Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The future's bright


‘So, what do you think about going steady?’

She was standing on the doorway, a toothbrush idling in her mouth. I looked up from my book. She grinned at me and went back into the bathroom. She left the bathroom door open and leant over the basin and spat into it. She was in her white cotton knickers and striped-socks; she always wore socks to bed.

‘Don’t freak out or anything’ she said as she splashed water on her face, ‘I was just thinking about it’. She wiped her face on the towel and came in and sat on the bed, facing me. I closed my book and waited for her to finish. She put her head on my knees, and looked up at me and smiled.

‘I mean, we’re kind of seeing each other anyway. It’s like this,” she ventured as she drew circles on my thigh with her finger, ‘you’re gonna be here for another year anyway, and then it’s anyone’s guess. Me, I like my job. I’ll be shuttling between Madras and here till, well, something always happens, and then who knows. I might settle there, or here, or... I might up and away to the States to some fancy B school.’

I smiled.

‘I might, you know!’ she grinned and grabbed the book from my hands and mock-whacked me with it. ‘So while we’re here,’ she continued, ‘this, you, me, us... well, it’s pretty perfect.’

I nodded.

‘I mean, we’re comfortable. The pieces fit... I drive down, we spend weekends together, I’m back Monday. You have your space, I have mine. It’s cool, you know.’

I waited for her to continue.

‘So I was thinking,’ she went on, ‘why not. We’re not really changing anything. Let’s give it a shot. Let’s date.’

She’d stopped drawing circles on my thigh and looked up at me.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s pretty perfect, the way it is.’

‘I mean, I’m not saying, let’s get serious, let’s get committed,’ she continued. ‘It’s just, we’re already sort of there you know. And it’s a nice, easy zone, this.’

‘Of course,’ she added quickly, ‘anything could happen and we both know it. Things could change, I could get busy, you could find someone else... Or,’ she paused hesitantly. ‘Or... we could take things up a notch. With us.’

I smiled at her. A lock of hair had fallen across her cheek and she was blowing it from the side of her mouth. I brushed it off her face and tucked it behind her ear.

‘Always a possibility,’ she laughed. ‘Who knows, huh? The future’s open. The future’s bright! The future’s orange!’

She jumped to her knees and mimicked the voice in the Orange Mobile ad and started laughing. I grinned as I grabbed her by her orange-stripped socks and pulled her legs on either side of me.

‘Just... think about it, you know,’ she said as she put her hands around my neck.

‘Mmhmm.’

I leant in, and we kissed.

...

That was seven years ago. I didn’t go through with it in the end. I was scared. Besides, I was nineteen, and still in college back then. She was twenty-four.

We made love that night. She never brought it up again. We lived that way for a year; living together on weekends, working on weekdays. Every Friday she’d land up at my door with her bag, and by Monday she’d be gone before I woke up. It was good. A comfortable arrangement like she said. That is, till she up and away-ed to some fancy Business School. I wasn’t really surprised.

I remember the first time I met Padma. I’d just moved to Bangalore, and found a place of my own. I was seventeen and just into college. I ventured out that Friday night to celebrate my new-found freedom. I walked into a nearby pub to grab something to eat, and she was there. Sitting at a table by herself, furiously scribbling on a sheaf of papers, she was absentmindedly stabbing her fork into her garden salad.

“Is this seat taken?” I asked.

She looked up at me blankly and stared.

“I mean, there aren’t any free tables… I just thought if no one’s joining you…”

“Oh! Shit. Yeah. Sorry,” she laughed and slapped herself on the forehead. “Yeah sure, grab a seat. I was just so completely immersed in this, for a moment there I had no clue what you were saying.”

I smiled at her and sat down. I placed my knapsack by the chair.

“So, do you live here?” I asked.

“Only the weekends” she said and winked. “I’m from Madras. Drive down to Bangalore every weekend though. Just to, well, recharge my batteries you know.”

She had put her sheaf of papers away and had signalled the waiter for the menu. I noticed she wore a ring on her left finger.

“Besides, Bangalore’s so much nicer isn’t it? Much more open and inviting. It’s great, and social. I love it here!”

She turned and caught my eye. “Oh that,” she’d grinned as she fidgeted with her ring. “My mum gave me that. I wear it to chase away eager boys on a Friday night.” She laughed as she leant forward and rested her chin on her hand.

“So what about you? Any of those fingers spoken for already?”



And that’s how she came into my life. It wasn’t long before Padma moved in with me. She’d come over every weekend and we’d hang out. She’d bring her work over; I’d do my college stuff. She loved to sprawl herself across my stomach while I studied. We spent hours in our room just lying in comfortable silence, like a giant plus-sign on the bed.

She never asked me what I did during the week. And I never told her. There were other women that I dated; some girls from college, and others as well. But the weekends were always for Padma. I’m not sure if she saw other people while we were together. It didn’t seem to matter, so I never asked. We spent a lot of time doing things together, watching movies, catching plays, spending the evenings at the bar nearby… like a regular couple. It was a good existence; nice and easy.

We never did bring up the topic of going steady after that first talk. I wasn’t really sure about it; and besides, I’d just met this girl at college. I told Padma about Shruti once I was sure and things were getting a little serious; it was a couple of months after the talk. She seemed to understand. Shruti was just more aligned. Padma and I still met up some weekends after that; it wasn’t the same.

It wasn’t long before she left to the states like I knew she would. Met someone there, I heard. And now she was sitting here, sipping coffee and looking out the window. She hadn’t noticed me walk in.

“Hello Padma.”

She looked up and saw me standing in front of her table.

“Amrit!” she shrieked and jumped up from her seat. She came around the table and hugged me tight. When she pulled back I saw that she was laughing; she hadn’t changed much.

“So,” she said as she straightened her kurti down the front and sat down, “what’s been happening in your life?”

“Five years is a lot to catch up” I grinned, “you go first. What’re you doing back here in Bangalore.”

She leant her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hand. “Well”, she said, “You probably heard. I married Pradeep, and things were great. We really got along well.”

“I heard.”

“Yes,” she smiled, “it was pretty perfect. We were both working and settled and... Marriage just seemed like the most natural thing.”

I nodded.

“Ah well, that was then. Then things... well, things started to unravel. Like little things you know, stuff I hadn’t noticed before.”

“Like what?”

“Like how he’d chew with his mouth open. Or how he’d use the same spoon for everything, he’d dip it in the gravy and then shove it into the side dish and... God, it was infuriating!”

I was holding my sides and laughing. Padma grinned at me sheepishly.

“I know, I know! Picky huh. Man, I always was finicky. It was all the little things that added up, and it just created tiny fissures that stayed and never really went away. Somehow, we just couldn’t fix it. It wasn’t… comfortable you know.”

“Like nice and easy.”

“Like nice and easy,” she said softly.

I picked up a bread roll from the basket and started tearing off a piece of it.

“So anyway,” she went on, “we decided, very amicably, to part ways and, well, that’s that.”

“So you’ve come back to Bangalore. For good?” I asked as I chewed on the bread.

“Well, I dunno,” she said as she picked up the bread from my plate and tore a piece off for herself, “There is this...”

“You still do that huh?”

She looked up puzzled.

“Steal someone else’s bread.”

She cracked into a grin. “Yeah, it used to annoy the hell out of Pradeep. I’d keep stealing his fries.”

“Yeah,” I laughed, “there’s one for the divorce hall of fame. Reason for separation: she kept stealing my fries.”

She smiled nervously and started thumbing her ring.

“Hey no, I didnt mean...”

“Hey chill!” She laughed and mock-whacked me with the menu. “So anyway, what are you up to?”

“Work’s great. Been working for quite a while now with the firm. Might be getting another promotion soon. Bought a house recently, close to the old place. In fact, right next to where we used to live.”

She smiled, absentmindedly fingering her ring.

“So how’s Shruti?”

“Ah. That didnt last. We broke up a while ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Nah, it’s ok. She found someone else. More...”

“...aligned?”

I grinned back at her. “Hey, these things happen huh?”

“Yup.”

I hadn’t noticed how much she changed; and how she still looked the same. She’d cut her hair shorter, so it fell in soft dark curls that licked her neck. She still dipped her head to one side as she laughed. There were tiny lines on either side of her mouth.

I remembered the day I spotted her jar of face cream. That was five years ago; she was twenty-six. She came over one Friday as usual and laid out her things on the bathroom counter. I walked in and picked up the new jar lying by the sink.

‘What’s this,’ I’d asked. She grinned and wrung it out of my hands. ‘I’m getting old’ she’d said, and tucked it away into her purse. She never brought it again.

I looked at her now. I wondered why I never brought up the topic of going steady.

“Listen, do you wanna come over?”

She looked up from the table and held my gaze. She stayed silent.

“For old time’s sake you know...”

She started nervously thumbing her ring again. It was the same one her mother gave her; she still wore it. Her other fingers were bare. I wondered if she ever wore a wedding band.

“You know, I’m not planning to stay in Bangalore long.” She started, “They... I’ve asked my parents to look out for me. I figured it’s for the best. It’s been a couple of years since the divorce, and it’s not like it used to be you know. People remarry all the time. I...”

I reached across the table and took her hands in mine. She stopped talking.

“Come... it’ll be fun.” I whispered.

She smiled and gently slipped her hands out from mine. “I can’t. It was, well, pretty perfect. But that was then, and things had to unfold the way they did.”

“Yes, they did. But you know, here we are meeting up after years and... You know what? It still feels the same. That nice, easy comfortable feeling.”

She smiled.

I leant forward, “Just… think about it”

“I...”

She was interrupted by a phone call. She gave me an apologetic look as she fished through her purse. I nodded to let her know it was ok. It was work. She listened very intently and spoke quickly into the phone. I asked for the cheque, and signed for it. She looked up when she was done with the call.

“Well, looks like I’d be headed back sooner than I expected. Hell, there’s loads of stuff I need to do before then and there’s an early kingfisher tomorrow, maybe I could catch that, first…”

“First flight out on Monday.” I chorused. She broke off and smiled at me.

“Well,” she said. “Looks like I better get going then. It was great meeting you.”

She got up. I walked over to her and let my arm rest on her waist. We walked out to her car.

“So, Amrit,” she said turning around to face me, “This is where we kiss and say goodbye.”

She leant in and kissed me on the cheek. I put my arm around her, and we hugged. I hadn’t forgotten the scent of her hair. We lingered for a while, and then she gently broke free and got into her car.

“By the way,” I said, taking out a small wrapped package from my bag, “I got you something.”

“Oh shit, I knew I should’ve got you something...”

“Open it.”

She pulled the wrapping free and opened the box. She stayed silent as she looked at it.

“You know,” she finally said, “Pradeep used to hate...”

“That you slept with your socks on?”

“Yeah!” she laughed, holding the socks up to the light “These are perfect! And they’re orange!”

I smiled at her and put my hands into my pockets. She put the socks away, and got into her car.

“Thanks,” she said, sticking her head out the window, and she pulled out of the driveway.

I wondered what it was that stopped me the first time. I was much younger then, and maybe it was the age. It seemed like an unbridgeable chasm to me at the time. We weren’t suitably aligned; or so that’s what I told her the week I met Shruti. She hadn’t said anything, except that she was happy for me.
Padma and I never really ‘dated’. Not the way she wanted to. Although I think I probably loved her. I don’t remember what it was in the end though. It was just the little things. Like how she curled up in bed at night, with her head on my shoulder. Or the way her hair smelt. Or the way she thumbed her ring every time she got nervous. Or how she always slept with her socks on.

I watched as she drove off, her hand out the window, waving, as she drove on ahead.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

My oh my , you do have a thing for familiar names dont you, I also remember one person having striped socks in bed :-))

W H said...

you know, in Japan, it seems that the highest divorce rates are among the retired folk. People spend their lives staying in the same house, never living together.. they live in their office.. and the corporate culture and the fundamentals of Japanese management mandate very close office ties.. only when they retire, they realize that this isn't the person they wanted to be with...
Also, the thing about those little things shelving up and bursting out is true.. thats why i moved out alone after staying with my roomies for 3 years...
I just hope that I'll be more adjusting when I marry. I don't want my marriage to end up like that..

W H said...

"licked" is a strange usage..

compos mentis said...

@anon:

dont knock the socks man :D striped-socks in bed are awesome.

@wh:
ah well... there is always hope isnt there :)

niyo said...

thank you for the amicable parting of ways. a happy ending would have been very unnatural.. though ppl wud want that. :p

karan said...

sigh... there u go with the socks again.. and whats with the names!!! need to get u a handbook of names..

Fragmentadora de Papel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GPS said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
noThiNG but "fiCUs" said...

Hello. This post is likeable. Fuck likeable, its really good stuff. simple and yet immensely deep, just like how writing ought to be...got to ur blog by chance, and will be digging into ur archives, and blog rolling u...just thought u should know :)

Varadharajan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Varadharajan said...

Hi,

I came aross your blog while searching for AU fotos.

This story was very touching. Great one..

Hoping to read your blog often.. :)
-Rajan

Dheepikaa B said...

Powerful,powerful male voice. I think the story is very binding and moving. Very relevant. Beautiful.

A said...

Your writing is really good and I feel there might be some themes you draw from personal experience...

/A