Here is the first.
|Timberland Yellow Boots. Via AK.|
I saw her first at Indigo deli. Indigo is one of those upscale places where a lot of celebrities come together to break bread and sip on wines. Although, out of place, I was there to meet an old acquaintance, hoping to get a lead for a writing job. After all, that's what I am supposed to do as a struggling writer. Suck up to people, hoping to get work that would allow me to survive in Mumbai for yet another month. I lived like that. Month on month. Hand to mouth. I lived on hope. That some day my words would make some reader cry her heart out and eventually I'd move the entire country. And may be that day, that day I'd make a living from my art. Actual living. Not tiny morsels that aren't enough to feed that insatiable hunger that's gnawing me since I decided to take up writing as a career.
Oh, I have drifted. I often do that. When I see words come up, I tend to get lost. I guess it's one of the curses of being a writer. So, let me come back to her. I saw her first at Indigo. No no. It wasn't love. I guess it was surprise and amazement. It was intrigue. It was this urge to know more about her. Be friends with her. May be spend the rest of my life with her. That's it. Not love. Not even lust. But intrigue and a desire to be with her for as long.
She had long curly hair that fell on her face like a veil. She was chewing onto a gum furiously as she scribbled intensely with a pencil. I don't know what made me look in her direction first. But whatever it was, I turned to her and immediately dismissed her as yet another actress. She looked like one and that anyway was Indigo's claim to fame. That you could spot celebrities even on the dead days.
Since my long-lost friend, who could get me a job that promised another month in Mumbai, was yet to come, I had nothing to do but watch people. Yet another hobby that I had to develop to help me write better. So, I was looking at everyone that I could see from my vantage point, in the other corner. There was this young couple who were apparently arguing over something. May be they were having a crisis in their relationship. There was this mother-daughter duo engrossed in their food. Another couple - they were relatively older - was together on a table but looked bored of each other's company. Guess they were married for some time and they had nothing left to talk about. The man was lost in his phone and the woman was leafing through the menu. Damn such relationships where togetherness loses its meaning and people merely go through the motions. Thankfully, on the table next to me was a group of old ladies, none of them less than 60, who apparently were celebrating life like they were sixteen. On another table was this man who sat by himself, engrossed in a book. And then there was me. An out-of-job writer. And of course her.
While I was busy casting all these people in stereotypes, for some reason, my gaze continued to shift back to her. As if I was watching a ping-pong match. I would look at a table, think about the occupants and then go back to her and think about her. Even when I was busy lamenting about the couple that lacked a spark in their lives, somewhere at the back of my head was thinking about her.
I tried hard to avoid her but I could not. She was like this magnetic force that continued to pull me. I don't know why. May be it was her beautiful hair. May be it was the way she curled her lips while she concentrated on her work. Or was it way she held onto the pencil? I don't know. I would never know.
To make matters worse, I think I was the only one who was interested in her. No one else gave her a second look. And all this was new to me. I have always been unfazed by the presence of even the most intimidating women. And here was this woman who captivated my attention like no other. She, on the other hand, in all probability, was oblivious to my presence and was ignorant of the effect that she had on me.
I knew I had to talk to her. Somehow. I had to come up with a reason, a pretext. I had to find one. I had to speak to her. May be she was a writer as well. How else do you explain a girl, a pencil and a cafe in one sentence. Suddenly, as if on the cue, she dropped it.
I traced the pencil as it fell on the wooden flooring that lined the restaurant's floor. For a fall from a three-feet or so high table, it took forever for the pencil to hit the floor. May be it was one of those incidents where time slows down and things get etched in your memory forever.
The pencil landed near her feet and that's when I noticed her mustard-sauce colored yellow boots first. I had her in my field of vision for this long and I never noticed the shoes that she was wearing. I was stumped yet again. I just couldn't comprehend that a strikingly good looking girl, dressed impeccably in a red dress could wear such ugly yellow boots. To me, a girl wearing yellow boots means a tough woman, who is headstrong, bold, prefers outdoor, loves to travel and is more alpha that the alphaest of men.
I know that I couldn't paint a more cliched picture of a girl in yellow boots. And yet, she, the girl in yellow boots and a red dress, looked like a polar opposite. She was this a fragile little thing that for sure would shatter into million tiny pieces if I even touched her. Her countenance and her boots, together, were like this study in contrasts. I had all the more reason to find a pretext to talk to her. She was away from me, or I could have helped her pick that pencil off the floor. I could have sent a note or something with the waiter but that's probably the oldest way to get rejected the fastest. I could walk up to her and ask for her permission to join her but I did not have the balls. There had to be a way. Do I drop a dish or something and create a ruckus to catch her attention? But what woman wants to talk to a sloppy man?
It took me forever to come up with an elaborate plot to get her attention and go talk to her. In my head, I repeated my opening lines that I'd use to talk to her. I perfected my approach and fixed my hair. I pumped myself with fake confidence and I was finally ready to go talk to her and ask her about her boots. That was going to be my opening line after all.
With an elaborate gesture and a swoosh, I got up from my place and let my gaze travel over other patrons - the man lost in his novel, the old ladies making merry, the boring couple munching onto their salads in uncomfortable silence - to the corner where she was seated. To my shock, it was empty. She was gone. I checked again, I checked all the corners and all the tables. She was gone. I did a desperate dance in the deli but she was gone. I rushed out but she was no where to be seen. I asked the doorman about her and he merely shrugged at my enthusiasm about a nameless patron. I spoke to the parked taxis and rickshaws but she was gone. She was gone.
Before it could sink in that she was gone, my friend walked in. While he briefed me on the job, my gaze continued to go back to that corner that she was sitting at. The corner now housed a group of chatty young women, all of them pretty and interesting. But the one I wanted, the one in yellow boots, the study in contrasts, was gone.
It's been three year now. I haven't bumped into her again. Even if I have, I wouldn't have noticed because, to be honest, I don't remember how she looked like. I just miss that red dress and those yellow boots.
I do visit Indigo deli more often than I ought to, hoping to spot those yellow boots, hoping to find out more about her. Over the years, in these three years, I have perfected my approach, my opening lines. I know what to ask her and what to talk to her about. I just need one more encounter with her. Damn I deserve that one more encounter. One more chance. And I will not be slow this time about.
Even though three years is a long long time for memories to fade away and people to move on and things to change, I can't get that evening, those boots out of my head. I remember that tumble and that roll of the pencil as it fell down, as if it had happened yesterday.
Of course, some things did change. That job that I was expecting to get that day, eventually came my way. The thing that I wrote for that job, did make people shed tears and did move the collective conscious of the country. One thing led to another and I have now become what I desired the most. A successful writer. Who makes a real living. Who is vaguely recognizable. Who has a few fans. And I am in a relationship that I dreaded the most. I am with a charming woman and most evening, she and I hardly have anything to talk about. I don't know who's fault is it. But I am the man who is perpetually lost in his phone and she is the woman who keeps fiddling with the menu cards when we go out.
Though, the only thing that hasn't changed is that whenever I am at Indigo, my eyes automatically go over to that corer where I saw her the first time. Hoping to see a flash of pale yellow near the foot of the table. Hoping to find her there. In that red dress, chewing onto a gum furiously, scribbling in her notepad, wearing those ugly yellow boots.
Even today, my woman and I are at Indigo. She was busy talking to someone on her phone and I was pushing my salad around with one hand and twiddling my phone with the other. Suddenly, someone tapped lightly on my shoulder and said, "Excuse me! Aren't you the same guy who wrote that book about that film actress?"
I looked up to her and nodded absentmindedly. My book about a film actress and a nameless stalker had done wonders. I assumed that she was talking about the same book. Before I could add anything, she pushed a copy of my book and a pencil in my face. She said, "It's a brilliant book. I loved it! Could I have your autograph please?"
While I did not want to be rude to the woman, I really wanted to be left alone. To drown in my disappointment and sorrow of not seeing the girl in yellow boots at Indigo yet again.
But I managed a feeble smile and took the book from her. Just then, she dropped the pencil.
I saw the pencil fall to the wooden floor. The time seemed to slow down. Yet again. After all these years. The pencil rolled and tumbled as it raced to the floor. The slow and agonizing fall eventually came to an end as the pencil came to a rest on the floor next to the mustard-sauce colored yellow boots that she was wearing.
P.S.: The other pieces of theGirlIn series are here.
P.P.S.: If I sound like the protagonist in the story and I come across as a vain writer please note I am not trying to be one.