expressway had come to a complete stop.
A short time later, I heard the truckers on my CB radio reporting a major bridge ahead had been closed. The truckers were saying the bridge would probably remain closed for several days.
I tuned in a local FM radio station on my car's stereo, and the announcer soon confirmed the truckers' bridge reports. The closure had resulted from damage to the bridge's approaches due to storm related high water and wind. In addition to the storm surge on the coast, many of the smaller streams in the region had swollen beyond their capacity and were flooding. Alternate routes were either closed or as badly backed up as I-95.
Seeing the futility of trying to continue driving south, I checked in with my office via cell phone and pulled off the interstate. I headed for a Holiday Inn I knew to be nearby. I had previously stayed at that particular motel while working a case in the Philadelphia area. I secured one of the last rooms they had available, dropped my luggage in the room, and went to their restaurant for dinner.
The dinning room, like the motel, was filled to near capacity. The dinning room staff was short handed due to storm related absences, and they were struggling to keep up with demand. Some of the customers were complaining. Too many people, who seem to think they were the only ones who mattered, were loudly complaining about the slow service.
I have found that if I treat the staff well, they will do their best for me. Even so, it took a little longer than normal to get my dinner. But then, I wasn't going anywhere anyway. Neither were the complainers.
My dinner finally arrived, and it was delicious. I was enjoying my steak, onion rings, and a glass of wine when I noticed a young lady walk into the crowded restaurant. She was a very petite, dark skinned, beauty with long flowing black hair. Her facial features indicated to me she was of Asian Indian ancestry.
She appeared to be alone. There were no empty tables. I had a table for four to my self. So, with a broad smile, I got her attention and indicated the chair across the table from me. I offered the young lady a seat. "Would you like to join me and sit here?"
The young lady seemed shy and hesitant. She cast her eyes to the floor and did not respond.
At first, I thought I was getting a brush off. I then remembered some of my high school world geography lessons. India no longer had a caste society. However, many of the women from there were not nearly as assertive or self-confident as most of our American ladies are. They were seldom allowed to make decisions without a father or husband's approval.
So, I stood, pulled out the chair for her, and spoke with a firmer voice. "It may be a while before another table opens up. Sit here!"
She hesitated a few seconds more, then responded to my firm invitation, "Thank you! Are you sure you don't mind?"
I told her, "I don't mind at all. I am traveling alone and will enjoy the company. Now sit down, please."
"I am hungry, and I really don't want to wait for another table." A smile was beginning to brighten her face.
As she sat down, I handed her my business card, held out my hand to her, and said, "I'm James. Please call me Jim. What brought you here on this stormy night?"
Shaking my hand, she answered, "My name is Damini. In India that means lightning. I'm going to visit family in Atlanta. I have a cousin who is getting married down there in a few days. Why are you here?"
Thus, started a long evening of conversation between a beautifully petite, twenty-three-year-old Indian girl and a man old enough to be her father.
Damini was soon feeling much more comfortable about spending time with a stranger. She began to open herself up to me. She had been born in New Jersey, but her family had clung to their traditional Indian culture. They had kept tight control over her. Even when she had attended an out of town college as a resident student, she had been required to go home every weekend.
I found Damini fascinatingly different, and I enjoyed listening to her.
Her dinner arrived, and Damini agreed to share a bottle of wine with me. By the time we had finished eating, the wine was also nearly gone. At my invitation, Damini moved to sit closer to me.
As we finished the last of the wine, I said, "Please, join me in the lounge for another glass of wine. Maybe we could share a dance as well."
Again she hesitated, before agreeing.
I picked up both dinner tabs and left a tip. We then headed to the lounge. As we left the restaurant, Dimini walked quietly behind me with her head slightly bowed.
I stopped in the hallway and turned to face Damini. I gently took her by the hand, pulled her up beside me. I lifted her chin with my hand, and told her, "Damini, you are an American woman in America. Women here do not follow behind their men. Walk beside me."
For the first time that evening, I saw a warm smile on Damini's lips. She continued holding my hand as we walked into the lounge. She and I enjoyed another glass of wine while we chatted in the crowded and noisy lounge. When the live band played a slow tune, I took Dinimi's hand and guided her to the dance floor.
As our first dance began, Damini seemed very tense and held me at a distance. Whether it was my charming and disarming manner, or, more likely, the wine she had drunk, she slowly began to relax and let me pull her closer.
As the music played and we moved to its rhythm, she told me that was the first time she had danced with a man without members of her family present.
When the music stopped, I lightly kissed her cheek. A broad smile slowly spread across her face. In return, she softly kissed me on my lips. When we broke the kiss, we remained in the middle of the dance floor holding each other until the next tune started. As we stared into each other eyes, a hard driving rock and roll number brought us back to reality. With a firm hug, we returned to our table.
When we had finished our wine, I offered to escort Damini to her room. She told me she hadn't checked in yet. Knowing the crowded conditions at the motel, I feared she may have waited much too late to get a room.
I accompanied her to the lobby, where she was told there were no rooms available.
I asked about other motels in the area, and was told they too were full.
Damini looked a little panicked. She looked at me and asked, "It's getting so late. What am I going to do?"
As is my natural instinct, I took control of the situation. Facing Damini, I took her by both hands and said, "I have a king-sized bed and a nice big sofa in my room. You will stay on the sofa tonight. (I'm generous, not stupid) Now, where is your car? I will bring your things in."
Turning to the desk clerk, I said. "Please have some extra bedding sent to my room."
.... There is more of this story ...