Aliyah tricked me.
This is probably the best she's ever gotten me. Better, even, then the time she convinced me on Election Night in 2006 that she was a closet Republican.
Days before my 27th birthday, Aliyah told me that she'd be giving me a series of instructions on my birthday about which I would not be allowed to ask any questions. I agreed.
After lunch on my birthday (I demanded that we go to Ruby Tuesday or T.G.I. Friday's so I could get a cheeseburger and chicken wings), Aliyah sent me the no-questions-asked instructions via e-mail. The subject line was "TOP SECRET: birthday toolbox." Among other things, I was told to pack a bag with running shoes, a Swiss army knife, a t-shirt, and a stuffed malaria doll that Aliyah's sister had sent us for Christmas.
I was confused.
"I wonder where we're going," I said to Aliyah when I picked her up at work that evening, making sure that my sentence ended with a period so as not to break my no-questions promise. After a few minutes of toying with me, Aliyah spilled the beans.
"First we're having dinner at The Imperial Hotel," she smiled.
"Awesome! But why do I need a Swiss army knife?"
"Because afterward we're going camping."
"Oh," I said, pulling my down jacket tighter around me in the icy January air as I feigned excitement. "Cool."
"I'm glad you brought that jacket," Aliyah said. "I'll want to wear it when we go to sleep outside later."
I continued to pretend like I was excited by the prospect of sleeping outdoors in below-freezing temperatures, and wondered aloud where the campsite was.
"You know, I could be lying about the whole thing," Aliyah said.
"Yeah right," I countered. "Why did I have to bring a Swiss army knife if we're not going camping?"
"Maybe it's a decoy," she said a bit too defensively. I was sure that Aliyah felt a bit of regret that there were no surprises left, and was trying to re-introduce doubt into our after-dinner plans. Using my finely-tuned bullshit detector, I was certain that Aliyah was bluffing and that we really were going camping.
We went to The Imperial Hotel -- which is Delhi's finest -- and had a fantastic dinner at a beautiful Southeast Asian restaurant. Near the end of our meal, Aliyah started giving further instructions.
"Before we leave," she said, "you have to go into the bathroom and change into your gym shorts, running shoes and t-shirt. Then we'll go catch a cab."
"OK," I said slowly. "Can I wear my jacket too?"
I paused and rubbed a stomach that was full of curry, noodles and beer. Doing anything that required running shoes sounded highly unpleasant.
"And, um, we're not doing anything too athletic, right?" I asked hesitantly.
"Of course we are," Aliyah said. "Don't be such a baby."
We left the restaurant and walked to the bathrooms in a hallway near the hotel's lobby.
"OK," I said. "Let's meet here after we change."
I started to walk into the bathroom. Aliyah stopped me.
"Let's sit down first, and I'll tell you exactly where we're camping," she said.
We sat down on an absurdly comfortable leather sofa.
"You want to know?" Aliyah said.
"I want to know," I said.
Aliyah handed me a small envelope. Inside was a keycard. That opened the door of a room at The Imperial.
I laughed for about three minutes. I had had no idea.
I'm pretty dumb for a smart guy. Or maybe it's pretty smart for a dumb guy. Either way, it was a fantastic surprise, and the most comfortable night's sleep we've had in India.