I saw him for the first time when I went outside to collect the dried clothes from the clothesline. He was on the balcony opposite, sitting on a chair and sipping something from a tea/coffee cup. Actually, I did not notice him immediately, so busy I was with the clothes. But then, you know how it is- the way you just feel someone’s eyes on you..
The complete discomfort of that feeling drew my eyes toward its source sitting on that balcony! He raised his cup as if in a toast to me. I smiled and went inside shutting the door. But of course, I watched him for a long time after that hiding behind the curtains on that balcony door. He seemed young – probably in his early or mid thirties. His dark brown hair and white skin marked him out as a foreigner ( or atleast someone with a mixed heritage). I wondered what he was doing here in this housing colony with its multitude of pigeon hole flats.
It was easier to watch him through the kitchen window. He worked very methodically arranging things on the counter and cooking them. I looked with exasperation at my own messy kitchen wishing I could achieve that kind of lab like organization in my work. A couple of days like this and he began to acknowledge my presence in the kitchen opposite – sometimes it would be a wave and at other times a smile. The windows were too far away , for any actual conversation to take place..
I often wondered after those staring sessions in the kitchen and sometimes on the balcony what his name might be and how would his voice sound? I would immediately feel guilty after such thoughts crossed my mind because after all, wasn’t I a married woman?
My daily routine began to slowly arrange itself around his appearances on that balcony or the kitchen. Was it pure coincidence that he happened to be standing on that balcony outside on moonlit nights? Did he know that I was peeping from the curtains staring at him as my husband snored away oblivious to the silver light bathing the surroundings? Was he also having trouble sleeping?
As weeks turned into months, I began to get bolder and started leaving the curtain open while I sat near the dressing table brushing my waist long hair. I could see him watching me through that reflection in my mirror. My heart beat in a way that it never did when my husband looked at me. But then, I was never sure that my husband actually looked at me. In the two years that we had been married, he had probably looked more at his lap top than at me his wife! Sure, we lived amicably- there were no fights and he was very generous in terms of giving me a free hand in running the house. He never criticized anything I did – I used to think earlier that he was kind but now I wonder if he really noticed anything I did- a new hair style, a new sari, a new dish ..
Crazy thoughts like going across the road and knocking at the door to his flat crossed my mind . But I could never bring myself to do that –I mean what would I say? “Hi. I am Jaya your neighbour from the opposite flat and I have a crush on you?” – the very idea seemed ridiculous.
I often wondered what he did for a living. There appeared to be no one else in that flat except him, so he obviously lived alone. He was usually at home in the mornings, afternoons and late evenings- I knew because these were the times of the day that I lived for – times when I could let myself go and dream all kinds of forbidden thoughts from across the window. I sometimes wondered if he could see any of these reflected on my face. I suspected he did because there would be sometimes an amused smile and at other times a very intense gaze.
Then one evening , I got caught in that gaze- yes caught – imprisoned!It was downstairs in the car park. I was just getting out my car and he into his when our eyes met. I could not look away. I could feel myself flushing and my body heating up as my heart started beating in a way it had never done before. I don’t know how long it was that he held me like this but when he turned away I could almost feel a sense of lost balance – like falling off a bicycle. I wiped my sweat off my face and ran all the way upstairs trembling. I remembered a story I had read long time ago about a strange being who had been conceived out the sweat that had poured out of Parvati’s hands when she had playfully tried to shut Shiva’s eyes with them. I was glad that humans were not capable of such forms of conception..
I found it difficult to face my husband when he came home that evening. And at night I felt a deep sense of guilt as I lay next to him. I feigned illness so that I did not have to do any cooking that day or for the next couple of days . I stayed in bed with the window curtain firmly closed trying to shut out the image of that tall man with the brown hair across my balcony…! I would not let my husband or my maid open that window giving reasons like there being too much sunlight.
But finally when my husband against my protest drew the curtain one evening, I refused to look outside. However, the eye is like a compass- moving towards what it perceives as its pole of attraction. I slowly turned my eyes towards that direction. The door was shut. I kept looking at it hoping it would open. It did not- that evening or the next evening or the next.
I could not bring myself to go across and find out what could have been the reason. I knew no one in that block and going there would only attract attention from others.
I waited for almost a month for that door to open into his balcony. I craned my neck to look into his kitchen. There was nothing I could see but emptiness.
And then one evening as I saw the lights on in the kitchen. I ran outside into the balcony. The door was open and I waited with bated breath for him to emerge. Emerge he did – but it was not the “he” I was looking for – this was a middle aged man with a paunch. He sat down on a chair and opened a book. A few minutes later someone else emerged – a fat lady with a cup of tea on tray. She saw me watching her and shouted “ Hello. I am Mrs Roy your new neighbour. Please come and visit us when you have time” I nodded and walked inside slowly my mind filled with questions that I dared not ask anyone…!