The lady hasn’t brushed her hair in three days. Work hasn’t given her the luxury to enjoy such a mundane activity. Her life has become as mechanical as she had anticipated the day she signed the company contract. Every day, she gets up at 7, narrowly escaping burning her hand while boiling the milk, picks up breakfast on the way from the roadside idli shop, as she heads to her office after commuting for 45 minutes. She works around ten hours every day, with some lunch and dinner thrown in between, and is back home by 10 pm. She’s usually too worn out to calculate if she worked overtime.
It’s Saturday today. The lady has a rare weekly off. And that’s how she has had an additional luxury—the opportunity to meet him. The man. She hasn’t seen the man in weeks now. He is as busy as her. Or so he claims. She reminisces on the days when she used to dress up, spend hours thinking of the colour of her bindi and wipe out that extra eye-liner that spread at the corner of her eye, minutes before meeting him. Today, her hair looks messy and she has no bindi; she hasn’t had the time to buy a new sheet since the last one got over a month ago. Where is the time? And does he even care how she looks? Should he at all? The lady brushes aside such rhetorical questions as she waits for him patiently at the station. Again a luxury. No, an indulgence she hasn’t had the time or energy to appreciate in the recent past—awaiting the man’s arrival in anticipation.
The man has been busy. At least, that’s the rationalizing he has relied on in the last couple of weeks. February has never been an easy month. Not because it is the conventional month for the proverbial blossoming of love—he’d frown upon such a morose assumption. It is the month when his students at the school have exams. He has hundreds of erroneous papers to correct and stamp their future careers with an A, B+ or a D-. If he is unlucky, he gets the job of invigilating exams during this time. It annoys him to be in a class not to teach but to merely watch sixty students vomiting together what they gobbled up a night before on the answer scripts. It makes him question the methodology of his teaching. It makes him wonder if he can even teach anyone at all. It makes him question his own skills and whether he has any that can facilitate a stable livelihood. Thirty-three isn’t a very cheerful age for a man who neither has a steady job nor a steady wife. Or even a girlfriend. His mother worries he might be gay. Well, he might as well be. That would solve a lot of his problems, anxieties and worries.
The lady tries to vaguely remember the discussion they had the last time they met. The man had then said he really liked and enjoyed the company of a certain woman. But he wasn’t sure if she was the right one for him. He had never been sure of anything. Not even himself. He was a brilliant singer but he barely cared to facilitate that potential. He ended up being a teacher because he frankly had no idea what else to do after having acquired his graduate, post-graduate and doctorate degree. His ease with the campus life had made him so comfortable in a student’s environment that its insulation became too reliable to let go. But when age and poverty hits you, you turn tables around. He loathed the idea of working for someone. His pride was too big for that to ever happen. He enjoyed the company of kids. He adored them. He believed they were the only species left that still possessed unadulterated innocence. He may not be sure if he ever wanted a wife but he definitely wanted kids. With whom didn’t matter for now. Maybe with the woman he has been thinking a lot about. The one about whom he wishes to talk of. To the lady who is waiting patiently at the station for him. Is there an irony here? He is more excited to talk about her with the lady than being with the woman he thinks he likes a lot. Perhaps he has feelings for the lady? Na! He dismisses that thought immediately. The lady would never be interested in a lost soul like him. In any case, why was he giving the lady a thought anyway? He is losing focus, he tells himself as he systematically tries to arrange his thoughts.
As he approaches the station, he catches her glimpse from the corner of his eye. The lady’s hair is messy. She isn’t wearing her bindi. And she looks tired. The company is sucking every ounce of beauty out of her, he infers. No. Wait. Why is he giving a damn about her beauty? He’s here to tell her he thinks he loves another woman. Not to wonder what the hell happened to her orderly hair and why has she suddenly separated from that little red spot that lightened up her forehead. She is texting someone. Probably me, he muses and feels a strange sense of glee at that thought.
The man arrives right on time, as the lady flashes him a friendly smile. After the customary exchange of greetings, he plunges right into “business”. He rants about how much he thinks he likes this woman. And how tormented he feels when the woman refuses to reciprocate his feelings. As he talks, he notices the lady’s obedient eyes: trying to absorb every tiny detail he shares. Why isn’t she wearing her eye-liner today? He enjoys taunting her for having spread them at the corner of her eye. He revels in pointing out her clumsiness. Today, he has been denied that little joy. As he talks of the woman, he pierces his gaze into the lady. She is too aloof. He’d never be happy with her. And no, he does not want the lady. It’s the woman who he likes, damn it. The woman. Not the lady. The lady is too sophisticated for his taste.
The lady listens patiently to his story. She likes to listen. It is an easy task. Easier than talking, she believes. As he finishes his tale, she waits for a couple of moments before saying anything. It’s a lot of information to process for the day. Things have certainly changed between him and the woman since the last time they met. Well, time runs, she muses. At least things aren’t stagnant. That’s a good start. she convinces herself. She has to convince herself before convincing him. It doesn’t work otherwise. She is no expert on relationships. But a divorce inevitably teaches you stuff. She is occupied today in work because that keeps her divorced from her ex-husband and his thoughts. Drowning in work is better than drowning in suffocation.
He doodles ‘anarchy’ on his jeans as she lectures him on love.