Don’t know when I began noticing her in the bus I took to work every day.
She would get on at the Sadhu Vaswani Chowk stop. My connoisseur’s eyes didn’t note anything sensual or overtly attractive about her. A little on the plump side, she was simply dressed in a bright, flowery sari. She looked like she was probably my age, 26.
Whatever it was about her, I can certify under oath that she was maybe the only member of the other sex at that point in my testosterone-drenched age, whom I didn’t immediately want to fantasize making love to. Guess I put her on this pedestal from the moment I set eyes on her.
What was mesmerizing was the moment she smiled. And she smiled a lot. When making space for another passenger to sit by her or when fishing out change for the conductor. She smiled at the drop of a hat – when getting up to let an old man sit or even when she was simply looking out the grimy window.
It started gradually. Unable to tear my gaze away, I began staring at her radiant face every once in a while, though I tried my best not to seem obvious. Sometimes she’d turn her head and her jet black eyes would give the interior of the bus a casual smiling sweep. I’d catch my breath and hastily avert my own stare before she caught me. Our eyes actually met only twice I recall, just for fleeting moments, quicker than a rotating pulsar.
Sometimes I thought she might have been doing the same thing – staring at me while I wasn’t looking – because I caught her turning her head away just when mine was turning toward her. But then maybe it was just my ego, wanting that balance, that massage.
From then on, soon as I was on the bus every morning, I’d grab a seat by the window immediately next to the doorway. That way, I’d be in a position to see her walk up and get on the bus. And she’d then have to brush past me. And maybe, just maybe, one day, some day, if the seat next to me was vacant, she’d think of setting herself down there, right next. Just the thought gave me goose pimples. But that never happened – just like so many other things in my life. She never ever sat next, the seat next being always occupied, by obese old ladies.
The sequence reversed in the evenings, on the same bus back home. She’d be in the bus when I got on. I couldn’t just stand there blocking the narrow crowded aisle while I looked around for her as that would make it obvious. I had to sit down first, wherever I could and then let my eyes begin their feverish, surreptitious search. Where are you, my angel, my insides would thump. And then, when I finally spotted her, i would realize that I had been holding my breath and I would exhale.
She would of course be oblivious of me, chattering away with her neighbor, smiles sparkling once in a while, perfectly formed pearly teeth blazing. Sometimes, she laughed, two palms flying up to cover her blushing face. In those times, the urge to walk across and loom over her, gently pry her palms open, and gaze down at the warmth of sheer goodness that she radiated.
Then there were days that were dark, rain and sometimes high winds buffeting the windows and making everything rattle inside the bus. Those were the days when she wasn’t there. It must have been my imagination – linking the fury of mother nature to the appearance of a human being. Nevertheless, time seemed to stretch forever, like I was dallying at the boundary of some gigantic Schwarzschild radius. A vacation maybe? I worried. Perhaps a relocation to somewhere else or a better job in another part of town? Those days, I’d go about with this weight on my chest all day.
There’s not much else that happened really. Sorry to bust your bubble. If you were thinking my stories have a climax, they don’t. I do experiences climaxes, even at this late age, but I shall have to keep that for another time. Right now I feel too straight-laced.
But wait, I just remembered something – one evening, late December, on the ride back from work. There was a chill, the sun having set almost a half hour prior. The bus hurtled through the darkening countryside and there she was. She had bright jasmines printed all over her sari. A thin wrist band on her left hand. Beautiful feet in slim leather sandals. HMT Citizen watch on her right wrist. Black artificial leather hand bag with a tiny umbrella sticking out. A shiny golden brooch holding up her anchal, to her blouse.
Everything was there as before. Except her. She sat, shrunken, in the corner of her seat. Holding a wadded kerchief, she dabbed at her eyes from time to time, as she stared out the window. Time to time, she heaved, to catch a deep breath. No one else appeared to take notice.
Every sinew within my body cried to walk across and pick her up in my arms, comfort her and tell her that from then on the one single reason for my existence would be to see her become the happiest woman on earth.
But I stayed riveted to my seat, unable to move. And I knew that time was running out – her stop was coming up and soon she would be getting off. I was angry at myself for not having the guts to go up to her. If Dostoyevsky had seen this happening in Moscow in 18bloody50 and had decided to write about it, he’d plan it as a sequel, titled ‘That other Blooming Idiot’.
And then it happened. The windows had fogged over and she’d been doodling on the pane when she suddenly turned and fixed her gaze solidly on me. There was no question about it. She was looking at me! She was actually looking straight at this author, yours truly, brilliant engineer, nerd, sissy, twerp, quaint guy, pipsqueak. Oui, Ja, si, ano, da – moi!!! (I apologize. I can’t find Swahili for ‘yes’).
Anyways, this time I don’t know how I managed it, but I held her gaze. The bus, which had been jerking and jolting along, suddenly seemed to lift off the highway and begin floating in the air. I saw her eyes and they were red. But through the nameless pain she so obviously felt, she gave me the most amazing smile I’d ever seen. She kept looking at me, smiling and nodding and I kept drinking in her sight, wide-eyed. Millions of words condensed and flowed with lightning speed between us, unspoken. At that brief moment, we knew everything there was to know, about one another.
As her stop came up up, she rose and walked unsteadily toward the doorway, where she stood clutching those two bars on either side till the bus came to a halt. This time the glance was electrifying. Our eyes met and locked and then she was gone. Should I have gotten off as well…and maybe made friends on the sidewalk? I was left with the feeling that she didn’t want to take it any further than what had just passed between us. If anything at all had, that is.
As the bus swayed round the Sadhu Vaswani Chowk, I craned my neck out the window, to catch one last glimpse. She was gone. I’d been standing all this while and so I moved forward to go sit at her vacated seat by the frosted window panes. I noticed the doodle. It was just one word. Roma.
Roma never got on the bus after that day.