Monday, November 26, 2012

Eyes to My Soul - Part IV

For the rest of the series, visit here.

The flight entered IGI airport even as the sun was contemplating whether to rise out of its deep slumber or hit the snooze button for a few more minutes. Just as the front wheel hit the tarmac and people started shuffling and arranging their stuff, a profusion of thoughts clouded my mind. What lay in store for me in the coming days I could not in the least fathom. I couldn't say I hadn't thought about it all this time. I had made a decision two years ago and I'd stuck with it so far. But the hardest part was soon to come and I was not sure anymore of whether I'd made the right choice after all or not. It didn't make any difference anyway - here I was, back in India after two years, to pursue the end I'd left behind before I left.


I had been away in Massachusetts these past two years pursuing my Masters in Business Administration from Harvard University. How I got there and after how long an ordeal makes for an altogether different story, which I shall reserve for another time. It should just suffice to say I had a really hard time staying on in the city where I'd seen my dreams shatter, and I'd grabbed the first chance of going abroad that had come my way. I had a dream and I had to work towards it at all costs, and part of it had been achieved when I graduated from Harvard. Now, returning to the country with a great career, relatively fairer skin and a painstakingly picked up accent, all that was left to do was to find her.

I had long severed contact with everyone who could possibly have the slightest idea about her whereabouts or her life, as also with those who could pass on my whereabouts to her - which essentially meant almost everyone I knew in the city. I wanted to be out of everyone's (read: her) sight for long enough to be all but forgotten, so that when I returned, it would have the impact I desired.

No one but my family knew I was returning. But thankfully they were no longer in town to be able to spread the happy news and spoil my surprise. My parents had moved back to our hometown when I left, and my kid sister had already been living in her college hostel by then. So after two years I was returning to the city where most of my life had been spent, with a top class degree and a job to die for but to no home and no family - just a posh room in one of the top hotels of the city with a view of the Jantar Mantar.

I checked into the hotel and spent the afternoon making inquiries. As it turned out, one of my close friends from college was working in another department in the same office that I was supposed to join in a week's time. I called him up (to his great surprise and then rage for having been cut off for so long and not calling sooner) and set up a meeting with him for the evening in my hotel. He arrived, we chatted over coffee and everything seemed like going back to normal. Until he breached the subject I was most wishing to avoid - why had I left without a word? Why hadn't I kept in touch? What had happened? I didn't have the words or the courage to answer him, so I kept quiet. He kept posing questions, rebuking me for being a jerk and finally said one word that made me wince unknowingly. Her name. And that was when he knew. And so the whole story came tumbling out and I won't say he was really impressed. Heck, he didn't at all approve of my intentions. He said it was a bad idea. I stuck to it all the same, only asking him to help me with one thing, to which he hesitantly agreed. We'd always been close friends, so I knew he would keep his promise, and so he did.

It was thus a cold Sunday morning, two days after I'd landed in Delhi, when I could be found pacing up and down the foyer of an uptown Italian restaurant in Connaught Place. He'd told me she'd be here for her weekly brunch with a group of girlfriends. I had returned to India only for her, and this was going to be my chance at finishing what I had left incomplete. In the last two years, as I heard from him, she had graduated and taken up a moderately-paying job that gave her a chance to travel all over the globe. Somewhere along the way, she'd given up the job and turned into a travel writer who was apparently much sought after today. As much as I wished I could be happy for her success, it had instead made me all the more nervous and doubtful about my plan. And so, with bated breath, I waited for her at the foyer, complete with a lily (she'd always hated roses) and a designer watch that I'd specially brought for her from Paris during holidays. I dressed impeccably now, always smelled of musk (apparently her favorite fragrance) and was what you could call 'a good catch'. So much for the girl who'd never thought I was even boyfriend material. Try as I might, I could not understand how I could have been so naive back then! How did I ever think she'd be mine? Looking back at who I used to be, I couldn't help but give her some credit for cushioning the blow of her rejection by attributing it to another guy rather than to me. I'd heard that they never made it beyond a couple of months together. I'm sure if I'd been around, she wouldn't have considered me even as a rebound. Or she just might have. Oh Lord. Should I have lingered around just a bit longer? If I had, wouldn't I have been her obvious choice for a rebound relationship? God, what was I thinking?! I sure as hell was panicking now. I wished she would arrive sooner and end my misery, either for better or for worse.


And then I spotted her, getting out of a shiny black sedan outside the restaurant, not too pretentious yet hard not to notice. And like always, my breathing stopped while I looked on at her perfect figure, tanned a bit but ever the picture of beauty, walking towards what seemed like a glass door separating her from me. Fortunately I came to my senses just in time to realize I was standing directly in her way (thank God for mirror glasses - she couldn't see me just yet) and I darted behind the manager's desk to his utter surprise. She was laughing with her friends, ever her cheerful self, and presently approached the manager to look up her reservation. I stopped breathing again (totally involuntarily). She found her name on the list, chatted with the manager about stuff I could hardly concentrate upon, and finally moved inside the restaurant to my utmost relief. The manager gave me an amused look, indicating that he'd done me a favor by not ratting me out while also reminding me that I was still crouching under his desk. I quickly stood up and straightened myself, and thanked him in a very self-conscious, throaty voice.

I was inwardly cursing myself for having been such a coward as to run away on seeing the very person I'd taken so much trouble to come and see. With no better idea in mind, I gathered my teetered spirits and leftover courage and entered the restaurant. Not such a grand entry as I'd planned to make after all, but nevertheless. I could see her perched at the far end of the place, at a table along with her girlfriends, looking out of the glass wall towards the rooftop seating outside with wistful eyes. I recalled how much she loved eating out at rooftop restaurants and open places with greenery all around. So she hadn't changed all that much. I couldn't help smiling to myself. And that was when she abruptly turned and caught my eye. My smile turned into a scandalized expression, if you know what I mean. She looked completely shocked and incredulous. I looked to my left, then to the right, and just as she got up from her table and started marching towards me, I realized I was cornered. Hadn't I come all the way here for exactly this moment? Wasn't this going in the right direction? I asked myself. The answers weren't reassuring. I didn't know what I was gonna say to her. I was at my wit's end. She reached up to me and blurted out my name disbelievingly, as if checking if it is indeed me or someone else with my face and physique (only, better taste). I kept mum, looking back and forth between the ground and a spot somewhere above her shoulder, as I could not look into her eyes. She spoke to me, possibly my name again, but I wasn't listening. I was thinking hard about what to say, and how to say it. This wasn't at all going according to my plan. Oh God, what had I gotten myself into?

(To be continued...)
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