If It Were
Urmi was the kind of girl everyone turned around to give a second look. Nothing extraordinary, she was just a regular pretty face. It was her demeanor. There was an aura of exquisite warmth about her. So much so that her joie de vivre was palpable even to the stranger waiting next to her at a random bus stand. And today she was emanating positive radiance. Sanjay had asked her out for coffee. It wasn’t exactly a date as such considering they were to discuss the project proposal but still it was enough to make her moony eyed.
She had met Sanjay when he had come to the NGO she worked for, on a business purpose. The company he was associated with wanted a tie-up with her organization. Corporate social responsibility was the new buzzword, and a government directive to boot, and companies scampered to jump onto the boat. So when Sanjay walked into the office, dark, lean, close cropped hair and a full head taller than her, she was stumped. But it was that moustache of his that did the trick. Guys of today shied away from growing one and here was one sporting a thick, neat one and boy, did he do justice to it!
When her coordinator asked her to handle the project, a tacit acknowledgement of her efficiency, little did she realize that she would give her heart out, literally.
When Sanjay called her out to discuss the project, she had butterflies. Not one to be overawed by anything, or anyone, this reaction puzzled her. Stifling that funny queasiness, she looked in the mirror. A short layered haircut framing a petite face and limpid brown eyes, kohl lined with extra care, stared back at her.
‘Am I looking casual enough? Will he think I sort of dressed up for him? Silly questions niggled her mind. Fact was, the embroidered kurti and jeans made her look like a vulnerable college girl, belying her five years of professional experience. One final brush of hair, a deep breath and she walked out with a determined step. She hailed a passing auto rickshaw and set out for the destination. Come on, this is a business meeting, she chided herself. A tiny voice within wondered why would anybody want to meet her at a coffee shop to discuss business when the office premises could have well sufficed.
She reached the coffee shop well before time. Hope I don’t seem too eager. What the blazes, I am just being professional! Urmi walked in and looked around the place. Barring a couple in a table, the place was empty. She chose a corner table and settled herself. Taking out her tablet, she scanned through the proposal. Sponsorships and grants were vital to running their organization and it was imperative that they impress upon their clients the veracity of their work to build a viable and sustained association.
‘Sorry for the delay’, a deep voice broke her concentration. Urmi scrambled up and looked into a navy blue shirt. She brought her gaze up and there was Sanjay, smiling apologetically. They should not make them so devastating. Not fair at all. Get a hold on, girl.
‘No, I was early’, she replied, trying her best to appear calm. Seating themselves once the pleasantries were done with, Sanjay got on to the task. He chalked out the project’s vision in clear, convincing terms elaborating on the implementation part.
Urmi took it all in. Well, most of it, when she was not staring at his graying temples and the tiny lines under his eyes when they crinkled with a smile. She fought back a crazy urge to trace her fingers over them. This man, seated across her, was doing dangerous things to her emotions, making a clear mockery of her level headed composure. When her black coffee arrived, she opted out of sugar. She could do without that sugar fix, already feeling high strung as she was. The bitter, warm liquid helped her calm the fuzziness within.
As the meeting drew to a close and they prepared to leave, Sanjay offered to drop her off. She declined, a little too forcefully. The last thing she needed was an intimate drive in proximity of this man! He didn’t insist and drove off with a casual wave. Quite a modest car, she thought. Goes on to show he’s just a regular, rooted guy, failing to convince herself the logical link between the two.
At night, since all she had done since evening was thinking about him, she decided to check him up on the internet. She recalled how little he had let on about his life outside of the professional sphere. She looked up his Facebook profile. Private account, save for the display picture looking back at her. Damn! Must he be so guarded?! Well, at least there was no wife latching on to his arm, she grinned. She mulled about sending him a friendship request but quickly dropped the idea. Her behaviour earlier must have, already, been a tell-all to him. She didn’t need to reinforce that conjecture. Shutting off the laptop, she smiled herself to sleep.
The following week kept her away from office all through. Touring with Alona, her friend and colleague from a sister organization, they engaged with rural women in the neighboring villages, organizing awareness programs. Alona was her sounding board and go-to person in times good and bad. Beneath a chic exterior was a heart of molten gold that Urmi took refuge in.
‘So Sanjay had done you in, round and proper, eh?’ Alo raised an arched eyebrow looking at Urmi as they sat for dinner at their small hotel.
‘No!’ Urmi exclaimed, half convincingly. ‘Ah, well, I just can’t seem to get that damned person out of my system’.
‘Take my word for it. You are veering into forbidden territory. The guy is much too old for you. And with his kind of looks, he must have had a string of conquests behind him’, Alo scoffed.
‘Well, I don’t mind stringing along’, Urmi laughed, half jokingly.
‘Besides, he hasn’t done anything to show he is interested in me, by any stretch of imagination. Relax! It’s just a passing phase. I’ll be over it soon’.
But it didn’t pass off. The feelings grew stronger by the day, scaring her with its intensity. Her interactions with Sanjay continued within professional parameters, focusing on the implementation of the project. He was fun and easy to be with. Quirky sense of humour and a focused mind at work, with meticulous attention to detail, all that was making him too irresistible. There was something in the offing though, but she couldn’t yet put her finger to it. A couple of times she had caught him looking at her with a brooding, faraway look. She could not fathom or gauge its meaning, but she cocooned it in her heart as a sign of good tidings.
It had been a good three months since she came to know Sanjay and still she had no clue where their relationship stood. ‘Hell, is there a relationship even?! All I know is that I get wobbly kneed and fuzzy brained when I’m with this man and warmth envelopes me whenever I think of him. That’s it,’ she told herself. If this was love, she was not very good at handling it. But this overwhelming surge of feelings also brought a sense of belonging in her. She was happy without having to be accountable for it.
It was on a Saturday night that a message from Sanjay took her to the edge of the rainbow. A simple, ‘Have something to tell you’, sent her hopes on zenith. ‘He feels it too!’ she hugged herself. She longed to text back, ‘Me too, me too!!’ All she could manage was a smiley. A blushful shyness overcame her, bathed as she was in a glow of love.
The next few days were spent in breathless anticipation. Her heartbeats reached a crescendo until she could no longer hold herself. “Waiting for that ‘something’’, she texted. There, enough of holding back. She had said it. She waited, with bated breath, for his reply.
The wait stretched on, for a full day and night. She was beside herself with anticipation. Slowly and ominously it turned to anxiety. ‘Need to talk’, she could no longer hold back.
She willed herself not to check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his 'last seen at' status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn't stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous. And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message. But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn't know if he was joking or not. What was this?
‘At a PTA meeting in my son’s school. Anything urgent?’
Urmi’s world suddenly came shattering down. Hot, blinding tears flowed down involuntarily. She tasted the salt in them. How could he? What right did he have, to play with her emotions in this heartless manner? What right did he have, damn it?
Later, when the copious tears subsided and she was nudged to her senses, a strange calm overcame her. She was purged of all her emotions. Reality dawned clear over her.
Sanjay had never really told or conveyed his feelings in any way, had he? So consumed was she by her own feelings that she took a supposition for reality. To be fair to him, all he had probably meant to convey was something work related that required attention. She smiled wryly. Well, sometimes life lets you experience a beautiful thing. Cherish it for what it is, without expectations. She needed to pick up the pieces and start life anew.
The winter sun was setting slowly. Sanjay stood by the window in his room and looked at his phone. No communication from Urmi. He thought as much. He had achieved his objective. That seemingly innocuous message had driven home his point. It was meant to. Wasn’t it? He wished the tightness in his throat would go away. It didn’t, but brought along a consuming urge to let go of those hot tears that threatened to flow. That open, vulnerable face flashed before him. He longed, with every fibre of his being, to surround her with love, to never let her go. But he couldn’t do it. He hadn’t been able to, coward that he was.
The past few months flew by him in a haze. Right from the day he had walked into that office and seen her, it had been so easy to fall in love with her. As if it was natural progression in the cosmic scheme of things. He had sensed her love for him and longed, with all his might to give in, to belong to her.
The reserve came dangerously close to falling and in that moment, he had sent her that one message, only to be jolted back to his senses. He couldn’t go ahead. He owed this much to her.
A ten-year-old son to take care of, a bitter alimony battle following an acrimonious divorce from his ambitious wife, an ailing old mother whose only hope was him; were just a few inseparable things that were ruling his life.
He couldn’t drag her down to the quagmire for his own selfish ends. She was much too young to be bogged down. A whole new life awaited her. She would get over his insensitivity, even betrayal, if she wanted to call it that. She did not deserve holding back. Yes, this much he owed to her.
Some things in life were meant for the ‘if it were’ zone. That was life, the beauty in pathos.
Darkness was falling fast. Sanjay closed the window and quietly walked off.