He used to walk down the street every day and wait in a queue for the bus. A pair of eyes followed him almost every day. From a window on the second floor of a building almost in the middle of that street, she would watch him. It wasn’t attraction or obsession. He just seemed like a curious case to her. She didn’t abandon her daily chores to just sit and wait for him, watch him make his way through the traffic. It just happened that every afternoon, she had nothing else to do. He would skillfully evade the unruly cycle rickshaws, touch every cow sitting on the road and bring his palm to his forehead as a mark of respect. She smiled when the cow would try to shoo him away with its tail. He had learned how to evade the tail too.
He was a tall, sturdy man-always dressed in formals with near perfect ironing. She assumed he had a wife. She had a heart that liked to dream. She was average looking. She was attracted to guys who looked average. He wasn’t her type. Too handsome. She still liked to watch him. Perhaps she liked to watch him because he looked like a struggler.
Now struggler is a word that is usually associated with aspiring actors these days. Don’t worry. This is not one of those stories. The city is not Mumbai and our hero doesn’t live in a chawl. It was a metropolitan city though and he was perhaps struggling to get a job. He did look like he was dressed for interviews. That would mean that his well-ironed shirt and perfect hair were a result of meticulous planning and self-care. That would also mean he wasn’t settled and there was no wife. Maybe that’s why she continued to watch him.
Slowly it became a game for her. Watching the guy walk down the street, hopping over cow dung in a boyish fit, touching cows like a seasoned, religious old man. She liked to watch him in the contrasts and she liked how he never noticed anything. He was a voyeur’s dream. While walking, he would wake up to car horns only at the last moment. There was no way he could ever notice her watching him.
Then one day he looked up and saw her. She made haste to hide behind the curtain which was an even bad move. The criminal had shown nervousness. He was intrigued but, he had no reason to take those stairs, climb that building, go to that door, knock and ask why she was looking at him. People look at each other all the time.
We overestimate the gaze. There are so many times when our loved ones pass us by in the house. They just look at us without smiling and we continue doing whatever we are busy doing. It is never alarming. We don’t feel the obligation to smile every time we see a loved one. Ironically, we have to smile everytime we are caught gazing at a stranger. Otherwise it is just awkward. It was very awkward for her now to go to that wretched window. But, she did dash for it the next day when she realized it was time for him to pass by.
He was more alert today. He was moving swiftly. No cow-touching, no cow-dung hopping! He was poised and had one eye at the window. The curtain moved and he saw a set of eyes and those soft fingers! He had spotted her but then he thought it rude to be so obvious about it. So, he walked normally.
She noticed that he wasn’t a man of contrasts today. He wasn’t walking in half-wakefulness. He was aware of all the honking horns. His hair were messy today but not because he hadn’t combed them. It was because he repeatedly ran fingers in his hair. He looked nervous. She was ruffled about the fact that she may have made things awkward for him. He walked to the bus stand and stood in the queue.
Repeatedly, he looked over his shoulder to see if someone followed him from that house. He wondered if the stalker followed him in the bus too. His life was suddenly full of romantic possibilities. She went back to the kitchen. Her favourite TV show was about to begin in 10 minutes. She almost forgot all about the guy.
The guy didn’t forget her though. He needed a reason to walk up those stairs. He needed it so badly. He went to his interview and returned like every day. While walking back to his home, he turned his neck to see if someone was watching him from that window again. The road was a busy one and one of the scooters coming from a side alley just ran into his gut. He fell over. A cow was discomforted as he fell right in front of it.
There was a mild ruckus in that part of the busy street but the crowd quickly pulled away, disappointed at the lack of any blood or public screaming and fighting. Unable to entertain the crowd, the guy picked himself up and lodged himself in a nearby autorickshaw. He was scared that the injury was internal.
The auto guy took him to a nearby nursing home and refused to take money. Just when we think humanity is almost dead, it raises its pretty head. He walked in the out patient ward after the necessary formalities. As he waited in the waiting area, a pair of fingers pulled a curtain away from a cabin. A set of eyes with an awkward gaze walked past him to another cabin.
So, she was a nurse here? Suddenly he was delighted at the turn of events. The doctor saw him and prescribed pain killers. There was no internal bleeding. He was okay but he didn’t want to leave. This had to mean something so sat back in the waiting area. The nurse walked past the corridor multiple times before finally noticing him. She also had a surge of mixed emotions as he looked her in the eye.
‘So, why did you hide the other day?’ He smiled.
‘I.. uh..’ She was taken off guard.
‘You were watching me. Weren’t you?’ He grinned with a blush.
‘Well, I did happen to watch you that day’ She attempted to save some grace.
‘You looked horrified. I saw your eyebrows rise like a murderer caught in floodlights in the middle of the murder’ He chuckled.
She laughed too. She didn’t know what to say. He looked hopeful. She didn’t want to want to disappoint him.
He asked her out. She said yes. They went to a nice little restaurant where everyone knew the boy. The boy liked having a girl with him for the first time in years. He even insisted on paying the bill for both of them. She knew he was completely broke so she paid for her share. The restaurant owner smiled at the young couple.
One day after a tiring day, as he walked down the street, she called him upstairs.
He sat in the living room and she went to the kitchen to get him something. She was taking a little long so he went to check what she was up to. He saw her staring down the kitchen window.
He slowly walked to her and looked over her shoulder. A simple-looking boy was crossing the street and she was watching the struggle with a twinkle in her eye.
He quietly returned to his chair in the living room. After ten minutes she came with a cup of tea. They talked and then after some time, he left. He stopped commuting after that day. That day he had an appointment letter to a new job in his bag. His struggle had ended.
She looked out the window and found the other boy crossing the street. He fell down tripping on something and looked up. He saw her, she saw him. She hid behind the curtain swiftly.