As I wipe the sweat off my forehead, the lift operator looks at me quizzically, and then at the temperature indicator in the lift. It reads 20 degree centigrade, making the man quip, “What Saar! Two months only in America and already you are not adjusting to Chennai climate?” Of course there is no way he can know that my sweating is not due to the weather, but due to the furious pace at which my heart is beating right now. It is as if the tension building up inside me is condensing on my forehead as sweat. I feel relieved as the lift door finally opens and rush out to the rest room to gather myself before facing her.
It’s been three months since that night on M.G road. I can still feel the stiffness in her voice as she recoiled within and abruptly got down from my bike to find her own way back home. I cannot fault her though. It was foolish of me to throw at her my proposal, so suddenly. I am sure it caught her unawares and naturally she was utterly unprepared to respond to it. She must have marveled at my audacity, that just because she requested me a lift back home, since it was quite late that day, I had presumed that she was ‘available’. The truth was I had no such presumptions, and was genuinely in awe of her. Even the poised manner in which she contained her indignation and reacted after hearing my proposal greatly impressed me. She simply told me its not possible, asked me to stop, got down from the bike, and went away searching for an auto rickshaw. I instantly repented what I had said and wished she would come back so that I could just drop her home safely. Although, her abrupt leaving seemed to me a way of saying, “I am absolutely capable of taking care of myself, thank you!”
As I splash cold water from the tap over my face repeatedly, my thoughts fly to the first day I met her. She had just joined our team a week earlier. She was not what you could call gorgeous or stunning, but I felt she was homely, friendly and easy to mingle. I had been amazed by the way she managed to fit into the all-guys team so soon, with all the guys actually respecting her, not just flirting. When she casually told me that her parents were looking for a match for her and that she belonged to the same community as me one day, I had started getting ideas of a possible relationship with her. I had thought she was the right person to bring color into my otherwise dull life, and that our families too would have no objection to this match. I had even reasoned to myself that since neither was she too good looking nor I overtly handsome (what with a receding hairline and the dark complexion), we would be just right for each other.
Coming to think of it now, it was all so stupid. Back then, my reasoning had seemed perfectly logical to me. I hadn’t even given the idea enough thought before blurting out my desire to her. I had toyed with it for a couple of days, and then that night when she asked me if I could drop her home, I impulsively broke it to her. Without a warning or a prelude, she sitting on the pillion and me trying to focus on the traffic. As I reached home ruminating over what I should do next, my Project Lead called me to inform that I would be leaving to the US in two days, and from the very next day I had to report to the head office instead of my own branch, so that I could complete my travel formalities before leaving. All the last minute hustle bustle never gave me a chance to see her again before I left and gauge how she had taken the incident. In the two months I was in the US I interacted with all the team members from our New Jersey office, save her. I could not bring myself to communicate with her, even by email. And since there was really no need for it officially, I didn’t bother myself too much.
The clock on the rest room wall shows two minutes to ten, the time fixed by the team for my welcome briefing. I hurry towards my desk, though my feet drag with trepidation at the prospect of meeting her again. What would she be thinking of me? Would she have told about that incident to any of the other team members? I knew she has grown close to Arshad in the past few months, although, nothing Arshad or anybody else had said to me revealed that they knew about it. I wonder what I would see in her eyes when she looked at me. Would it be contempt, or hatred? Would she just simply ignore me? Or, would she, by some strange twist of fate, look at me with love in her eyes? Lady Luck has never favored me too much until now, although she hasn’t completely ignored me too. So is today the day she would change my life for ever?
I enter the bay my team sits in, and am instantly mobbed by the enthusiastic team members. “Hey Senthil!” “Welcome back dude!” “Machi! Did you get the chocolates?” Everyone seems to want to talk to me at once. My eyes scan the whole bay but do not find the one face they are searching for. I politely reply everyone and hand them the bag of chocolates I’ve brought along from the US. It has become customary for anyone going on-site to bring a bag of Hershey’s chocolates when they return from their assignment, so much so that the offshore folks demand the US made chocolates even if the person is returning from a stint in Germany! A casual welcome note from the Project Lead follows, with everyone agreeing, not so enthusiastically, to arrange for a ‘knowledge transfer’ session later in the day. I am supposed to share with the team all that I learnt during my on-site stint. Wish I could share with them the sweet agony of waiting, and of not knowing what I am waiting for. But then, I guess these things are best experienced than shared.
When eventually the excitement settles down and people return back to their desks, I casually whisk Arshad away for a coffee and pose the question, “Hey, what happened to that new girl who joined before I left?” Arshad looks blank for a moment and then lights up, “Oh Nandini!”, he laughs, “She is not new anymore Senthil! She is the energy booster of our team. Wonderful person to work with, really! Well, it’s about time she came in. She usually comes in at eleven and leaves at nine in the night in the company cab.” I check my watch, and brace up for the moment of truth.
I am just settling down on my desk again after the coffee, arranging my things the way I want them to be, when I see her walking down the corridor. My heart skips a beat, as she breezes her way towards our bay in her pastel green salwar. Gosh, I do not know why this girl does not have the same effect on others, but me, she completely takes my breath away! I quickly turn my gaze to my computer screen and try not to look at her as she enters the bay. She comes in, chirping hello!s and hi!s to each and every person sitting there. Except me. She settles down quickly and from the corner of my eyes I see her going through her mails for the day. She does not seem to have even noticed me. I am just trying to keep the sinking feeling at bay and dive deep into my work, when I hear her voice behind me. “Hello Senthil! How are you? Sorry I couldn’t be there for your welcome briefing and didn’t greet you earlier. I wanted to get done with my mails and determine my workload before relaxing and chatting up with you” “Hi! That’s OK. Not much of briefing happened anyway. We have a session scheduled for the afternoon. I am fine, thank you. What about you?” I manage, hoping that my voice has not given away the tempest raging within me. “I am doing great!” I am mesmerized by the confident ring in her voice. However, I see no traces of either love or hatred in her eyes. They are just cordial, not even friendly, I think ruefully. Just as they are supposed to be for a colleague, and as they were when I first met her. She picks up a handful of chocolates and with a “Thank you,” drifts away to talk to the Project Lead who is also seated in the same bay. Musing that Lady Luck has decided to give me a pass after all, I get up to get a glass of water. As if a cool draught could extinguish the fire raging inside. As I pass her desk, I see a framed picture near her monitor. It is a guy, probably in his early thirtees, looking quite handsome and smart. I ask Arshad, who sits beside her, “Nandini’s boyfriend?” “Well you can say that, though it is one-sided. Nandini tells me she loves him a lot but the guy does not want to get into a commitment. If you ask me, she is wasting time, but anyway, its her life!”
A wry smile spreads on my lips as I understand now the reason behind her indifference for my proposal. My eyes wander over to Nandini, who has now finished talking with the Lead and is seriously talking to someone on the phone. Probably the guy in the photo. Her face looks desperate, as if she is pleading with the person at the other end. As she hangs up, her demeanor says that the call did not go the way she wanted it to. A heart wrenching sadness has engulfed her face, but within a few seconds, she shakes herself out of it and puts on her cheerful face again. I want to throw caution to winds and go hug her, to drive away all that is bothering her out of her life. Maybe someday soon I will gather the courage to do just that. For now however, all I have is the realization that her love for the guy in the photo and my love for her are like the Chatak’s thirst, eternally unquenchable by anything but the rain water, even when there is a drought. A fruitless yet persistent pursuit. A search for something that does not exist, hoping that it will, someday.
Saar – Indianized form of Sir.
Salwar – An Indian dress worn by women
Chatak – Jacobin Cuckoo, associated a lot with Indian mythology and poetry.
About the Author:
Yamini Vijendran is 30 years old a freelance writer from India who strongly believes in the idiom ‘home comes first’. Her values and beliefs get amply reflected in her writings, which mirror to the world the things she stands firmly by. Her stories are inspired by people and incidents around her and her impetus comes from her loving family. Read her blog.