I was working on one of those dreary, never-ending projects where nothing ever goes right. Three months into the project, the number of work hours topped to 20 hours/day; while productivity dipped to 2 hours/day. This meant for 18 hours we were in meetings to raise issues, meetings to clarify issues, meetings to discover issues. Nutrition was Maggie, bananas, popcorn, Maggie, Maggie. Terrific weight loss. I would have looked like a bomb...if not for the kangaroo-type pouches beneath my eyes.
Despite the grim work environment, being a born romantic, it is my intrinsic nature to seek pleasure in the smallest of things. It was my practice to park my car in the farthest slot in the sprawling office campus. It was a good five minute walk to the main office building, a walk which I looked forward to every day. The landscaped garden was simple and neat without extravagant features. Butterflies, birds, and sometimes even bunnies would be out to enjoy the still morning sunshine, before humidity spread out like a steamed wet blanket. But then, when I left work late in the night, the five minute walk would seem endless, and how I wished I could just lie down on the grass, with the sprinklers pecking at my face!
On a particularly nasty day, I managed to wind up by 12:30AM in the dead of the night. It was only when I stepped out that I realized a storm was raging. The night sky was pregnant with reddish gray clouds, and the rain came down in an opaque curtain, blurring even the bright orange halogen lamps. The wind was weak, but the lightning which licked the ground each time scared the hell out of me. Well, actually, whenever there was lightning, I could see my reflection on the glass door. My hair seemed to have some kind of an electric charge...it looked like I had piled up a weaver bird’s nest on my head. I knew my eyes were blood-shot, from the way they itched; and the bags under my eyes would reach my chin in a couple of days. I think my reflection scared me more than the thunder and lightning. If Twilight had been made in those days, I could have been one of those vampires – errr...without make-up or special effects.
Anyway, the rain slackened, and I started walking rapidly towards my car. Being a drama queen, I usually imagine events – particularly disastrous ones on a large scale. I just hoped the lightning would not strike on the pin of my umbrella. Knowing my luck, I was very sure such a catastrophe was round corner. With every thunder clap, I leapt a foot in the air like a wet cat. In the midst of such gymnastics, I heard a pair of footsteps behind. I was sure I would be mugged. I had to get to my car as quickly as possible. I increased my speed of walking; but slowed down immediately. Umbrella and clutch purse in one hand, laptop bag around my shoulders and a bunch of heavy books in my other hand. If I increased my speed – there would be sure death. The alternate option was to fight it out with the mugger. Hmm. I should throw the heavy books at him rapidly and catch him unawares. It is another thing that if I aim for Alaska, I would probably hit Africa. Anyway, the act of throwing books would throw the mugger into confusion. And at that instant, I will swing my umbrella, and at least manage to poke him repeatedly in the ribs.
I slowed down and turned around, raising my left arm that carried 3 kgs of books. Well, ‘raised’ is an exaggeration. I could probably lift the arm for half an inch. My arm trembled violently under the strain. The person behind stopped too. A bolt of lightning lit up the night sky. I hoped I was under the shadow of the umbrella, and the stranger did not see my face. As far as I was concerned, I saw every little detail of his spectacular face in the lightning. The look of surprise, a pair of startling, watery blue eyes, close-cropped yet, very well styled flaxen hair, a mole just above his right eyebrow. He was soaking wet. His left hand went up a couple of times to shake off excess water from his face. No ring. The thud I heard must have been my heart flying out of my open mouth and landing at his feet.
“Hi! I did not mean to startle you...just wanted to catch up.... errr...the umbrella.” He had to shout over the rain. I could hear the smile in his voice. Did his eyes crinkle when he smiled?
I gestured for him to join me...a little too eagerly. Since he towered over me by what looked like 10 feet, he held the umbrella. Aah! Raj Kapoor, Nargis.
“I can’t remember where I’ve parked my car!” He exclaimed in frustration.
“Let’s look for it!” I shouted back. I hoped we could look for it ...like...for next 20 years.
“Where’s your car?” he asked.
I pointed to my silver Mazda gleaming in solitary dignity, at the far end of the car park.
One more flash of lightning. “Sonofagun! There she is!” He exclaimed. His Mustang convertible stood five paces away from us.
I hoped it had a flat one.
“Come along kid...let me drop you to your car!” He grabbed the books from me and started walking towards my car. I tried to keep pace with him. He kept up an easy banter; I was hardly listening to any of it. I kept praying that his car had a flat one.
“Do you have to excavate the keys from that suitcase you are holding?” he laughed. I was reminded of the muted, pleasant sound of bamboo chimes.
“I have it in my pocket,” I mumbled. I hoped as hell he could not see my face. I pressed the remote and my Mazda chirped.
I got into my car. “Take the umbrella with you – I can collect it tomorrow.” Perhaps over a cuppa.
“Nah! Flying out of the country.” He opened the passenger door and deposited the umbrella on the floor mat. For a moment, the car was filled with a subtle perfume. He closed the door and gestured for me to start the car. As my engine growled to life, he gave a thumbs-up and a wave. He jogged back to his car.
As I drove out, I noticed that he followed me. When I took the turn that went straight into the driveway of my apartment complex, he flashed his headlights twice, took a U-turn and drove away...and I never saw him again.
That one minute encounter made my otherwise pathetic days at office that much more pleasant. How long would he be out of the country? A week? Two weeks? That’s okay...I was anyway going to hang around for next century, the way the project was heading. I searched in every cubicle, across the five floors for him – but in vain. But then, I smiled more often. I stopped buying books, and started buying mascara and lipstick. Ah! That exquisite wait! That anticipation which warmed my heart like glowing embers ...
Nearly ten years down the line, I have forgotten his face, but that subtle perfume is locked in my memory. It is most definitely one of the imitations one finds in Wal-Mart ('Our answer to CK1' types). Every now and then, be it in airports or malls, I get a whiff of it, and a pleasant memory flares up. I sigh and tell my husband “Just miss.” To which he mumbles “I agree. Very narrow escape for him.” And he sighs.
©Sumana Khan - 2010