As I put the muffler away, I noticed a greeting card. I picked it up and saw it was from S3! In her dashing style, she asks, “Howz life? Still at PIP? Am good. Do write in detail.”
I laugh. So like her to be light and breezy! Savitri – S3. Always acronyms and short cuts. In life, at work, in name. Barely a year older than me, she was everything I was not – dashing, stylish, and in eternal hurry. Much to the annoyance of her boss and amusement of her colleagues. She wanted to light a fire under her colleagues.
She tried to light one under me too! Dragging me to a double date because her latest boyfriend had to bring his cousin along.
“Where to, S3? I am not hungry. I don’t want coffee,” I cried out plaintively. It was fine to be polite to her at work, but to be seen outside with her! It embarrassed me. We moved in different orbits. While she longed to spice up my life, I longed to tone her down, embarrassed at her errors, wishing she would dress more appropriately, flirt less, laugh softly and work better.
On the streets, it was worse! She was a head turner, and I liked anonymity.
We were not what one would call friends, nothing more than acquaintances; colleagues – to be precise. We rarely even ate lunch at work together, though both of us were in Admin and Finance department. Both handled finance related work, and though she was a year senior to me, we joined at the same time – this was my first job, her third in eight months - I had more responsibilities. My boss seemed to combust spontaneously whenever they met. He was perpetually white with rage and she, red with embarrassment. No wonder she was out in three months. But in those three months, what a ruckus!
I tried to wriggle away, crying out loud for mercy. But she simply walked on, laughing at me as if it were a joke.
My jaw dropped when she introduced me to her friend and his cousin. What were their names – Dinesh and Atul? Very north-Indian sounding and looking. Fair, with typical northy looks. Atul was grumpy and complained to Dinesh in Hindi for trapping him with a specimen like me. S3 simply smiled, for she didn’t understand a word. I snapped back, telling them in Hindi to mind their tongue – Atul hadn’t seen that coming!
I turned around, but Atul immediately apologised. It didn’t help, of course, that we really were trapped in the situation. He did all the talking, maybe to make up for his earlier rudeness, asking me about books, music, movies. I replied in monosyllables, sometimes deliberately saying I disliked a particular group or book just to spite him. After a point, he gave up and we sat as if on thorns. Finally, S3 gave up pretending she was having a great time. She hated me for it and when Dinesh and she broke up the next day, declared me as her sworn enemy. Good riddance, is what I told her.
The cold war in the finance department was too evident for all, especially since some had seen me tagging along with her. The story spread through the office. It became a joke. Initially I was too high-strung, but soon I started laughing about it too. I remembered Kavitha and I had had a similar incident and…now, let me see…had I shared this with her?
Kavitha…I scan through her bundle…date…yes, this looks the closest…
Here she goes, “Don’t you dare compare me with the bimbo! How stupid could she be? Hey, come on, our experience was not so bad, was it? After all, the guy was of your choice – Sharad, right? Getting him to come was the toughest part, did you know that? I don’t think I told you. To first get a name from you was a challenge. All the while demurring and refusing to come for a double date even when you knew that my mom wouldn’t have let me go all the way to New Market alone. I just had to meet Tapas that day. Oh, he had been so wonderfully romantic when I asked him for the book he was reading! He told me that he would give it to me if I met him that weekend. And here you were, being so difficult!
“Finally, as I ran down the list of common friends, I realised Sharad was just the guy for you. But, how to get him to come? I couldn’t invite him, and you wouldn’t invite him. I had to coax Tapas to talk to him, and all the while, Tapas was so suspicious. If you hadn’t turned up that day, he would have surely thought that I was double timing them! What a fuss pot you were! As if your dad would have objected, or even gotten to know!
“But I never could understand why you were so upset that day? You didn’t tell me how things went between Sharad and you. Of course, I was busy cribbing about Tapas, I remember! What a laugh! In retrospect, of course. But that day, I was hopping mad. He was a cheapo with complete gas in the top floor.
“Was it better for you, with Sharad? I am sure I asked you this and you didn’t respond. Half the time, I wonder if we both were really close as I thought we were!
“Anyway, just want to tell you that I am off to the US for my MS. Got 100% scholarship from a couple of them. Have to decide before end of June. Will keep you posted.
“How are your dad and your aunt?
No, Kavitha, you were not wrong. We were close. You meant a lot to me, as I struggled to cope with a death. If it hadn’t been for you, I may well have become a recluse at the age of 16.
I just don’t put into words all that I feel, whereas you believe in verbalising. Like my name, everything was in my head – Kalpana, imagination…and like poetry, you needed words to pour out all your thoughts.
That day, with Sharad? We felt very awkward with each other. That experience should have taught me to keep away from dating!
But I ended up doing that again. What a laugh…and not so funny!
The following week, after the fiasco with Atul, Deepak took me out. Deepak from Customer Care. Our usual, once in a while lunch break, so common across teams that even if you dated, no one would know. As we placed the order and I prattled on about some revenue issue that had been causing much murmurs in the top management, he asked me abruptly, “What is this about S3 and you going out on a double date?”
I waved my hand to dismiss it. “Nothing, nothing at all. Just that she needed someone to go with her and she dragged me along. It was a fiasco, anyway.”
I had had enough of this topic, really, and tried to move on. But he frowned, “I didn’t know you dated!”
I frowned. “I don’t! I told you, it was a mistake and a misunderstanding!”
He was silent, and I was sulking. Then he said, “If you are really looking for someone, you let me know.”
“Why! Are you running a dating service?” I asked, a bit sarcastically, a bit incredulously.
He shook his head, and waited for the server to clear the table. “No!”
I looked at him askance. He looked down then blurted, “I…I…I would like to take you out on a date.”
Just out of the blue. I was stunned. He was just another guy from office. My being out with him for lunch had never meant anything to me… This admission sort of threw me off balance and confused me.
“I don’t know! I have never thought of you that way,” I said carelessly, shrugging indifferently.
His already dark skin darkened a bit more. The he said, with a catch in his voice, “I know you don’t like me…”
I cut in. “Not that way. You are a nice guy…just that…”
“Yes,” he nodded quickly. He knows that well. Most people take him for a nice guy and forget about him. I had done the same. “But I think if you get to know me…?”
I shrugged. But this thought disturbed me. I looked at him with new eyes and saw a person who was not merely, “Hullo, may I help you?” We were too familiar with each other, and I sort of knew his reactions, his likes and dislikes. Maybe, when I had joined, he had caused a small flutter in my heart. Clean, boyish looks, good sense of humour, friendly…But then, routine had taken over. He wouldn’t be a bad choice, though, if I were to fall in love, but it would be a conscious act not a spontaneous one.
Well, what came of that, madam?
I throw the letters into the bag angrily. Too much peeping into the past in one day! I don’t think I can take any more of this!
My head is wrapped in too many thoughts.
I open the windows and the room door. I stand in the balcony, taking in the fresh air. Let some of it come in so I can breathe in today instead of yesterday.
Slowly, the hands of the clock move to 10 and I can keep awake no longer.
I go to the guest bedroom and lie down. I am hit by the irony that the bed cover here is a checked patter of lemon yellow and green. I pull it over me and am in dreamland instantly.