The first glance
“35th Teacher’s Day Celebrations”
The thermocol background on the stage read. Nimmi and I took lots of efforts to create it with different colours. We tied up balloons, confetti and festoons around our school. As we were 11th graders, it was our duty to decorate the entire campus. It was almost 6.30 in the evening when we winded up. We picked up our bags and started walking towards the bus stand.
“I got the saree for tomorrow’s performance. My mom possessed a good one. I just need to buy the blouse,” I said.
“Bhavana, the performance is tomorrow. How could you be so careless? What if you don’t get a matching blouse?”
“I will go to that textile shop which you told. It’s nearby only.”
“And if you don’t find it there, what will you do?”
“I will somehow get the blouse by hook or crook.”
“Okay, hope you perform with a blouse tomorrow. Ha ha ha…”
“Yeah, you can bet me. By the way, that was a bad joke.”
“Thank you. Your bus has arrived. Take care, bye.”
Our light-hearted banter eased my senses.
“Bye.” I faked a smile and boarded the bus. I had an insecure feeling that I might not get the blouse. I even imagined myself dancing without a blouse and just the saree draped over me. It was a sorry picture and I cringed at it.
Reaching home, I refreshed, dressed, and plopped down on my bed, with thoughts of the next day’s celebrations engulfing me. Our school never celebrated the so called Annual Day. Instead, we celebrated Teacher’s Day, Children’s Day, Diwali and Christmas in a grand manner. We used to have lots of dance performances and skits. The folk dance was the most popular performance of the event. So, we needed to give our best.
It was 8 p.m. My mom came inside my room with a plate of scrumptious dinner – Chola Puri and Channa Masala. I spoke with her, “Ma, I need a purple blouse for my dance performance tomorrow. Any good textile shops nearby?”
“The newly opened ‘Madhu Textiles & Readymades’ is good. I heard a lot of positive speculation about their quality of clothes.”
I was relieved that even my mom suggested the same shop.
“Okay Ma, I will go there. Give me some money.”
“So, you are planning to visit the shop alone, eh? I will also accompany you.” It was rather threatening. Her words were enough to stiffen me back to righteousness. And so, I nodded in agreement.
I had my dinner and got ready. Soon I was walking along with my mom on the brightly lit up main road of Shanthinagar, dressed up in a saffron shirt and a jet black knee-length skirt.
‘Madhu Textiles & Readymades’ was situated in Vaishnavi complex and it was just a two minute walk from my home. We entered the shop. As it was a newly opened one, there were many customers visiting it. My mom took a look around the shop, which was bustling with activity. Though it was a small shop, it was stuffed with many clothes. The interiors were neat and the shelves were sequentially categorized. The shopkeepers were dedicatedly speaking with their customers. After a few minutes, a young boy, probably one of the shopkeepers, walked towards my mom and asked, “What do you want, madam?” I did not look up at him, since I wasn’t a fan of observing shopkeepers’ faces, but I never knew that that aspect of mine would hit back at me.
“I want a purple blouse which matches this saree.” My mom took out the saree and showed him.
I intervened, “Ma, you select the blouse. I will wait outside. I can’t bear the heat inside this shop.”
I went outside and started observing the various cars which sped on the road. I liked to while away time by counting the number of cars on the road or simply looking at pedestrians and the way they walked. Soon, my mom came out with the purchased blouse. We headed back home. I felt that I was being watched. I could sense something different with that shop. I turned around and saw the shopkeeper hastily scurrying inside the shop. That was strange. ‘Was he watching me? Why did I feel like that? If so, why should he watch me’? I didn’t find the answer to my queries. I just discarded that strange feeling as a hallucination. Or my intuition might have played with me as usual.
Teacher’s Day celebrations began with a lot of pomp and splendour. The grand stage was set up for us to perform. Right from LKG to 12th grade, all the students performed. It was our turn. I was dressed up in the purple silk saree with the purple blouse. Everybody cheered when we started dancing. Our performance was a grand success. We stayed to watch the rest of the programmes, which included a skit on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Garba performance and prize distribution for inter-house competitions.
Soon, the day came to an end. I changed into my school uniform and boarded the bus along with my friend Aafreen who used to accompany me during my return to home in the evenings.
It was October 13th. It would have been an ordinary day if that life-changing incident wouldn’t have occurred. It was just a boring evening and I was walking towards my home with Aafreen. We were cracking jokes, laughing, and imitating some of our classmates. Suddenly, I felt that someone was following us. I saw through the corner of my eye, but couldn’t figure out. All I could see was a boy in mint-green shirt. I could not make out his face. He seemed to be following us and enjoying our jokes. Or rather he was following Aafreen as she had a porcelain skin tone with deep-set eyes and pink lips. Most of my friends had less melanin in their body and I was the alien amongst them. So I was of a notion that boys pursued women who had a fair skin tone. Well, I was brought up in a society which glorified fairness and inferiorized dark skinned people.
A chill breeze swept across my face and I shivered for a second. I looked at the sky and it was overcast. “Aafreen, it’s about to rain. Reach home quickly,” I said to her and she took off as soon as possible. I marched towards the sit-out and began removing my shoes, but I felt that someone had halted in front of the main gate. Looking up, I saw ‘him’. His eyes were fixed on me and he was also faintly smiling. At that moment, I felt quiet strange. That was a feeling which I can’t explain even today. His gaze stood still at me. It was a piercing look. A look which defined that he was completely in awe as he laid his eyes upon me, a look that was speaking a thousand words, and a look that serenaded my heart and spoke to my soul. But soon I took my eyes off him. The unromantic character of mine leapt up. I frowned at him. He zoomed back to reality and left the place immediately. I was surprised. I wondered, ‘Who is he? Why was he staring and smiling at me? Is he an old friend whom I forgot? All the more, why did I freeze like someone had sprinkled stardust on me?’ The boy’s face looked familiar, but I didn’t end up with an answer. Little did I know that that incident would change my life altogether.
“That guy has started bothering me,” I said with a hint of irritation in my voice. It was lunch break and I had found the perfect opportunity to ramble about that ‘guy’ to my best friend.
“Which guy?” asked Nimmi.
“I think you have amnesia. Have I ever spoken about guys? This is the first guy on whom I have initiated a discussion.”
“Still you haven’t told me which guy,” she replied.
“Arey yaar..What can I name him? Okay, let me call him as ‘mint-green shirt guy’. Now, do you remember?”
“Yeah…the one who stared at you the other day? Why should he bother you?”
“The way he stared at me was like something..You know..I..I..Just can’t explain.”
“Bhavana, this is a trivial matter. Any guy on the street can stare at you. Why are you blowing this into a big issue?”
“I am not. It’s just that I have seen him somewhere. I can’t recollect it.”
“Then even you have got amnesia, dear,” joked Nimmi.
“No. I am not going to bother about this anymore. As you say, he might be some casual guy on the street.” I came to a conclusion that he would be a street-roaming guy.
Nimmi’s lips were throbbing to say something. She was a girl who never kept to herself. So, she asked whatever was bothering her, “Why have you changed so much, Bhavana? Right from the day when Sachin humiliated, you are like a vagabond, searching for love. Don’t go in search of it. Don’t bother about unnecessary guys who stare at you. They find you attractive. That’s it. But that doesn’t mean they are going to fall in true love with you. To love a person, you need to understand them and love their inner soul, not their outer appearance. These guys will only consider you as a time pass.”
“Me? Attractive? Don’t joke, Nimmi. I am not that beautiful. These spectacles which I wear are enough to bog down my beauty.” I eliminated all those which she said except that ‘attractive’ comment.
“Your heart is beautiful, Bhavana. You need not be physically attractive. Okay? Chalo. Lunch break is over. Let’s get back to class.”
I stood still at her words. She was the best friend whom I could cherish lifelong. She was the only one who could handle me well.
Two more days passed by. It was rather a quiet evening. I rushed to home because I was keen on finishing my homework soon. I needed to compose on my piano a new tune which had popped during one of the periods in school. Since then I had been humming it to myself in order to remember it well. I didn’t even have a proper face wash. I pulled out a chair and placed it on the sit-out. I sat down and began to rock it back and forth. While trying to memorize a formula, I turned my head towards the road. There ‘he’ was, again. The guy who stared at me a few days back. He was wearing a red t-shirt and opening a chocolate wrapper with his mouth. Well, he looked awkward while doing that. He was stationery for a moment and stared at me as if he had seen someone from his past birth. I couldn’t understand what his eyes spoke to me. After a minute, he moved away.
I was completely stunned. It was at that time I realized that my face had turned oily due to my improper face wash. I ran to the bathroom, scrubbed my face well, applied talcum powder, designed a bindi on my forehead, and walked to the main door, tying my watch. I didn’t know why I was turning crazy. I needed to know about him. Something was unusual with him. His smile and his unabashed stare made me go nuts.
Just then, I looked up and saw him again. He was returning with two kids who studied in the school at the end of my street. I recognized it with their uniform. I thought he would move away, but he halted at the extension of my compound wall and smiled happily at me. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around to see if any of my neighbours was watching the saga. I just wore a blank expression. I think he expected me to smile. But how could I smile at a stranger? Without any response from me, he moved away sadly.
After that, I couldn’t concentrate on my homework, as I kept wondering who he was and what his smile meant. I picked through my brains to remember whether he was an old pal, but no such memory was found. Meanwhile, I completely forgot the tune which was playing in my mind till then.
That night, the boy appeared in my dream. He was wearing a red t-shirt and smiling at me. Suddenly, I woke up with the same startle which happened a few months ago. ‘Yes, it is the same guy who appeared in my queer dream earlier,’ I thought. I didn’t know what I was feeling at that moment. Was it happiness? Surprise? Confusion? Or all of the above? That was a revelation which I didn’t expect.
Three days later, I almost forgot about that boy, as I wasn’t a sucker for boys and their stalking, even though that ‘mint-green shirt’ guy was a tad different from others. Evening dawned. I had to make a call to my music teacher. I didn’t own a mobile phone as my parents felt that I was too young to possess one! So, I came out bringing the cordless telephone along with me. It was at that moment I remembered that the boy would come to take back the kids. I dialled my music teacher’s number and began speaking, gazing at the road eagerly. It was 3.30 p.m and I expected him to come. Yeah! There he was. He came trotting along the dusty street. He noticed me and instantly smiled at me. He slowed down his pace and walked. I was still on the call, but I held my gaze at him, silently observing his features. He had an olive skin tone with pimples all over his face, beige lips, and misaligned and stained teeth which shone when he smiled at me. He resembled Salman Khan of the 90s. It was his eyes that had a striking resemblance to the Bollywood star. I could say that those were the beautiful ones too! But he was either wearing the same old red t-shirt or the mint-green shirt.
I scowled and entered my house. I bolted the door behind me and vowed myself not to go out to the sit-out anymore as I didn’t want him to have any romantic thoughts about me. However, I had an abundant amount of inquisitiveness in me. I felt the urge to see him once again. After I freshened up, I hurried out before he would go away. I was out pronto, as he was crossing the main gate along with the kids. He turned and smiled at me. But, what was that? He had a Korean model mobile phone in his hand which was playing the song,
“Chaand sifarish jo karta humari deta woh tumko bataa…
(The moon gives me its blessings and tells you…)
Sharm-o-hayaa ke parde gira ke karni hai humko khataa…
(It’s time to drop the veil of shyness and commit a sin…)
Zid hai ab tho hai khud ko mitaana hona hai tujhme fanaa…
(I am determined to free myself to be destroyed in your love…)”
I knew that song and realized that he was playing it for me. I didn’t smile at him. I just stared at him, blankly.
Yes, I have introduced the male protagonist to you. The mysterious, silent, and lovable character in the story. I enjoyed writing this character, more than Bhavana, Nimmi or the others.