Continued from Mesmerizing Eyes (II)
The questions hammered on. What had happened to her? Was she sick? Was she….? No! She was not!!
He didn’t even know where she lived! Why hadn’t he made a greater effort to find her place?! She usually went home with the two boys hanging on to her hands, chattering nineteen to a dozen. Why hadn’t he asked the boys the other day? Why had he not tried to find them? He was the laziest good- for- nothing on earth! How could he be so casual!? His they were right; he took things too easy.
He had never applied himself, neither in college nor at his job. He let things slide, procrastinating until it was always too late. Then a few days of regret and back to square one. He had never learned his lesson. He was careless, irresponsible and heedless. A slip of a girl- one who mattered so vitally to him- and he had lost her!
All those months he went and stuffed himself with idlis and hadn’t the gumption to talk to the girl about the things that were important! As if the idlis were all important and she was not! Someone ought to shoot him and then hang him for good measure! He was so pathetic that he couldn’t even find out where she lived! What kind of a man was he? He wasn’t a man; he was a slimy worm- and useless to boot!
Praful’s self- disgust was boundless. For many weeks he tried to douse his inner fires with flaming self- hatred. The conflagration consumed him, turning things into ashes within him. The fire showed in his actions; it blazed from his eyes. He was restless and untiring. He wanted to punish himself for having lost something beautiful and precious. He will never forgive himself, he vowed.
His mother began to notice a change in him. He became quiet and intense. The utility bills got paid well in time without her having to remind him even once. He was solicitous and responsible. It had been weeks since she had had to reprimand him. Her long homilies were now a thing of the past; they were no longer required. He was responsible towards himself and the rest of the family. She held her breath, silently blessing the thing that had brought about the change in him.
Some days he went halfway to the station but the possibility of not finding her there was too painful for him to deal with, so he returned. A few days ago he had gone all the way to the platform but it was after six. She was not there. He berated himself for being a coward but he couldn’t bear to go ever again. It had now been almost two months since he had gone to the station. He decided that idli- chutney was not a snack worthy of his mature patronage; it was food for children, he told himself. Some days he almost convinced himself.
He was on one of his half-way sojourns to the railway station again today. At four o’clock on the dot, in response to a relentless inner clock which had decided to rear its head today, he had got up and walked out of office without a word to anybody. He needed the walk, he told himself. Just as he was about to turn back and retrace his steps, he saw the two ragamuffins in the distance!
He’d never seen them outside the station. It shocked him inexplicably. He looked wildly around, disoriented. He didn’t want to meet them, to be reminded of her, to be reminded of her absence. It didn’t occur to him that they could be a source of vital information- his state of mind was such. All he could think of was the pain of being reminded of her with no way to reach her again.
Willingly, he’d have thrown himself from a bridge- or a skyscraper- just to avoid those two boys. They were chatting away animatedly, happy and carefree. A flood of resentment sloshed in Praful’s heart. How callous these boys were! She had disappeared and they didn’t give a damn! Fickle- minded little brutes!
Oh damn! They had spotted him! He turned on his heels abruptly and hurried away, almost breaking into a run.
“Bhaiya, wait!” cried the pursuers behind him.
“Please bhaiya, wait!”
Praful began to run. He wasn’t going to let them get in his face. Bloody scoundrels! They probably wanted more money from him! Blood- suckers!
He ran faster.
“Bhaiya, akka was looking for you!” The boys shouted in desperation.
Praful skidded to a stop. Akka!! What the…!? Were these boys making fun of him? How dare they!? He’d settle them in a minute! The cheek of the brats!!
Within minutes, the boys caught up with him, completely out of breath. He stood in the middle of the jostling crowd, hands on his hips, the very picture of an angry and deeply offended bear. The boys were not fazed by his aggressive demeanor though.
“Come”, they said briefly. Holding on to each of his hands on either side, just as they did when they escorted their akka home, they half- pushed, half- dragged him along. A few yards before the station gates, there were a line of shops from which many road- side eateries operated. In one of them sat the boys’ akka, demurely serving idlis from a huge steel pot. Praful was dazed. She was here all along!
“Akka, look! We found bhaiya!” the boys declared proudly. Without raising her eyes, she gave a smile that spoke volumes of her delight.
“Raghav”, she called her sole helper in the shop, “give the boys an extra plate of idlis today.” With that, she came out from behind the counter and stood silently before Praful, her eyes lowered as always. He waited for her to say something; she did not. He stood tongue tied too. A lifetime went rollicking past.
Hesitantly, she held out her right hand, palm upward. Her fingers slightly curled, she held her hand in front of him as if asking him for something. The hand looked so vulnerable held out like that! Praful melted with tenderness though he was also perplexed. She still wouldn’t look up, say a word or give him a smile. What did she want? They stood thus while a few more minutes walked away from them.
He had no idea why, but he felt compelled to place his own right hand over hers, palms touching. As soon as he did that, she gave a soft sigh, as if she had been holding her breath which she had now exhaled. He closed his fingers around her small cool hand, his thumb and index finger circling her wrist. He pulled her closer towards him. She still wouldn’t lift her eyes.
Gently, he lifted her chin. She allowed her face to be raised…but her eyes were still hidden, covered by her long-lashed eyelids. He waited; he had all the time in the world. He was not moving until he had looked into her eyes.
Another chunk of time sidled away. They breathed together: in and out; in and out. The world around them popped out of existence. The sounds were muted, the colors got faded. Nothing existed but the reality of this woman who stood quietly close to him, her eyes lowered. He had no idea how much time went by before she finally she raised her eyes to him. He met himself in their warm brown depths.
He met some old sorrows and a few new ones. He met the wisps of a few hidden fears. There were a horde of questions and a bevy of answers. There was loneliness and its succor, together. And there was uncontainable happiness spilling wetly over her soft cheeks. He inhaled deeply and her fragrance filled his senses. She rested her head on his chest as he tucked her head under his chin and held her close. There weren’t any questions left. She was home, where she belonged. And so was he.
Even blind eyes can mesmerize, he noted with surprise.