|Courtesy - http://en.wikipedia.org|
Vacations are all about ‘faces of interest’ rather than ‘places of interest’ for me. Watching faces and guessing stories behind those eyes must the world’s best pass-time. And of course - clutching at moments that float across like psychedelic soap bubbles - moments that burst into oblivion in the memory; moments that have to be savoured real-time.
The deck of the lake ‘cruise’ boat was nice and warm, and I sat like an ancient Egyptian facing the sun: the warmth too seductive, the rolling motion of the boat too hypnotic – I went into a trance. Suddenly something tugged at my leg and I opened one eye. ‘Oops! Sorry!’ a shrill voice called out. The owner of the voice was about two and a half feet tall. Tiny fingers clutched at my jeans as she tried to haul herself up – little legs clad in little pink boots flaying about. I pulled her up and she let out a ‘poof’ of exhaustion. She looked up at me and mouthed a shy ‘thank you’. She had apples for cheeks and the summer sky for eyes. Her hair was a golden mess.
“Mu..uu...uum!” She called out to her slow poke Mum, followed by Dad and an elder brother. “He..eereee!”
The family settled down and were soon absorbed in their own world. Dad was busy explaining How The Boat Works to the son. Mum took out a paperback. The Little Girl looked around listlessly. Hmm. Boats are not so much of a fun now, are they? She wiggled around and tried to stand up. “You’ll fall Lisa,” Mum warned, “Do you want to play with Mary Ann?”
Lisa did not bother to reply. She tried to pull out her boots. Mum meanwhile had excavated Mary Ann from a vast bag. Mary Ann was a doll, quite like our little Lisa. “No Mum!” Lisa said sternly. “I’m not talking to Mary Ann.”
“Why not?” Mum asked flipping a page.
“Mary Ann has been naughty. She is a bad, bad girl.”
Clearly Mum was not interested in Mary Ann’s naughtiness. So Lisa took out a paper napkin from the pocket of her jacket. Perhaps a few hours ago, the paper had been a boat or an aeroplane. Lisa now opened the paper, folded it again and patted it with chubby fingers. Once it was patted to her satisfaction, she used me as a ladder to climb down.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Lisa dragged her Dad towards the railing of the boat. “Smi...ee Daddy! Smi..eee!” Lisa held up her paper camera and looked at her Dad through one eye. Dad gave poses as a little palm waved at him ‘adjusting’ his position. And when she thought it was perfect she yelled, “Say cheeeeeese!” Followed by “C...ICK!” Of course Dad looked at the ‘camera’ and oohed and aahed. But I never took my eyes off Lisa. That moment of unadulterated, absolute and complete ecstasy on the child’s face – it was like looking at god in the eye. The truth, the moksha, the nirvana – call it what you will. The moment of bliss that is seemingly so unattainable – so easily at grasp for a child.
The boat docked and Lisa walked away. I thanked her in my mind – for that sliver of untainted happiness. By the way, she had ‘made up’ with Mary Ann and the ‘camera’ was now in the garbage bin.
I looked forward to more such ‘moments’ and I was not disappointed. On a spectacularly sunny afternoon in Grasmere, The Husband and I ambled into a near-empty inn for a leisurely lunch. I settled down in a warm, cosy corner and looked around expectantly. Sooner or later, some story should unfold – it always does. One only needs special eyes and overactive imagination to notice the story-in-progress.
My eyes rested on a middle-aged gent sitting at a table adjacent to mine. Actually he is one of those people who look middle-aged throughout their lives. Receding hairline, thinning hair, pasty complexion, shiny nose and wire-framed specs. Half-sleeve cotton shirt with blue squares prints – the sleeves reaching down to his elbows. Two pens peeking out of the breast pocket, a third pen in his left hand busy hovering over the cryptic cross-word. No ring on finger. Not even a mark on the skin. A steaming pot of tea stood next to the newspaper, and a leather-bound, really, really thick book was placed precisely in line with the edge of the table. I was dying to see the title of the book – but I was not wearing my specs – could just make out a blurred title – embossed in gold in a calligraphic script. Probably classic prose or poetry.
I watched him as he intently worked on the cross-word. The pressed thin lips suppressing a triumphant smile when he cracked a particularly nasty clue. Unmarried, and most probably unattached, I thought, alone but not lonely. Possibly in academia; or at a job that’s very routine and predictable. Probably been in the job for decades. Because that’s what he is – predictable, reliable, loyal. Well read, witty, intelligent, articulate. But not many get a chance to know him because he’s withdrawn, shy and not many would get his self-deprecating sense of humour. Oh no...they would think it is lack of confidence. Guess his name too would be unpretentious – John or Thomas or Jack. His surname would be vintage British in a P.G.Wodehouse kind of way. His home would be neat and tidy, and it would smell of books and tea. And if someone did get through to him, and got to know him really well – it would be hard not to love this man. Oh and one really had to work hard to earn his love. He’s no frivolous spender of that emotion – because when he does love, he does so with every cell in his body.
Ah! But the real story was unfolding now. I bade goodbye to John as my attention wavered. The bartender was what the locals would call as a ‘strapping young lad’. Not a day over 18-19 I guess. His eyes regularly flitted to a corner as he cleaned the table top. I followed his gaze. Ah ha! Two pretty, pretty girls. Now which one has caught our Romeo’s fancy? The girls were absorbed in an intense conversation – their voices were a mere buzz compared to the boisterous group sitting at the patio.
I looked at Romeo again and smiled. His was not a mere fleeting glance of admiration – it was a look of helpless adoration - he was absolutely smitten. Oh this boy was in trouble. He was heading towards Heartbreak Avenue at full speed. The girls were most definitely tourists. They’d just dropped by for the long weekend I suppose. Perhaps visited this inn a couple of times – and one of them had caught our Romeo’s eyes and his heart had slid out of his mouth.
When Romeo was busy with a customer, the two girls walked into the restroom. After the customer was seated, Romeo’s eyes fell on the empty chairs. A frown marred those fine brows and the eyes darted everywhere. I wanted to stand up and shout, ‘They’re in the restroom!’...for such was his anxiety. He came out around the bar and seemed to be debating – should I take a peep outside? He walked resolutely towards the door and stepped outside.
Meanwhile, the two girls came out of the restroom. Girl 1 was chatting animatedly. Girl 2 was quiet, she was nodding and smiling. Which one? Which one? I thought as I stared at them 'Come on give me a sign...’ BINGO! Girl 2. The one in the paisley dress and an unfussy bob. Her hands repeatedly tucked her hair behind her ears as her eyes searched frantically for him – oh yes – they rested on the empty bar area and then all around the inn. I doubt if she was even listening to her gibbering friend. Her hands fell to her side, her face withdrew the smile and she walked behind her friend towards the door.
The door opened and Romeo stepped in. He could not help breaking into an extraordinary smile when he saw the girls – he held the door open, and his eyes would not leave her. They thanked him and walked out. He stood for a moment and walked out behind them. He came back moments later – and he had the ‘I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD’ look. I smiled widely. Yes! He had a date! I celebrated his triumph in my mind.
If I were a character in a book, I would have followed little Lisa. Would she become a surly teenager? Would she become a photographer or a hairdresser? Would she worry about her weight? Would she preserve Mary Ann as a memory? Would she remember the boat trip and tell it to her children?
I would have held John's hand. I would have sat next to him quietly, on his many, many solitary evenings as he worried over the cross-word or remained absorbed in Dostoevsky. I would watch him clean his specs with a neat handkerchief. I would watch the tears drip slowly down his cheeks on long, cold nights when loneliness squeezed his heart. I would watch him fall in love awkwardly, unsurely, helplessly, hopelessly.
I would walk behind Romeo and his Juliet as they tried to work out a long-distance relationship. Those long walks next to unexplored lakes; those passionate kisses amidst the pine trees; the tender love-making on freshly mown grass; those fights and angry tears and tender embraces.
My lunch was done. I was back to earth. The time had fled by. And these are the moments – irrespective of race and colour – that defines all our lives and makes the world go around. It's the same love, longing, loneliness, anguish, smiles, tears, joy and laughter.Yes my life is theirs and theirs... mine.
© Sumana Khan - 2012