I met her after ten years. She looked nothing like she did all those years back. Her face was drawn, eyes baggy and a messy bun hanging loose behind her neck. Her struggle with keeping the half-broken umbrella in place over her head propelled me to ask my driver to pull over. The window rolled down and I stuck my head out.
‘Neera!’ I called out.
She looked around, puzzled. I called her name out again. This time she spotted me. Her eyes narrowed for a fleeting second. Then her face turned white as a sheet. I knew why. But I didn’t want embarrassment to overtake her. So I waved my hand, fixing a grin on my face. She stayed put. But this time, she smiled. It was forced, of course. For a moment, it took me back to the time I had seen her for the first time. She slowly took a few steps and I realized it was the window to those untamed memories that I’d actually rolled down.
‘Hi.’ She said, stopping near the car door.
It was only now that I noted her crumpled green attire and that mud-covered flip-flop. A sudden rush of ache sprinted through my heart. I saw her consciously adjust her dupatta, maybe feeling my eyes on her. I let my gaze deflect.
‘I’ll drop you wherever you’re going.’ I said, pushing open the door and shifting a bit away in my seat.
‘No, thanks.’ She shook her head. The smile disappeared from her face. And a cloud of unease set in.
I felt a sudden ripple of anger within me. Why does she have to say no to me every single time? ‘Why not?’ I said, my tone sharp. ‘Your umbrella is broken. And look at your clothes! They’re wet.’ I sneered. I hated it but a wave of masochism had gotten the better of me. ‘Also I don’t think you have a car.’ My lips curled into a smirk.
She shook her head and stepping ahead, closed the door. I was taken aback. How dare she! I tried hard to lump my anger. It pricked every wall of my heart. I ran my eyes over her again – from tip to toe. The hint of vermilion on her forehead only fanned the flare inside of me. This girl – this very girl – had rejected me all those years back to marry a mere bank clerk. It was no use talking to her anymore, I fathomed. She deserved this life. As I began to roll the window up, she stooped and spoke slowly,
‘the smell of struggle is way more soothing than that of an expensive car perfume,’ she tightened her grip round the umbrella and added, ‘I’m happy.’ She then walked away to where she was standing before.
That piercing gaze with the umbrella stick held across her face and that ‘I’m happy’ still knife my heart every time I reflect on life.
Written by Chirasree Bose