Instantly, he remembered her. How could he ever forget that face. She was the prettiest girl he’d seen in college. But in the few hours that they were together, working on the college magazine, he couldn’t gather that courage to tell her that. He remembered getting lost in her beautiful earthy brown eyes. In his mind, he was quite romantic. That he was too shy to actually say what was in his mind was the biggest tragedy of his life.
” Hi ” she said again, waving her hand this time, wondering if he hadn’t recognized her.
“Hi!” He said timidly, blushing but trying to hide it.
” I came to return this, thank you ” she said, pushing a neatly wrapped umbrella through the grill.
She saw the perplexed look on his face and told him about how she was trying to get his attention the previous evening in front of shazia manzil.
“Luckily for me, this umbrella fell out of your bag! I would’ve never reached home in that rain if it wasn’t for you ” relief, gratitude and happiness written large on her face.
He was embarrassed that he hadn’t noticed her. He wasn’t sure how to react. He just smiled, still a little ashamed.
” Do you walk that way everyday?” She asked.
” No”, he said spontaneously and then corrected himself hoping that he’d have a chance to walk with her, ” I mean , yes I do”, looking around to make sure his friends wouldn’t reveal the truth.
” Haha. Ok. I’ll see you around ” she smiled and walked away with her friends.
“Bye!” He said waving his hand slowly, his heart lost in her charm.
He felt a shiver down his spine. Maybe this was love, he thought to himself, still staring out of the window. Then he felt a dampness on his collar. He turned around to find his friends grinning, one of them with a, now half full, water bottle in hand.
” so you won’t be coming with me in the auto anymore I suppose?” one of them said with a teasing smile.
Just as he was going to react, he noticed that the teacher had entered the class and was now staring down at him. Quietly, he took his seat.
As the teacher went on and on about signal processing, he remembered his dream again. Only this time, he could see her in it. Maybe it was fate that they should be together he thought. Why else would he carry two umbrellas instead of one that day? How else did that umbrella fall out of his bag exactly in front of shazia manzil? Why else would he have decided to walk home instead of going out with his friends? Why else would he have that dream on that same day?
Definitely fate. Had to be, he convinced himself.
That evening, he decided to walk home, hoping to find her on the way. He went past the railway crossing and the grocery store, this time paying attention to every detail around him and looking around to see if she was there.
As he approached the turning leading to shazia manzil, he looked around once more, realizing that he was almost home but she wasn’t anywhere there.
He walked past shazia manzil and turned into the narrow lane to his house.
As he climbed the stony slope from his gate to his house, he heard an auto go past the gate. It went past in a flash but he managed to catch a glimpse of the pretty passenger inside. He ran down the slope to see where she was going but the auto had turned a corner by then.
Disappointed, he went back into his house.
Later that day, he walked across the road to the temple pond on the other side. He often sat by the pond when he was too tired of studying or too bored of watching TV. He carried some bread crumbs to feed the little fish there. It was peaceful and he loved the serenity.
He sat there, wondering about all that had happened in the last two days, his head tilted to a side, shoulders dropped, legs crossed and his mind lost as usual. The late January evening breeze giving him company.
She walked upto where he was sitting and sat next to him.
“You shouldn’t be this unaware of your surroundings you know” she said, giggling.
Startled, he dropped the handful of breadcrumbs he was holding.
The giggles turned into laughter.
“You stay there, don’t you?” She said, pointing to his house.
“Yes” he said, still not completely out of the shock of seeing her.
“I live on the next lane. I’ve seen you sitting here often. So I decided to see what you do for myself. This is nice! Very nice” she said, admiring the pond and all the beautiful things around it.
He shook his head to get back to his senses. “It is, isn’t it? I like feeding the fish” he said, taking another handful of crumbs from his pocket.
She took some of it and joined him in feeding the fish.
“Do you walk home everyday too?” He asked.
“No. I generally take an auto” she replied. “Hey! You know what? We could share an auto” she said.
“We could! I normally end up paying that idiot more than I’m supposed to anyway” he blurted out, not realizing what he had done.
“But you told me that you walk home everyday” she said, a questioning smile on her lips.
“Oh!Umm. On a few days I share an auto with one of my friends” he said, trying to cover his tracks.
She looked at him knowingly and smiled a little more.
” OK fine! I share an auto with my friend everyday” he confessed, realizing that she already knew.
She burst into laughter at his innocence.
“Ok. It’s decided then! Wait for me near Gladys aunty’s shop after college” she said, referring to the 8X10 coffee stall owned by Gladys aunty, a quiet, polite, knowledgable 60 year old who always had advice for anyone seeking it.
The next evening, after college, he waited next to Gladys aunty’s shop as planned. A few minutes later, she joined him. They sat at one of the benches and he asked aunty for 2 coffees. They chatted animatedly over coffee for a while and then flagged down an auto and went home. A routine they’d follow for many months to come.
Half a year later…
It was mid October. Always a hectic period in an academic year. Most colleges hosted intercollegiate cultural fests during early November and his college was no different. St.Thomas fest was one of the biggest intercollegiate events in the district. The college ground was nicely decked up in a flowing, colorful tent. All the classrooms had been invaded by enthusiastic volunteers, setting up the events they were responsible for. In the basements and terraces the college music and dance teams were rehearsing their acts.
For three years in a row he was in charge of the quiz. A popular event that happened on the main stage on the third and final day. This year, he decided to take a break. She’d asked him to help organize the group dance. Again a main stage event that needed experienced organizers. She wanted his help with the sound systems, an area he knew like the back of his hand. He didn’t enjoy dances. But he agreed to do it anyway. He just wanted to spend more time with her. Besides, with all that was happening inside his head, he’d barely be able to concentrate on doing anything else.
To be continued…