‘I am done’
He tosses the phone on the bed. A frantic scrolling of text windows and repeatedly checking every chat has been a tiring exercise. He hasn’t had a message from anyone in the past one week. He wants to talk to so many of them but he has nothing to say. He wants to be left alone. But he also wants someone to protest this isolation.
A walk might help. He leaves the phone behind.
The park two lanes away is the natural choice for most residents. But he isn’t like most people. The streets with their noise and chaos were the parks he loved. He missed his headphones but the thoughtlessness which accompanies walking is rewarding enough.
The edge of the street is crowded around a stall. The man behind the counter makes delectable rolls which sell out everyday. The deliciousness of the dish is proportional to the unhealthy ingredients used; a fact all the patrons are aware of but seldom care.
I should have this. I have earned this.
He hasn’t. But a tasty meal is the prescribed cure for a foul mood if a stiff drink isn’t available.
The rolls are cooked in a matter of minutes and served on a paper plate. The rising steam bewitches his hands which rise up to collect the plate, his elbow violently brushing against a shoulder.
An authentic apology is offered to a pair of annoyed eyes which turn back. He goes back to his food as there’s nothing more he can do to embellish the apology. The first bite offers a sensational relief which doesn’t mitigate the pain, but covers it in a cloud of denial.
He extends a pair of notes to pay for the food as he chugs the empty plate into the bin. He turns back to see the pair of annoyed eyes staring into his face.
He surveys the proprietor of those irritated beads. A string of untied hair keeps brushing against her face which is clear and bright. She is wearing a sky blue jacket over a black t-shirt with dark blue jeans. She is holding a half eaten roll in one hand with a phone in the other and chipped sports shoes.
‘Do you want to go and get some ice cream?’
Am I being pranked?
He decides to take the risk.
He follows her as she throws her bad roll into the bin. She seems to walk with a sense of urgency which requires him to make quick jumps to catch up with her.
This is crazy. You’re going to be killed.
He looks at the back of her tied hair with a pensive look.
Atleast it will be a pretty murderer.
An absurd consolation which makes him frown as she stops and turns.
‘I am Shagufta by the way’
They shook hands and started walking in tandem.
‘Do you do this often?’
‘Take random strangers for ice cream’
‘Everyday. I need to harvest the blood of young males everyday.’
‘Yeah? What for?’
‘A ritual sacrifice for timeless beauty ofcourse. I also collect penises as souvenirs.’
‘You must really suck at the ritual then. Because I can already see some wrinkles forming on your face.’
‘Oh but today is the most crucial one. A full moon sacrifice is needed to complete the spell.’
‘I normally protest human sacrifice but seeing as how badly you need this, I will be happy to partake with my life.’
Faint smiles slowly burst into laughter.
The ice cream shop is empty and the staff is on shutting shop at the earliest. Naturally, their arrival is not welcomed.
‘I will have butterscotch. You?’
‘Ugh. Such a cliche.’
He squints his eyes to fake irritation.
‘By the way, even I believe the government should be privatised.’
A moment of confusion is quickly overcome by an amused smile. He feels genuinely happy for an entire minute.
He hasn’t felt it in a long time.
‘Thank you. Most people don’t get what the T-shirt says.’
‘Most people also don’t take you for ice cream when they first meet you.’
He insists on paying but she wouldn’t have it.
‘ So… Fear, Love, Hate…tell me what comes to mind for each of these words.’
‘Uhhhh… Fear Ambition, Love Wisdom, Hate Cruelty.’
‘Wow! I didn’t know you were preparing for Miss Universe. Real answers please!’
He looked blankly at her face. Does she really want me to be honest?
‘Fine. I am scared of myself. I love music. I hate bigots, especially the ones I am related to.’
‘I am scared of being fearless. I fear nothing. Not even once. I fear that means I don’t care about anything as much. I love nachos. I hate liars.’
‘You’ve never been scared?’
‘Well, as a kid sure. But since my teenage, I have never feared anything. I have sky-dived and found it mildly amusing. I swam near sharks, bungee-jumped, and trekked alone in South America. People call me brave but I don’t understand it. It’s just all been brisk for me. I have changed my courses three times and been in a few relationships. But neither of those things scared me in their possession or loss.’
She fascinates him beyond his favourite book. He has flipped through some of the most intimate pages of her life. He couldn’t state with certainty, what his best friend of seven years loved or feared but he knows so much about a girl he saw just 15 minutes back.
‘I don’t think you don’t care about anything. I think you are just scared of admitting what you love. If you do that, it becomes something real. Real things can be lost. Real things hurt.’
The ice creams are patiently eaten as they reminisce about their school and college lives. She steals bites out of his cup which he never strongly protests. He does the same even though he doesn’t like butterscotch.
She has a younger brother who is studying abroad. She is close to her parents but often ends up fighting and arguing with them. She is constantly worried about her father’s health and offers to help him in his business, only to have her concerns dismissed by him. She almost got engaged to the last guy she was dating but things didn’t work out as she doesn’t want to give birth to kids and he couldn’t picture life without a child of his own.
He tells her about his inability to hold down a job, constantly changing fields and profiles as he pleased. He had a band in college and believed they would catch a break professionally but that never came to be. He is perhaps still not over it and hovers around independent musicians as much as he can. She is the first to hear his epiphany that this nostalgia has held him back in all these years. He enjoys a cordial relationship with his parents since he moved out two years ago. He hasn’t dated anyone in three years though he fell in love twice in the same period.
They stop near a grey building.
‘This is me. Tomorrow same time? We will go to the new waffles place.’
‘Yes. Should we exchange numbers?’
‘I don’t think we should. That way, you remain a real thing and not just some chat window I get bored of in a month.’
He smiles and nods. She shakes his hand before turning towards the gate. They are cold and soft.
The walk from her building to his house is a short one but vast enough for his racing thoughts. He imagined her waiting for him tomorrow. The stories they will share. What he will talk about and more importantly, what not to say. He wonders if in a couple of weeks they will go out on dates. Will she say yes?
Stop it. You’re doing the same thing again.
He remembered her smile.
You always paint these wonderful musings. Don’t you know the curse?
She had a mole on her right hand.
The good things you dream never come true.
He wondered how she would look naked.
He dismissed these thoughts. He is getting carried away and ruining a good thing in the bud.
But the truth is, he isn’t.
While a part of him painted the rosiest of pictures, his other half had all already concluded why it wouldn’t work out.
Why will she say yes? Why ask and ruin a blossoming friendship? She doesn’t like men like you. She is out of your league. If she does start dating you, how long before she realises how much of a loser you are? Do you just want to date her to test a novel way of screwing something nice up? Or have you forgotten how you become in relationships?
The gloom he had hoped to escape has now returned stronger than ever. Loneliness has crept into the depths of his heart and embraced him tighter than any human flesh he has ever been wrapped in. He isn’t going to be at the rolls stall tomorrow. There are some who are destined to love and never be loved back. He might be one of those. It is time to accept it.
He checked his phone. There were no calls or messages.