In the Shadows

He had not noticed her the first time. She was sitting on a “ladies” seat towards the rear of the bus. It was not until the crowd had thinned out near the fourth cross junction, and he had moved down the aisle towards the rear, that he saw her.

She was not a beauty in the conventional sense of the term. Her eyes were too close set and her chin rather prominent for such a small face. But the nose was aquiline and the lips full. Her complexion was honey colored and her hair was much longer than the normal length that girls preferred these days. She was listening to music on her ear phones. There was a half smile playing on her lips.

He had found a seat parallel to hers on the aisle side from where he watched her profile covertly as she continued smiling to herself. He didn’t know why but he could not take his eyes off her. He wondered where she was going. Was she a student or someone working in an office?  Her formal attire seemed to suggest that she was probably working in an office. Besides, it was rather late in the morning for her to be a college student. Most colleges started by 8.00AM.

 She was wearing a beige salwar kameeze with white embroidery. On her ears were small pearl drop earrings.  He looked surreptitiously for signs of marriage. Though she was wearing a bindi, there was no mangalsutra around her neck. She wore no finger or toe rings either.

She got down from the bus two stops before his. He craned his neck to see where she was going but she seemed to have been swallowed by a sea of humanity.

He had been thrilled to see her again the next morning. After scanning the windows of at least three buses plying on the same route at  that time in the morning he had spotted her. He had  jumped on to the bus, this time from the rear. She was sitting on the same seat. She obviously boarded the bus from the terminus if she could choose her seat.

She had been immersed in a paperback that day. He had tried to catch a glimpse of the name. But it was not possible. People around him were pushing him. He waited until the fourth cross street stop when he knew the bus would be easier to travel in. This time, he had chosen the seat diagonally behind her focusing his attention  on the spot where her neck joined her shoulders. There was a small mole there.  He looked at her hair. It was held together by a number of pins and then plaited down. He knew from memory that it was waist long.

As she got ready to disembark, she had stood for a brief moment near his seat. He had held his breath, afraid that she could hear it racing. Her duppatta trailed across his arm. He longed to touch the silky material but he had sat motionless letting the feel of the material caress his arm. And then the bus had finally jolted to a halt, leaving him behind with a set of mixed feelings.

He desperately wanted to know where she worked. He tried once again in vain to locate her in the crowd outside. He had spotted her for a moment but she was lost after that.

 Nitin had spent every day for the next one month taking that same bus to office. He saw her but never could he summon the courage to speak to her.  She was always seated at the same place. He imagined what her name might be. In his mind he had christened her Swapna, meaning dream. He had hoped that she might atleast notice him but she continued to travel with him oblivious of his existence within the same space.

But finally he had decided one morning to do something to further his interest. He wanted to find out more about her. He had got down from the bus along with her.

He walked behind her in the crowd. He was careful to keep a distance so that she would not notice him following her but at the same time he stayed near enough not to lose sight of her. She was crossing the road now and he could see her getting into the “Jeevan” building! Ah.. atleast he knew now where she worked.  He hurried inside making it just in time to board the elevator with her.

She was inches away from him. He could almost feel the heat of her body. He was afraid she could hear the thudding of his heart. He wanted to move closer but the cramped space inside the elevator made it very difficult for any movement.

He had almost felt relieved when she left the elevator on the fifth floor. He could breathe more freely.

But running into Ajay who got into the lift as she got off, was most unexpected.

Ajay was his classmate from college. They were not exactly close but had spent a lot of time together as they were part of the same group of friends.

“Hey Nitin!  How come you are here?” he asked slapping him loudly on the back.

Nitin, the introvert cringed as others in the lift suddenly seemed to take notice of him.

“Hi Ajay! I just dropped in to meet a… ummm friend” he muttered

“Anyone I know?” he asked

Nitin had shaken in head and somehow managed to get this persistent fellow off his back before heading back to work. He had been late by a full half hour and his boss had not been exactly happy about it!!

But it had been worth it..! At least he now knew where his Swapna worked.

Thinking back, he had felt it was also a nice coincidence that Ajay’s office was in the same building. It would certainly give him an excuse to visit.

And that was exactly what he had done in the evening. He had called Ajay, apologizing for being so short with him in the morning and suggested that they meet up in the evening.

It was while he was with Ajay at the a tea stall outside the office that he had seen her go past. His eyes followed her involuntarily. It had only taken Ajay a minute to realize why he, Nitin was there.

He had quizzed Nitin about her. And Nitin had told him in about fifteen minutes, all that he knew about  her!

“Don’t worry, I will find out more about her” Ajay had assured him.

That had been two weeks ago.  Ajay had obviously not been successful in his endeavor because he had not called him with any news. He still saw her in the bus, she was always in that seat towards the rear listening to music on her earphones or reading her book. These days he also noticed her talking on her mobile.

It was a pleasure to hear her voice. It was as lovely as the rest of her. He liked the way she threw her head back and laughed as she conversed over the phone. He wished, he could evoke a response like that from her. But she remained completely oblivious to him. He kept thinking of ways by which he could speak to her. He longed for a dropped bag that he could pick up and return to her, a lecherous fellow he could thrash for troubling her or even a bus accident where he could risk his life saving hers. Anything.. to make her notice him!

In sheer desperation he had called Ajay. But he seemed to be always busy, telling him that he would call back

Nitin spent his days and nights dreaming about her. He dreamt she had turned around one day and walked towards him with a smile asking him why he, never spoke to her? That she had waited for nearly two months hoping he would..! Sometimes, in his dreams it would be raining and he would unfurl his umbrella inviting her to share it with him. At other times he would hold her as the bus jolted suddenly to a halt when she would smile and thank him establishing that much needed connect.

He hated weekends! It meant two days when he would not be able to see his beloved. Those forty eight hours were sheer torture!  The four walls of the small room he rented in the city seemed to close in on him as he contemplated on his situation. He felt suffocated by his inability to do anything. He was afraid that he would make a wrong move and ruin the entire future of his relationship. He sometimes ran out, walking aimlessly in the neighborhood until he calmed down.

Today, Nitin’s needs more than that walk in the neighborhood. He leaves his neighborhood and goes to a mall nearby. He wants to deal with his loneliness. He wanders around alone in a crowd. He walks in and out of shops in a restless manner. He looks at couples and families around him secure in the knowledge of their togetherness. He cannot handle this anymore! He looks for a way out.

The cinema hall beckons him. He buys a ticket and walks into the lobby of the theatre complex. The lights seem blinding . He longs for the dark oblivion of the hall inside. There is still half an hour left for the show to begin. He taps his feet impatiently waiting for the minutes to tick past.

It was when he is counting the twentieth minute with his foot, that he sees her. He stops counting wondering for a moment if he is dreaming. But she is not alone. With her is Ajay. He watches them from behind a pillar. She is talking to him and he is bending his head down to catch her words. She smiles as she points to a poster. Ajay laughs, putting his arms around her and pulling her close.

Nitin cannot bear it anymore. He rushes out of the cinema hall crumpling the ticket on his way out. His world has come crashing down! He  cannot and does not believe what he saw could be true. He goes out of the mall, walking like a mad man. His mind is in a turmoil. He does not know what he is doing..! He stops outside a shop window and tries to think coherently. He wants to do something…!! He cannot go on with the knowledge that she can no longer be his…..!!!. He has to decide quickly, before he can change his mind.

He wants to come out of the shadows and show her that he exists- a dramatic entry as well as a grand exit..

But sadly.. he did not even make it to the headlines. It was only a small news item in the city news section “Couple found murdered outside the  parking lot at the Forum Mall. Police are investigating”

( I would like to thank all my regular readers for following this blog and giving me your valuable feedback. Do keep dropping in letting me know what you think of the stories. here. Advance wishes for a very  happy new year. May all your dreams come true)

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KP
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 08:56:13

    I somehow felt that Ajay would snatch her away from Nitin for the latter had made no direct contact with her and his love was one sided.But the ending you gave was totally unexpected and tragic.The story was gripping all the way.
    Keep writing a lot in 2014.Best wishes for a happy new year

    Reply

  2. mahesh
    Jan 02, 2014 @ 15:16:32

    Love’s Labour Lost in Murder Most Foul!!!!!

    Look forward to more short stories – Happy New Year – 2014 Meera ji!

    Reply

  3. Jack
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 21:42:33

    Meera,

    Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, heart breaking. But one who feels love is lost can go to any extremes. Engrossing.

    Take care

    Reply

  4. Meera
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 08:23:43

    Thank you all for your comments. I guess love has a dark side to it too!

    Reply

  5. Sheethalsusan
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 19:35:22

    When Ajay entered the scene I knew he was gonna break his friend’s heart…. but murder… that was a twist!!!

    Reply

    • Meera
      Mar 30, 2014 @ 11:47:00

      Too drastic you say Sheethalsusan…? I also wondered but then quiet people are deep ones. You never know what is going on in their minds!

      Reply

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