It was 7:00 p.m., time to leave office and go back to a life I never thought would be mine. I finished my 4th and last cup of coffee for the day. I switched off my screen, put the mug back on the table and reclined on my chair. My thoughts went blank as I closed my eyes. I had been sitting at my desk, my eyes glued to the monitor, my hands idle, my mind wandering for about 5 hours now. I had spent a greater part of the day, staring into the blank screen, doing nothing. I had found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything else but the interview I took this morning. It kept playing itself over and again in my head. Another day lost to the vast emptiness I had carried on my being for, what seemed like eternity. The calendar on my desk earned itself another cross on its face. Another special day marked in red.
A sigh escaped my lips and I got up to go. I picked up the keys and took my jacket from the cabinet where I had thrown it in a pile when I came in. I flung it across the shoulder and immediately knew that I shouldn’t have done so. The pocket flaps could not resist opening themselves and throwing the contents on the floor. A couple of coins, a parking ticket, a payment receipt of the dinner the night before and a picture decorated the carpet now.
I trashed the receipt and the ticket, pocketed the coins and picked the photograph. It was an old copy – a picture that I had carried on my being for last 10 years. The raven eyes sparkled through the wrinkled paper. I wished for it come alive and tell me what I ached to hear. It did not. I looked at the picture one more time and the face looked back at me. She smiled from the picture, I sighed back at her.
Life over the years had changed its course. It had devoured on itself, resurrected and exhumed on its own and now stood at a cross road, where all roads led to a dead-end. The memories burnt bright at this time of the day. A young night brought with it a pining that echoed aloud to keep me awake till wee hours of the day. I looked outside the window. The sky was a dirty shade of dark grey and city lights ensured that the night was robbed of its stars and the deep dark complexion.
I lingered on setting my table and arranging the bunch of papers I had not touched for weeks now, eventually stacking them up in a chaotic pile again towards one corner of the table. I looked at my watch. It was 7:15, another couple of minutes and I knew my phone would start ringing. It would be inevitable then to avoid the flurry of questions from the other end about where I was and when would I be returning. I buttoned up my jacket and it felt suffocating. The monotony of life and the rules which formed the walls of my cage kept inching forward each day, pressing me between their folds. Time was running out and sand slipping fast through my fingers.
I returned the picture in my hand to its confinement in the jacket. I switched on the monitor once again and checked in for any last minute official mails. There were none. Not knowing what else to do, I switched off the screen, picked up my bag and left the office.
My mind continued playing games with me as I rode back from office. My thoughts wandered off to days gone by. Life had come a long way since the time she had first left over 10 years ago. Those were my crazy days. I had never before in my life and never after, felt an emotion so strong and passionate to make me want to beg and pray to seek someone’s affections. I lived in a fanciful world flanked by dreams – a world surreal and oblivious to the blind turns that look subtle and yet potent enough to alter the face of life beyond recognition. I never thought that I would lose her because I would never be able to tell her how much I cared. It seemed such a lousy reason now to think of that the person I was crazy about never got to know what I felt and the extent of what I felt. All along I assumed that there was plenty of time for her to see what I carried in my heart that I totally overlooked the fact that somebody else could come by and sweep her off her feet and leave me shattered forever.
She came in like mild breeze into my life, stormed her way into my being and just vanished into thin air. Before I saw the writing on the wall and could find someone to lead me to her, the family changed base more than once, she changed her college and soon after, her marital status. My world came crashing at my feet, pieces of glass flying all over, my being littered with little notes that I kept scribbling in my diaries and notebooks.
The turn of events left me stupefied and in daze that I lost track of time, space and how years went by. My only memory was an odd black and white picture that I had managed to lay hands upon somehow from an old discarded admission form. Needless to say, that I held onto that picture for over a decade waking in the middle of the night and talking to it. I was a nervous wreck. Normally, one would expect a person to come out of such situations in life in due course of time I somehow, could never get over it. Perhaps it would have gone on like this and I would have ended up in an asylum soon….had it not been for today.
It began as any other day. I had woken to the maid ringing the door bell and half-awake walked bare foot to open the door and let her in just as ever, picking up the newspaper from the balcony and climbing back into my bed. I was always a morning person but now waking up early seemed so meaningless. I had given up jogging long ago, perhaps about the time her family moved out of the city.
I took a quick shower, hurried with my breakfast and rode through the crazy morning traffic to reach office at my regular time. I got myself busy with the same mundane office routine till about the lunch time when one of the colleagues talked me into speaking to one of the candidates for an interview on his behalf. I was reluctant and wanted to excuse myself from the compulsion of talking to this lady to be interviewed and would have done so had it not been for the favor that I owed this friend and a fellow worker.
I was handed over the resume of the candidate minutes before the scheduled interview time. The name caught my attention though but in the rush of time, I proceeded onto the other mentioned details around which I planned to frame my questions. I walked into the conference room where I was supposed to interview the candidate. I glanced over the resume again and was going through the job description again when she stepped in.
I could never forget the face that I saw each night in my dreams, the face I talked to and imagined being close to, over hundred times a day. She stood before me, with the same kohl eyes that once fired the sun in my skies. Her face was bright and glowing as ever. Though passing years had left some imprints at the corners of the eyes, her smile still lit the room as she entered. My heart pounded against my chest as smiled and waited for me to offer her the seat. I signaled her to take a seat but could barely reply or acknowledge her courtesies.
I had always imagined myself meeting her once in this lifetime and being able to express all what I carried over the years. I had always hoped to see her if not even being able to flood her with what I ever felt. I had waited over a decade; almost half my life time, waiting for a moment which I thought would be the high point of my life – a moment after which life would be mere existence, a pinnacle of emotions, a summit of passion and I had hoped that it would last a life time.
I had craved and yearned for this one moment for over ten years and yet as I sat there in front of her, words failed me. I sat there like idiots, trying to catch my breath and get a control over my heart beats. She waited for me to say something and I kept looking at her face till she became conscious of my stare and started fiddling with her ‘duppatta.’ Having realized that she probably did not even recognize me, I woke from my trance, shuffled the papers and proceeded to the formalities of the interview.
She answered what she knew, smiled and declined a few and gave fleeting answers to others or so I thought. It was difficult for me to maintain a straight face, evaluating the contents of the answers she gave, was not even a consideration. I took longer than usual asking about her schooling, probing her about her college days and the personal details and family hoping she might catch something there and might associate me with her college. She did not. I could gather that she had been married for past 7 years now, has a school going baby and that she was working earlier and quit working after marriage and now wants a career path again owing to the free time she has and has recently moved into the city etc. etc.
The moment I had always dreamt about had arrived and gone without leaving any foot prints behind. The ecstasy I had always associated to the moment came in as a shudder and left me dry. All along these years I had hoped to see her again, meet her and be able to talk to her and tell her how I felt. The exaltation of being able to see her got my pulse racing, my heart thumping for sure but again it came in as a huge wave, broke itself on the shores of my being and washed away any etching that I had on the sands of time. I was alone again and what I ever felt remained buried in me.
The interview was over and she walked away just as she had come in – dignity personified. For a brief moment I wished she would look back and come running to me. She paused for a split second before opening the door and then made her exit. I sat in the empty room for a while collecting my bits and scratching notes on the paper. I slid and slued and slipped from the top of my emotional spire.
I guess, it was the best that could have happened. I was glad that I did not say anything. I was certain now that I didn’t matter to her. I was happy that I did not create any ripples in her life. She did not know anything and that was best for her.
I thought it would be ideal if I did not let her cross my path again. I took the interview sheet in my hand, looked at the resume again and wrote in crisp red ink “REJECTED”.
I dropped my handbag on the sofa and sank into the chair. My son had not come back from the school as yet. I called out for the maid and asked her for some water. It wasn’t very hot but I still was reeling from what happened today.
The day had started off just like any other day. My husband as usual woke me in the wee hours for his special needs at that time of the day. I dragged myself into the kitchen, poured him his cup of coffee and came out to sit in the little lawn in the house, wanting to feel the morning chill. I was never really a morning person. I recalled how mother would often literally push me out of the bed and often poured water on my face to wake me up. I hated getting up early and more so in winters.
However all that changed when I entered college. It was one such day in winter with fog rising when I first saw him. I was out of the library and heading towards the canteen craving for a cup of tea when he walked out of his class. Somehow that winter fog and nip in the air got tagged with his thoughts then and warmed my heart ever after. I would wake up early then and grab my chair to sit by the window hoping to catch a glimpse of him jogging down the road.
Watching him come always got my pulse racing. I would wait for him to come and kept looking at the road long after he was gone. I would often see him at the college, busy with one thing or the other, surrounded by people and friends who enjoyed his company. When I saw him, I could not help smiling incessantly, often feeling stupid later. I would linger on in the corridors then waiting for him to come out from his practical labs and often dared to go close enough to catch a good look.
Even now, years after I had left college and seen him last, the hazy mist always managed to take me back to my college days and ….his thoughts. A sigh escaped my lips and I did not know what to do. I closed my eyes and leaned back in the chair.
Life had taken me to a different course altogether, much different from what I wanted for myself. Dad got transferred multiple times in a short span of time and before I could grasp what was happening I was forced to shift college and almost emotionally blackmailed to be married. It’s a nice alliance they argued, the guy is good, well settled, highly educated, what more could you want? I could never say that I did not want more, in fact I desired lot lesser than that.
I wonder at times how would it have been had I got what I wanted. I don’t know. I could never tell him what I felt like. I waited for him to come up some day and tell me what I wanted to hear. I would sit at length in the hallways pretending to read a book and imagined him to come up to me and tell me that he cared. I fantasized day in and out about him walking up to me with flowers in his hands and sweeping me off my feet. It never happened.
He probably never was interested in my plain looks and small eyes. My dreams stayed as dreams and continued to reside where they were born – in my head. Life changed and I submitted myself to the flow -graduating as per father’s wishes, married as per family traditions, managing household as a dutiful daughter-in-law and giving in when ever wanted as a dutiful wife. I often dreamt of being chunked and canned into multiple bits, my individuality forayed and turned to various blocks, every one picking what they wanted.
All these years, I nurtured a secret desire. I hoped to see him again maybe once and be able to ask him if he ever cared. I dreamt and wished that I would find him somewhere and be able to cry my heart out, my head on his chest. I longed for one such moment, one moment for me to last my remaining life time, an acme in life beyond which life becomes mere subsistence. I ached for that consolation that could torch and light my remaining days in this life with a golden glow of the memory of that one moment.
I would have turned to cinders nurturing this dream had it not been for today. I was scheduled for this interview at one of the leading multi-nationals. It was a while that I had quit my previous job. The arrival of the stork soon after the marriage made it impossible for me to pursue my career then. One of the easiest made ‘consensual’ decisions in matrimony is the woman forgoing her career and job for the sake of mutual harmony and balanced personal and professional life. I guess, a woman’s job automatically becomes most easily dispensable idea if the husband is making enough money for his liking for cars and other gadgets. It took me a lot of convincing and arguing to finally coax the father of my child to allow me to step out of the mansion and resume my work from where I left. I was not surprised that he was more cynical than being supportive however, I went ahead and applied at a couple of places and went for this interview today.
I reached the venue at about the scheduled time despite starting off early, thanks to the crazy city traffic. The lady at the reception showed me to a conference room where the first round was supposed to take place. I was told that it would be an informal round based on my previous work experience and education. I threw a quick glance at the copy of resume which I had submitted earlier and taking a long breath, stepped inside the room.
The room was well lit and nicely furnished. My eyes moved from the wooden flooring to the lamps on walls and to the big horse shoe table in the middle of the room. My eyes adjusted to the lighting soon and it became clear that I wasn’t imagining things. He sat there across the table, looking busy as ever and shuffling through what looked like my resume.
The moment which I had been waiting for all these years was here. I felt cold. My knees shook. I almost thought I would collapse there. I mustered up all my courage and managed to look at him. He probably did not recognize me. He signaled me to a chair and I sank in as gracefully as I could. I noticed that after all these years he still had the same effect on me. I had started smiling foolishly and could only feebly wish him appropriately as a candidate for an interview. Perhaps he caught me looking at him. I felt stupid and in an attempt to hide my nervousness kept adjusting my “duppatta” multiple times.
I was hoping that he would read my name and ask me how had I been all these years. I wished he would tell me that he always knew that I cared for him and that he managed to find the admission form that I had deliberately left at the counter with my address filled in.
He called my name and I felt shivers all over me. What he said next brought me down from the pinnacle of emotions which I always thought would last me a life time. He asked me where I lived earlier and where I got my education and things I had hoped he would know. I felt dejected at being treated like a stranger by him. It seemed like he never got to know how much I cared for him or probably he never thought I was worthwhile to catch his eye.
The heightened emotion soon subsided. The storm came in raging, pulsated and quivered my being, churned my soul and heart out with an emotion that I had kept entrapped for over a decade now and it went away whimpering, razing everything with it, leaving me barren like never before.
I wanted him all along only to realize that he never saw me in that light. I kept answering what ever questions I could, kept smiling whenever I got lost in his face and came out with some jargon on other questions. I tried to be as elaborate as possible on the personal details, about the family background, education and other trivia hoping he would still recognize me. It did not happen.
I felt like breaking the ice myself and tell him that I am the one who have known you ever since, been dreaming about you on a daily basis and that you still make my heart skip a beat. I decided against it. Perhaps it was better that he does not know it now. There was no point creating any ripples now when little could be done.
I thanked him for the interview and stepped out of the room. I wanted to look back and run to him and cry my heart out just as the way I always thought it would be. I did not do so. I overcame the urge to look back and stepped outside the hall. He did not come out to see me out of the room, maybe I was expecting too much. The high point of my life as I wanted had come and passed away just feebly brushing by my side.