I had first seen him in the tennis court that was across my modest little home.
After about a year of watching him tirelessly from my kitchen window, I found out that his name was Tahir. Quite by chance really. If he hadn’t happened to lose the tennis ball in the shrubs outside my window and hadn’t come down to search, I would have always remained the not so innocent bystander. I would have unwittingly watched on as the could-haves disappeared out of my life forever and become someone else’s haves. I would have just stood on and watched and waited. Well, anyway, to cut a year-long story a little shorter, I did get the chance to grab some love for myself.
I watched with bated breath from my usual position at the kitchen window as he opened the gate to the tennis court, sprinted across the not so busy street and came down to the shrubs outside my window, a slight frown on his brow. He began his search for that elusive ball.
“Tahir, hurry up man. We need to finish the game.”
Then he looked up suddenly. As if by some unseen force that had told him to do so, he looked up and straight into my eyes as I continued to watch him. Did I tell you that I have beautiful eyes? People have always told me that my eyes look like diamonds on fire.
Oddly enough, I was the one to look away first.
The next day, I took my perch again at the usual time to watch him. It was indeed a very beautiful day. I had just finished my work and come home, a little later than usual and had to rush through my evening routine to get to the seat in time. The centre where I took my evening classes was not far away and I normally ran to get there in time, just after Tahir and his friends finished playing. My work was a little demanding and I was dog tired by the time I came home, washed, cooked a simple meal for myself, packed my bag for the classes and then sat down to watch him play tennis.
The ball found its way into the shrubs outside my window again and it was Tahir again who came sprinting across the not so busy street to look for it. This time I ducked out of sight. I could hear moving around in the shrubs outside. The rustling of the dry leaves warned of his presence. Then the sounds stopped suddenly and I thought that he had found his ball and left. But my sixth sense told me that someone was peeping through my window. I did not want anyone to see what my home looked like, no one. I got up quickly, more to block his view and he looked straight into my eyes once again. He smiled. I was too stunned to respond. He looked like he wanted to say something; he did, but it was more of a mumble under his breath. Something about my eyes, I think. Then as if unable to draw away his gaze from the diamonds on fire, he turned abruptly and ran back to the court. I waited for a backward glance. None.
The next day was the same and so was the day after and the day after that.
Friday dawned as usual. I got up with some difficulty from the mattress on the floor that I called a bed, ran to the common toilet that I shared with other people like me in our modest little basti, finished my morning ablutions and came back to make some chai for myself. I quickly made some bread anda to go with the chai, gulped both down together and got ready. I had a uniform that the lady in the parlour had given me, with strict instructions to wear only this odd-shaped garment to work every day. I had exactly two sets. What I had worn to work yesterday was torn. Well, anyway I could worry about that tomorrow. The owner had said that I could take this Sunday off instead of the usual Tuesday that was my weekly off.
Yesterday had been a very bad day.
For a Thursday, almost the middle of the week, there had been an unusual number of clients.
After every session I had a lot of cleaning to do as well. These men left the rooms and bathrooms in a state of filth. While many of them just wanted a full body massage, some wanted a little more and some wanted a lot more.
The parlour that I worked in was in one of the oldest parts of the city, on a street that was reputed for its places of ill repute. I had worked here for as long as I could remember. No one else would give me work, you see! The lady who owned the place was a real beauty, at least she was when I had taken up the only job offer that had come my way. Age, worries, men and drink had worked their work on her and she looked flourishingly haggard now.
The front of the parlour had only a small room where Risha sat at a small desk with a laptop that looked almost ashamed to be there. The gaudily cut dresses she always wore were some funny contrast to the Swiss country side on the wallpaper behind her. She took calls on her cell to fix appointments, gave them a complimentary foot massage while they waited their turn to enter the inner chambers. My place was always right at the back, almost two levels inside. My co-workers who worked in the rooms in the middle were beautiful women with great figures and grimy fingernails. They had nicotine stained lips covered up with bright orange lipstick. They perpetually smelt of all those oils and body odours that wafted up from the rooms in the middle. It was not very often that the inner doors to my room were opened. The maximum I had counted in a day, before yesterday, was twice. I usually had adequate time to wash off the stains and the pain, wear the oddly shaped garment again and wait for the inner door to open once more.
I had come home with a tremendous ache and was bleeding so badly that I had to skip classes and my usual window seat too. I had been too tired to open the window and too much in pain to hear the rustling of leaves.
I told Mahima, the owner of the parlour, that I needed a day off but she refused saying that they already had an overflowing list of clients, specially asking for the inner chambers. She had not yet paid the rent for my one-room home in the basti. I had to say yes. I went and waited inside the inner room as always, for the doors to open.
When I came home that evening, tired and still very much in pain, I felt myself yearning for someone to talk to, someone away from the clones in my basti. Away from the clones in my evening class. I hadn’t talked to anyone who was not a clone in a long time. Mahima and Risha and the other co-workers never talked to me and conversation with clients was a taboo anyway. It had been years since my family had abandoned me in this basti to live among people just like me. It was only after living here that I realized that the others had names too. Though the world had only one collective name for us.
“I wish I could live like that lady across the street. See how beautiful she is. See how happy she is.”
“What is happiness? What do you know what it is? You have never felt it.”
“Shhe she has such a beautiful little family. Those two small adorable children, that husband who looks at me occasionally and tells me what beautiful eyes I have ….. friends, family………”
“Why do you look for something you can never have you……”
“Don’t call me that name. At least not you.”
“You cannot change what you are. You cannot have love. You cannot have children. You cannot marry. You cannot be happy. Ever! Face it.”
“No I will get my chance. Have you seen how Tahir looks at me?”
“He has only seen those eyes and nothing else.”
“I have to try. I need to be happy. I need to be loved.”
“But how can you be loved? You can only get what those men in the parlour give you.”
“No, no, no, no. I can get it. I know he is drawn to me.”
That evening, I decided to skip my classes. I dressed up with more care than usual and cleaned up my modest home. I arranged some candles and flowers all around the room and lit some incense sticks. My phone had some music but they were too sidey. I was not sure if he would like these raunchy numbers. Everyone in the basti heard these numbers. I did not know of any other songs. I had seen all those ladies in the movies do it. I thought I would too. Anyway, we could do without the music.
I kept the window closed but opened the door ajar instead. The door faced the tennis court too.
The rustling in the shrubs started as if on clock work. The sounds moved in the direction of the front door. I was a little out of breath. Nervous, a little shy, very excited, almost like a new bride. Well, that I had to imagine from all the movies I had seen. But excited I was.
Tahir came in and came to the corner where I sat on the mattress.
His eyes peeped into mine as they always have. That is the only part of me that he had always seen. He was out of breath too.
The smile on his lips slowly faded as realization dawned on him.
He backed off a little and almost turned towards the door.
I could almost hear the thoughts in his head. I had grown accustomed to hearing those thoughts in all these years.
He turned again towards me, but this time, he did not look into my eyes. He did not look into my eyes again that evening or ever again after that.
He removed his clothes and bent down on me.
I could hear his heart as it beat rapidly in a hormonal rush. Mine was beating against his, in love. Our hearts were beating together, united, as one.
His job was quick. He still did not look into my eyes.
He got up, dressed abruptly and moved towards the door.
As if on a forethought, he turned back and said, “Aye hijre, kisi ko bolna mat ki mein idhar aaya tha.”