He saw her at the party. If it wasn’t for the fact that the company was sponsoring the night, their celebration, they wouldn’t be spending the Friday night together. They had enough of each other at office, no need to push into the weekends. But this was a good occasion to mix. The ‘seniors’ were all excited about the ‘juniors’ who had just joined the company. All hopeful of hitting it off with a pretty girl or a handsome boy, praying for some sparks.
Everyone was rushing about making introductions, starting conversations. He wasn’t so. And it wasn’t because he was shy. He enjoyed conversations just as much. But he preferred quiet. Disliked the invisible pressure everyone was under. He would rather walk alone at the periphery than force a dialogue with someone he didn’t know. The only reason he was even there was his friends, who wouldn’t hear his reservations. They were going and he had no option but to come along. Once there, it was easy for him separate himself from his friends as they dived into the buzz.
He was standing quietly by the glass wall looking out at the night lights with a drained glass of beer in his hand. It had been a while since he’d emptied the glass. The beer had settled comfortably in his stomach, even the slight buzz gone. It was then, as he decided to get a refill, he turned back to the party. And he saw her.
He couldn’t be sure what it was about her that caught his eye. She wasn’t dressed up like the others. A black blouse, cream pants and black shoes with hardly any heels completed her attire. She wasn’t even the kind of pretty that would attract attention of those around her, not when in the midst of other girls far better dressed for the party, with faces much better done. She was short. Short black hair. Light complexion. Small eyes, small nose. Thin lips. Thin rectangular rimmed glasses over her eyes. Bracelet of tiny beads on her right hand. Watch on the left. An imperceptible curl on her lips. At some distance. Looking at him the same as he was looking at her.
He took one step towards her. She did the same. Looking as though she was darting between the invisible beams of light falling over the dark floor. In the shadows. As he took another step, it felt as though she was pulling him into the same shadows. As she took another step towards him, it felt as though all else was drifting away. Leaving just the two of them in this strange place. The third step was the last he took toward her. With the third step, everything had frozen. The beer he wanted a refill of fell away into the deep recesses of his memory. No longer needed. He could see something flicker in her face too. Something that she seemed to be looking for. Something that seemed to be pulling her along too, toward him. He then took a step back to where he had been standing. She kept walking on though, toward him. Three steps back, he remained watching as she walked on towards him. Stopping only when she was by him. Backs to the party. Looking out at the night. Through the remainder of the party, they stood by each other. Quietly looking out. The silence all they needed between them.
And then, as magical as it was, it came to an end. With the party. Just as silent as they had been until then, they said their farewells with smiles and glancing eyes.
Long after returning home, he was still at the party. Still by her. Still swimming in the magic. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know who she was. Nor that he hadn’t seen her before. He knew nothing about her. Not even if he would see her again. None of it mattered though. The magic he felt was enough. It was more than anything else he had ever felt. He could see him laughing at himself. The same as he would if it was someone else telling him about it. This was the stuff of movies, and books. Yet, here he was. Feeling it.
The next he saw her, was at another party. Of an entirely different nature though. It was something his father and uncle had come up with. One Sunday a month, they would all meet. The entire family. And not just them. Family friends would be invited too, along with their families. It was akin to a picnic. They would all gather at the community park. A whole section reserved for the party. Each family would bring a dish and a drink. At least that was the plan. It grew though, to include the children. There would always be the third item, a dish or a drink, for the children.
Despite its regularity, none grew tired of it. It was as if they had all come to look at it as the day to share gossip and tales for which they would gather up all month. Everyone had something to share, something to laugh about, something to seethe over. The talks were numerous, spanning a wide range of topics. Done with the customary pleasantries, he walked off to the far corner. By the sandpit in which were engaged the group of four boys and three girls. Building castles and waging wars. They were the princes and princesses. And he was the unofficial babysitter. Watching over them. Even though not tasked with it, it was the assumption everyone had settled on.
As he sat looking at the princes swinging their blades at the invisible air dragons, he had a small smile on his face. A smile he wasn’t even aware of. Because he wasn’t really looking at the children, or their dragons, but at the vast emptiness beyond. At one with the tranquility. Feeling the pull he turned around, to meet her eyes. That strange expression reflecting in both their eyes.
She walked over, joining him. Sitting by his side, cross legged on the ground covered under loose soil. Their knees knocking. Smiling as the war ended in the victory of the princes over the dragons, and of the princesses over the evil witch. As the princes and princesses returned to their kingdom, amidst wild cheer of their subjects, the two of them watching over the children had smiles on their faces. As if they were enjoying the victory just as much. As if the cheer of the kingdoms, the celebrations were just as much for them.
“And now, they ascend the thrones. As kings and queens,” he said in a soft voice, for her sake.
It was the first he had spoken. Surprising her. There was something else mixed in the smile on her face as she looked at him in a silent reply. He said nothing more to explain further. She didn’t have to ask, because just then the children turned their way. And came walking over.
“Crowns?” they asked in unison. Similar expressions of expectation on their faces. Turning into grins of delight as he nodded in affirmation to their question.
He then pulled out chocolate wrappers wound into seven tiny crowns which he then placed with the grace of the grand elder of the kingdoms on the heads of the young princes and princesses returning from the war, victorious in saving their kingdoms. They knelt as they accepted the crowns. They were then grinning as they pulled him to his feet. Pulling him along into the sandpit, to their kingdom. As he joined them in the celebration, throwing up the magical sand, painting the air above in magical shades of multitude. This was the grand finale. It didn’t make the smallest difference that they had an audience this time. Who was enjoying the show just as much as them.
Just as they felt the tugging of their tummies crying out in hunger, their mothers called out to them. Enticing them with chocolate brownies. They didn’t even notice their crowns slide off their heads as they rushed off to their mothers. To lunch. He carefully grabbed the crowns, returning them to his pocket before turning to her. A quiet smile was all they needed as conversation.
It was then that he looked at her. She was in a blue t-shirt, over blue jeans that reached down to her ankles. The white sneakers with streaks of blue and black on her feet completed her attire. The glasses on her face were different from the ones she had on at the party. These were larger, rounded rectangles. The frame a shade of purple he couldn’t put a name to. Other than the glasses which he didn’t have, and the sneakers which he wasn’t wearing, they were dressed alike. He too had a blue t-shirt and blue jeans on. He was barefoot though.
“I like the sharp brush of the blades of grass on my feet,” he said when she looked at his feet.
Smiling, she proceeded to untie her sneakers, pull of the socks. She then got up to her feet. Walked carefully off the open soil, onto the grass. It wasn’t her first time barefoot on grass, but it was the first time it felt that nice.
“Yeah, I like it too,” she replied, laughing at the expression of surprise on his face.
It was his first time hearing her voice. And he was charmed. It was as if with that one sentence, with the sound of her voice, the magic from the party had returned. Draping them entirely.
“The crowns?” she asked.
He understood without her having to finish. He answered with a fuller answer though.
“They’ll be missing them after lunch, after the brownies are gone. Chocolate makes them go crazy. Every time. And then, they’ll want the crowns. So I keep them. When they remember, they’ll come and collect it.”
“From the grand elder?” she asked, smiling.
She had understood fully. That surprised him. He found the need to hide it, or anything else, completely absent. He showed it on his face clearly, the surprise. From her laugh in reply, he could see that she felt the same too. It was as if they were opening up, bearing their souls to each other. And they were embracing all of each other.
It was then, as they realised what was happening, what the magic that had fallen over them was doing to them, that a new shade fell over their faces. A soft shade of blush, invisible to all but the most careful observer who knew what to look for. That extended into their countenance, their being and the air around them. It was as if they were encased in a bubble separating them from the rest of the world. A bubble in which they didn’t need words to speak. Where they were absolutely at peace with the silence between them, one with each other.
He led the way, showing her around the park. The many times they had the gathering at the park, the many wars of the children, had ensured that he was well aware of the far corners of the park. And it was those battles he was sharing with her as he introduced her to the park. She was all ears and smiles at the tales of the valiant princes and princesses who all became kings and queens at the end of each war. Their achievements would put to shame any other king or queen of greatness. Making it all the more sad that he was the only witness. Now, there was the second.
As the two made their way back, lunch was laid out. There were strange looks in all the faces turning their way. Smiling in embarrassment was all the reply they could manage. With everyone gathered, lunch began. The princes and princesses had remembered the lost crowns already, and couldn’t settle down until he had pulled them out and returned them to their rightful places on their heads. There were laughs all around coupled with applause. The children were lapping it all up, but he was embarrassed. And it showed on his face. That made the laughs all the more louder. And the strange looks grew deeper.
It was his cousin who came to his side, and to his rescue. As they were eating, his cousin explained what was happening. At the same time, it looked like her mother was explaining to her.
“The girl you were with, her father and papa were friends from a long time back,” his cousin explained. His voice soft enough to be audible only to the two of them. The rest didn’t need to hear though, they already knew.
“She got a job in the city recently. Her parents didn’t want her to go by herself, and so relocated with her. It was then that papa and he got back in touch. They realised there was an opportunity to turn the friendship into more. They wanted her and me to meet. Hoping we would like each other enough, so they could have us tied up in a knot of marriage. Well, that was the plan at least. Until we all saw the two of you. Then, there was a slight change of plan. Its clear you both like each other. So, we’ve decided to get you two married.”
It was as if a bomb exploded on him. The surprise almost lifted him into the air. Yet, it felt underwhelming. He was supposed to be feeling a lot more frantic, a lot more confused. But he wasn’t. It felt as if tiny ripples flowed through the bubble encasing them. From the look on his cousin’s face, and the rest, he could see that their unasked question was answered. They all turned in unison towards her parents. Just as her parents returned the exact same gaze. As their gazes met, the smiles burst out on their face from understanding. Smiles that quickly grew into explosive laughter. Except the children, who were startled, everyone else was in on it. It was truly a gathering of celebration. In the centre of it all, were the two of them embarrassed. Their embarrassment was fuel to the laughter.
Two days ago, at the office party, they met. Today, at the gathering, it turned out the attraction they felt toward each other was fate. They had nothing more to say, or do, as the families got started with talks about all there was to do. So much planning, so much to be done. So much celebration to prepare for. So many changes to welcome. There was happiness all around, even as they started to depart.
At the very back, far behind everyone else, were the two of them. Undisturbed. Now they were allowed to be so. Enjoying their quiet company. Awash in the happiness erupting from the depths of their hearts, grabbing them up to float in the high skies. So much conversation with so few words. As they neared the gate, where everyone else had gathered for the last words, they paused. Turning to each other.
“I’m Adit,” he said, his voice faltering from embarrassment.
“I’m Priya,” she returned, her voice the exact same.
“So, see you at work tomorrow?” he asked, a new smile forming.
“Yeah, find you there,” she replied, the smile growing on both faces.