Four days later, when the weather was calm and the ship was making good speed across a flat sea, Philip searched through his luggage. He had spent every night and most of the time they were both free in Chetana’s cabin, and this was the first time he’d spent in his own place. It was unfamiliar to him, and because he’d been busy while the ships were stowed, it wasn’t him who had put his belongings in the cabin.
He undid its leather straps and checked it, fearfully. Nothing seemed to be broken.
He whistled, closed it again, and took up the case. He walked the short distance down the corridor, and turned right towards Chetana’s cabin, near the Jagannath’s prow.
As he approached the door opened and a woman stepped out. Philip hadn’t seen her before. She was Tamil like Chetana, smaller, younger, with the same shock of black hair, emerald eyes and bruised purple-pink lips. She was smiling.
She saw Philip approaching, and her mouth opened, still pleased with the world. “Hello! You’re Philip! I’ve seen you, but I don’t think we’ve met.”
“I would certainly remember it.”
She smelled of lemon. And something floral. And sex. “I’m Jayavardhini, Jayavardhini Mudiliar. You can call me Jaya.”
Philip frowned, then smiled back at her. “I know the name Jayavardhini. It’s a beautiful name. And auspicious. If you prefer Jaya, then I’ll follow that. But please don’t shorten your name out of politeness.”
The woman, named after a goddess of victory, laughed. “Well, then, I do prefer Jayavardhini. Thank you. Most people find it a mouthful.”
Philip had an urge to say something inane and flirtatious about her and mouthfuls. The urge surprised him. He said, “Jayavardhini. It’s lovely to meet you.”
“It’s been lovely to meet you, Philip. I’ve heard about you for so long. In Chetana’s emails. It’s like finally coming face to face with a legend.” She glanced at the case in his hand. “You’ve brought Chetana a picnic? You smuggled caviar or something else she likes on-board?”
He shook his head. “I’d love to be able to. But the rule is that food is a common resource. No private stashes.”
“I bet you made that rule.”
“I proposed it.”
She was still laughing at him. “Most people who invent rules don’t apply them to themselves. I suppose your legend is true, then. Anyway, I’m holding you up. I should go, I think.”
But she didn’t move. For a second Philip had the impression that she was going to kiss him. He knew Chetana was not a one-man woman. Nor was she a one-woman woman, probably. But he was a one-woman man. Still, he would not have minded if she had kissed him. He said, “I’ll see you.”
She said, “I should hope so! I’m a botanist, so I’ve been sorting out our plants: hydroponics and soils. It’s still a nightmare down there. You have… noidea. But it should get less frantic in about three days’ time. I’ll be more visible after that.”
He smiled at her. “Good.”
He’d been right: a kiss from her wasn’t something he would mind.
He realised he’d have been shocked, stammering in embarrassment, a week ago. Chetana’s sexual appreciation had changed him. So he grinned, only happy. “All right. I’ll look forward to you being free.”
He had the urge to ask if Chetana was all right, and alone now. But she was only a door away. So he watched the woman walk away, sarong tied under her armpits, probably all she wore.