Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Meeting

When she saw the paintings first, she could never even explain to herself what she felt. It had been so long but her world stood before her again. A world she had left behind twenty years ago. A world on the street and a world she shared with him. The same streets, the same fort and the same people.
She suddenly knew that he was there. In the same room. So many times she had imagined seeing him in the crowd, on the streets, in her dreams. But she always imagined the ten-year-old boy she had known. In a flash the realization came to her that he too had grown up in the past twenty years. He would look different now, talk different, and behave different. Would he recognize her? Would they ever be as close as they had been? Was he there right now looking at her?

When he saw her that day, nothing else seemed clear. It was just her face in the crowd. A crowd of people seeing his paintings, analyzing them. They all had something to say about them. They all had their judgments. She was the only one who spoke to them.
As he stood in the corner, watching her, he heard her conversations. It was like she understood them. She didn’t need to analyze. She knew them. She had always known them. Them and the hands that created them. He watched her every move. As her pallu slithered over one of the vases in the corner, and as her hand reached behind her ear to tuck a disobedient lock of hair.
It was only a few moments before he recognized her. The eyes that had haunted him for years. The thick messy hair that he had reached out to in his dreams. The voice he had waited for so long to hear. And there she was. Two steps away from him, too far away. He was about to turn away. He still doesn’t know why.
He was afraid maybe, even awkward. He had expected this moment for the past twenty years. But now as it stood there, staring him in the face, he wanted to run away. He wanted to be away from her. He knew he was pulled towards it and he couldn’t stop.
As he stood before her, he was scared. Scared that she wouldn’t recognize him, scared that too much time had passed. Reality kissed him on his cheek, like a butterfly, and the truth stung. He was a painter, in his shabby kurta and unkempt hair. She was a socialite, Married to a businessman, Living in a sprawling house. She attended parties and featured on page three. He, at thirty, was still struggling to pay rent. For a moment he didn’t want her to recognize him.
Life had a way of causing him pain when he had thought that it couldn’t get worse. She did recognize him. Almost as soon as she saw him. Almost like she had expected him to be there.

They now stood before each other as the rest of the room spun like a whirlpool. Everyone disappeared. It was only them. They had known each other so well and so long ago. After all this time, they didn’t find words to talk to each other. Curled up under the railway bridge stairs, the two children had shared their fears and dreams. Today, even the handshake was awkward.

They spoke for a while about random things. Things that didn’t matter. The real questions lay hidden. He knew all about her, at least all that the media said and wrote about her. She somehow knew that. It had been years since then but she could still read his mind.
She stayed with him the whole day. After the exhibition got over, they went to the beach. Still talking. They were the two urchins again. Now with twenty years of baggage. He told her about his fragmented life on the street after she left; his unnecessary schooling and his messy life after that.
She told him her adventures in the past twenty years. Her perfect teenage, her perfect family, her perfect marriage and her perfect life. Perfectly incomplete. Perfectly unhappy. But she didn’t tell him that. He already knew. As they sat watching the waves jump up to swallow the sun, they spoke about a lot of things and read all that was unsaid.
As he saw her sit in the taxi, she looked at him with those same eyes as she had so long ago. She smiled at him and he tried to smile back. As the taxi drove off, she looked at him from the window. Just as she had before, but only this time, he saw the sindoor above those two eyes, and smiled to himself. Something told him they would meet again. They hadn’t exchanged numbers, but he knew he would find her again. Just as he had now, he only didn’t know how much later ‘again’ would be.

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