The Agonising Uncertainty
Next day, I waited for Shelley to get free. As it was month-end, there was too much traffic to the room. Karthik was one of them. But he never initiated a conversation with me, and he didn’t start doing it now. Dignified silence described him best. In the one year that I had been here, I had hardly heard anything adverse about him. That’s not saying much. My circle of friends was confined to the finance department. Besides, Shelley’s liking him was a certification in itself.
A very exhausted Shelley came up to me begged we go out for a tea break. I got up eagerly, praying no one else would join us. She tended to attract people like a magnet.
I dragged her to a shop that was not frequented by other colleagues. She was happy to get away too. We ordered some juice and I let her ventilate her frustration at work. Today her grouse was about people who fudged accounts, and delayed presenting bills. The names of usual suspects resurfaced.
“Sales guys must be the worst,” I said casually.
“They are bad, alright! But the developers themselves! God, they wait for the bills to pile up and try to take it all out in one shot! How many can I check? Their bosses just sign blindly, without any validation!”
I felt sorry for her. There was a minimum cut off for taking money, but I could understand how these guys worked. However, discussing them was not my agenda. I brought it back to the marketing team. “Narendran is quite lax in some ways. I wonder how Karthik will deal with it when he is promoted!”
“The frontline is dreading it! You can be sure he doesn’t ask for a pie extra and he demands that of his guys too!” Shelley said, with something of pride showing in her voice.
I decided to abandon the indirect line of questioning. I may get to hear what a great marketing guy he was, or how honest. But I was keener to know what she felt about a possible marriage between Karthik and me.
I looked at her directly and asked, “You like him, don’t you?”
Shelley stopped sipping and looked at me in surprise. “Whatever makes you bring it up now!”
“Your voice sounds different when you talk about him,” I said simply.
She laughed, “Yes, I suppose it does. But no, I don’t think it matters. He is a gentleman, and I like him for that. But I don’t think he could make me happy or me him.”
“Why do you say that! How do you know? Maybe he is just shy.”
“Then he has been shy for far too long… Too long for me to harbour any hopes… I have now interacted with him for almost three years. We both get along well. I have even tried to get close to him, you know, during office get-togethers and outings…tried to get his personal life out. But that man does not reveal anything of himself to me! Except that he is a nice guy and that he has never got into trouble with anyone, I don’t know much about him. If in three years I have not been able to scratch even the surface, well, I can’t possibly interest him much. If I have any self-respect, I will learn my place in his life.”
After a pause, she added, “But, honestly, he is one of the few guys who hasn’t disappointed despite my knowing him for so long. I really wish sometimes it had worked out, but then, I have to remember my background too.”
“Another girl in his life?” I asked.
She was thoughtful and shrugged, “I think it will be difficult to hide one for so long, no?”
Shelley noticed my pensive look and immediately pounced. “Why are you so interested in Karthik and me? Don’t tell me you are in love with the man! But,” she added, before I could add anything, “you would probably suit each other well. The same reserve, the same calm. Or, will it become boring?”
That was a thought. I laughed, and decided to tell her my reason.
She was quiet for a moment. Then she chuckled. “You thought I would mind? That was considerate.”
I smiled shyly and added, “That, and also the awkwardness if things do not work out…you know, seeing each other at work if it turns into a fiasco.”
She patted my hand and told me not to let that worry me. “I think you both are mature enough to handle that if such a situation does arise.”
Maybe her estimation of the situation encouraged me. I gave my father the green signal. Crazy, considering it was easier to let Karthik know directly. But I think both of us felt more comfortable in the traditional system.
Don’t expect duets and romantic looks. I met him that Monday, and it was a fiasco. We decided to meet at a place where all our colleagues and their dogs came for lunch. Soon, it became like community eating, many joining us in our table as the place got crowded. The idea of keeping it informal and casual backfired. I became self-conscious, thinking everybody must know why we were meeting. I did not dare look at Karthik, who was sitting across me. I excused myself at the first opportune moment and left, not caring what Karthik thought.
That, I am sure, must have shown him how gauche I am and abandon all pursuit. But shortly after, he came on internal chat and apologised for the choice of place – it had been his idea.
“Can we meet in the evening?” he typed.
I thought and agreed.
Evening, both of us reached a café away from work separately on our bikes. This was also awkward. We had never met alone, even on work. I didn’t know how the conversation was going to take off after we swore our allegiance to our respective drinks – he to cappuccino and me to smoothie.
We conversed in fits and starts, touching hazily on work, budgets, Narendran, Maheswari. An hour later, I gave up, smiled politely and took leave. He insisted on paying. I gave in gracefully, said a bye and left.
That was the end, I decided.