She adjusted her goggle gingerly so nobody could notice what she didn’t want them to. Suddenly self-conscious, she rubbed her hands on her jeans to wipe off the perspiration. In her frenzy, she had completely forgotten to carry a handkerchief.
Everything around her favourite coffee house looked jittery today. What if he doesn’t find her attractive? What if he notices her dark circles? Why didn’t she just wear a frock today? He would have been pleasantly surprised by this tiny gesture. But the last moment had got the better of her and she ended up changing into a chudidaar and a kurta. She didn’t want to appear too desperate, she didn’t want him to think she was trying to seduce him.
Oh but what if he found her just boring? He always got so bored so easily with things, people. Just when she remembered her demeanour before glancing at the mirror one last time. At five feet five inches, she felt too tall even as the perfectly fitted outfit matched her exuberance. The full-sleeved blue kurta was like a tangible version of the innocence she hid in her heart. She chose not to let her curly hair down today. She wanted to look ordinary. ‘I want to play with your curls,’ he had told her once on phone after seeing her display picture on Twitter. She could risk looking unattractive. But she couldn’t risk making him feel intimidated. So she tied her voluptuous strands in a French braid.
The thought of seeing him in person sent her in a whirl for the millionth time. She felt his voice echo in her ears. ‘I want you’, the first time she had skipped a beat as she heard him whisper over phone. ‘Talking to you is so fulfilling’, the first time she felt she was falling from a high hill without being scared. ‘I want to hold you right now’, the first time she felt she wanted to reciprocate. ‘Hey, I missed you. Please forgive me,’ the first time she felt like crying her heart out in his chest.
How it all began, didn’t matter. What mattered were his thoughts, his brutally honest criticism of her art – criticism because everyone else around her seemed to love what she painted. Intellectual discussions on art soon became personal and intimate. Almost every single time they exchanged texts, he had admitted how much he longed to meet her. Yet, it had been four times in the last one year that he had visited the city without meeting her.
Once, there was a death in his family. She had understood that he didn’t want to meet anyone. He didn’t share so easily. He liked to keep his sorrows, his struggles to himself. She didn’t complain the second time as she had told him something outrageously mean, he had lost the desire to meet her that time. What happened the third time? She tried hard to remember. Oh yes, he had asked her to meet him pretty late in the evening. She had refused him as she didn’t want to lie to her family. He had left the next day.
How many times both of them had fought over the reasons of their not being able to meet! She remembered every single detail of every single argument. It all seemed ridiculous now. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Where did she read that?
Her logic told her she was just a punching bag for him. He just needed someone to listen to his rants over phone. He never really wanted to meet her. He was just using her to replace his loneliness in an alien city. However, in an instant her feelings brushed her reasons aside. Her love or whatever it was, she was never so sure, commanded her to trust, to forgive, to wait. Her love for his voice. Her memory of that one time when she had heard his vulnerable self. That one tiny memory pinned all her logics.
Over this year, she had developed a sort of a skill of feeling what he somehow failed to express. His simplest texts – hey or listen – spoke volumes about his longing, his desire. Even his lies were precious to her. They showed his desperation to win her back after the hurts. So she pretended to believe them. His happiness mattered to her. His voice intoxicated her the same way hers did to him. ‘Ah, I can spend a whole day just thinking about him,’ she sighed.
Just when she heard that familiar voice. ‘Hey’, he stood before her wearing a full sleeve brown shirt and grey pants. The second time she skipped a beat. She took off her goggle nervously and fought the urge of hugging him tight. So this was it. This was the moment she had waited to feel for one full year.
‘My smile is all I need to lock you up mister,’ a memory flashed her mind. She smiled indulgently extending her hands. He took them at once, squeezing them gently.
‘Why? Who the hell said you are not attractive?’ he said releasing her hand and pulling a chair.
‘Me’, she replied coyly. ‘Nonsense. And I asked you to try wearing a frock?’ he demanded. She blushed.
‘And why the hell was I wishing you wouldn’t bring that up?’
‘I am glad I did. I would have missed this colour on your cheeks then’ he said smiling.
‘Madam, would you like to order something?’ Someone said before she could react. Soon it struck her. He wasn’t there in that chair he had just sat. She looked up at the waiter. Almost in a hurry she glanced up at her watch. Three hours. She had been sitting there thinking about him. They were supposed to meet at 4 pm.
‘Oh nothing yet. I mean I guess I will just leave in a few minutes. Is that okay?’ she said mechanically.
The waiter went back to the desk. It was dark now but she didn’t want to take off her sunglasses. She missed her handkerchief badly. It was too late. Her tears had made their way beneath the gaps of her goggles. Taking them off, she abruptly reached for them by her left hand. She hated their obstinacy, their audacity.
She stood up and checked her mobile phone again. No new messages. No missed calls. She swabbed its wet screen to see clearly. It had begun to rain outside. She checked her email, each inbox of all her social networking accounts. As she walked out of the coffee house, she stumbled on a footstool but the pain didn’t move her. Holding her phone on one hand, she struggled to fight her tears with another. Despite dialing his number sixteen times without a reply, she wasn’t quite ready for the truth.
He didn’t come. He wasn’t coming. In an instant, she started walking towards her car. ‘ I never explain myself’ his voice reverberated from somewhere. She was running now, as if from his memories. As she unlocked her car, she realized she was drenched. She also noticed her sobs for the first time. Once inside, she surrendered to the ache. A tiny little memory clung to her mind.
At least in that memory he was hers – the honest, vulnerable him who she had desired. That was the world where he couldn’t hurt her. She wiped her face knowing fully well she would never be able to wipe that memory from her heart.
‘What would you do if I stopped taking your phone calls?’ she had asked point blank once.
‘Nothing at all girl. There’s nothing I would be able to do. Please don’t do that to me, ever’ he had replied desperately.
‘Okay I won’t. But why do you do this every time……..’
A loud sound broke her spree. The waiter had spilled his tray right in front of her. She adjusted her sunglasses again. Ceremonially, just like every time for the last six months on the same date, she had sat there for three hours. To lock that memory, to celebrate sorrow.