Then she got a role in a movie. This was a good break for her, but it came with a problem. The shooting was often in the evening and continued until late at night. This was not acceptable to the nuns who maintained the hostel where she lived. She had to return early or move out of the reasonably priced room she had.
She had struck a good rapport with the well-known lead actor and mentioned the problem to him. Coincidentally he was an old friend – I had stuck with him during a long phase when he was an alcoholic and a nuisance – and he asked me if I could help the young actress.
At the time I lived alone in a beautiful three-level bungalow-type house, with a large guest room with an attached bath, infrequently used by a visiting friend or two. I had a personable cook who also acted as a very competent Jeeves. Did I want a woman, an actress, in the house? I was not sure.
My friend pressed me hard, and came with her to visit me – and to show her my home. Tina had an innocent, adolescent kind of charm that was disarming. She modestly assured me that she would never be in my way. She seemed to have a wonderful way with domestics and even visited the kitchen to talk with Jeeves. The latter was quite mesmerized by her and went out of his way to tell me later that she would be no burden for him.
I would look up, greet her and a conversation would ensue. Soon Jeeves would come with two cups of tea. I could not help noticing that, though she had said that she had had dinner, Jeeves would invariable place a pastry or two next to her tea.
By the time I had shaved and showered in the morning and gone down to the dining room, I would find her already sitting there, nursing a cup of tea. She said she was an early riser and, in any case, she wanted to join me for breakfast. A bowl of cereal or a prosaic toast suddenly seemed to taste better.
Our nightly conversations became regular and started lasting longer. Her parents lived but she had never been close to them. She was friendly with professors who taught along with her in the college, but none appeared to be on close terms either. Her real family seemed to be her theatrical group, where the members were as fond of her as she was of them.
I once asked her, “If you had an accident or were seriously ill, whom would you call?”
She named three members of her troupe and said, “I know they will come immediately and take care of me.” Then she surprised me by adding, “I might even call you!”
I did not know if the accompanying smile was to signify a joke or to soften the surprise.
I knew things had changed a bit when, one particularly late night, she walked into the living room and, not finding me there, followed the light and braved my bedroom, where I lay reading and making notes.
“Are you not well?” she asked.
“I am all right. I am just tired.”
“I am tired too. Do you mind?” She unfurled the magazine in her hand, lay down on the other side of the bed and turned on the other lamp.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” I asked after a while.
“Would you like me to?”
“Of course, I would. I rarely get a stretch of time with you.”
“Are you free this weekend?” I asked.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Would you like to come to my rowing club Sunday morning? I could take you out in a boat and you would meet my buddies?”
That Sunday morning the club’s helper was taken aback when I didn’t ask for my favorite scull and instead took out a heavier boat. I took the oars and Tina stepped nimbly in and took a seat at the opposite end. She had on a plain white dress and a turquoise muffler round her neck.
“I hope you aren’t afraid of the water?” I said as we neared the middle of the lake.
“I can’t swim, if you must know,” she laughed nervously.
I paused pulling the oars and peered at her. A gust of cool wind sent some strands of her hair flying with a streak of turquoise. A tawny sun was rising at the other end, placing a curious glow on her morning-fresh visage. She was still smiling, and her eyes looked more luminous than ever. Heavens! A misty dawn could not be any better.
I sat on the plank of the boat like a petrified adolescent. I did not want to row back to the shore.