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Not So...A Year Before

Not So...A Year Before

13 mins 182 13 mins 182

Coming home after almost a year was a great feeling. Ecstasy was at its peak as I was pining to meet family and friends, for I was away from home for such long period for the first time. My sojourn was like a joyride and was filled with cheer, for I had something very special to share. My mind train moved faster than the one I boarded.

I wanted to erase thought of routine life for a few days. Every morning, getting up at the first squeak of alarm and cursing my fate for not having enough sleep, dragging my lifeless feet to the washroom, having some light breakfast as well as makeup and be on time at the station to catch the right train to the office was all that I mechanically followed day after day. I occupied my seat in the office in time to avoid displeasure of my boss. His penchant for criticism was on another level and very hard to digest. He had made it sure to spare none. His sense of dressing was modelled on retro style as he preferred to wear checks and flares and scouted for compliments. We all had to say a few words in praise. After all, a boss is always a boss.

Work at office was tedious. At times, it even stretched up to midnight. Upon reaching the cramped little space that we called our apartment, the only thing we all flatmates did was to fling our tired bodies on the bed, turn on the air-conditioner, grab a pillow and cuddle, seduce the tired eyes to close and catch a good night's sleep. Life was monotonous. Moments rolled into minutes, then hours…days…months and years. I went on adding years to my age. Quitting my job was not in the agenda as a major portion of my salary was used for education of my siblings. I had become a money churning machine more or less. Had one fixed agenda i.e. to save for family’s needs and expenses. I was the eldest and pa had a modest job, with siblings down the line having no income, I had to think twice before I spent. Each pie meant a lot.

On weekends, my flatmates went for shopping. The whole day, they would have fun, dine in restaurants, watch movies, hop from one mall to the other, prance around and indulge in parties. But I was not a regular in the team, savings being at the back of my mind.

Instead of going for all that my flatmates did, or for that matter, any young girl in her twenties would do, I would often roam around memory lane, crave for days, years spent with the entire family, pranks of siblings, quaint evenings with schoolmates .The scorching heat and glare of the sun during summer as we played Kabbadi for the school team. Munching on raw mangoes in the orchards, playing on muddy roads during rains, jumping on puddles, inviting stains out of slush and mud in school uniforms. Incurring wrath of mom as she had to put all her strength to banish them. Warnings from her were put to deaf ears as usual, as we shamelessly repeated the pranks year after year. These thoughts often crowded my mind and made my longings all the more endearing. I would smile and then shed a few drops, in honour of gone by while. Would mutter often “I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop"-but alas it was not to be. My sojourn unto self would pave way for the right answer. The answer being –“not possible at any cost”.

It was a Sunday afternoon. All my flatmates had gone out. I was alone in the house, was half way through a thriller. The door bell rang. It was quite unusual at that hour. I fixed my gaze on the peep hole to find out who it was. Outside, there stood a young man, carrying a bouquet and a box, neatly wrapped up. I loosened the latch, kept the door half open and inquired about his visit. He was suave and spoke very gently. The guard at the gate had directed him to this floor as he was to meet his cousin staying there. He mistook my house to be the one, and had pressed the bell. His cousin, Priyanka, stayed in the house right in front of mine. I knew her as she was one year senior to me in college and was a brilliant student. This city was harbinger of good times for both in terms of employment. I showed her house to the gentleman. He smiled through his eyes and thanked for the help. I took no time in closing the door, cursing the gatekeeper for not properly guiding people. Lest I missed nuances of the interesting juncture, I started reading the passage again to get into the tempo. It was an interesting read as it kept me captivated and I hardly missed my friends, in other words I could hardly feel their absence.

The young man at the door, though unknown had something striking about him-I felt as I narrated the incident to my roommates when they came back. They did not pay much heed. For them, it was a coincidence and had no iota of fun. For me, first encounter with a handsome man.

Time flew by. Life was as usual. No zing, no sheen, just so-so and lacked touch of magic. Spending long hours at office and then commuting, comprised the routine. The boss threw parties in between, when our company made huge profit or when he got admiration from the CEO. During the course of one party he announced expansion of our team. He expressed desire to recruit someone who had experience and was just not a pick from market. It was a great news.

We were excited to have a new colleague who would guide us and save us from going to Boss' chamber for each approval. The day arrived. I had no inkling, whether it was providential ordain or simple orchestration of events that made me arrive a little before regular time. I thought of relaxing in the lounge till most of my colleagues arrived. Took the newspaper in hand and went through the headlines .A “Hello” and a known voice made me look sideways .I found the same guy I saw in front of my house asking for help to locate his cousin. I was taken by surprise. Before volley of questions from my side could hit him, our boss arrived and introduced him as Prabir ...his newly appointed deputy.

Within no time he became an instant hit with his ways and manners. Everyone developed fondness for him. I was no exception. He seemed to be a noble soul and was ready to help anybody and everybody. Having seen him before made me feel superior and I kept the feeling to myself.

One morning, it was drizzling. After getting down at station from local train, I took out my umbrella and opened it to house me. My office was almost half a kilometre away from station. As, I started to walk, I heard a voice saying "Hello Neha !” It was Prabir, stranded in the rain. Probably he had forgotten to bring his umbrella and was looking for help to reach office. I obliged him. As we walked, he tried to strike conversation regarding family, education, hobbies and interests. Surprisingly, we matched on many a count. He loved to read and valued simplicity. I was happy and delighted to have found a friend like him. In a city where money mattered the most, it was difficult to find such a person.

Another extended evening was in the offing; some urgency was there and was to be attended to immediately. Prabir with his enthusiastic smile eased all of us and assured a party from his side if we finish off the work in time. Work was completed in time, appreciation followed and Prabir was in all readiness to play host. We were at liberty to be own self, sing and dance to our heart's content and pull each other's legs. We planned to put on the best outfit and carry off with elan. I was finding it difficult to open up to the idea of partying as I was an introvert, more withdrawn unlike my colleagues. Many a times I tried to get the better of this feeling, but in vein. It seemed to be recurring motif in the gamut of events that my life consisted of.

I was not sure, whether this strange feeling arose out of sheer inferiority complex, for being petite, for not possessing dressing sense, nice clothes or attitude or, my modest upbringing was the weakest link. I kept on thinking and the clock ticked past sans caring a fig for my feelings. When I looked at the watch, I nearly screamed, ”Oh my God! It is already late. I have to rush now. Everyone must have reached. I need to hurry up.” I searched for the best available outfit and had to be satisfied with a beige colour skirt and a black full sleeve top, and teamed it with black stilettos.

Many had reached before and were enjoying their favourite starters and beverages. I felt a little embarrassed as they all were sporting designer outfits; yet tried to behave normal. Sheela called me from the extreme corner ”Hey cutie! Nice outfit. It suits you dear. Why are you so late? I was looking for you everywhere. Come to this side. Starters are served here. We all have had one round of snack and mock- tail. Join us. The party has just begun. You have not missed much. Be prepared to shake a leg, show to the world that you too are fun loving. No excuse today. There are prizes to be won. Prabir sir has sponsored."

Too much of unnecessary information I thought and walked towards Sheela, who was taking lead of the fun and frolic part. The sense of " lost in another world” did not desert me as I was introvert by nature. Composing myself, I went to get me some snacks. A familiar hello made me look back. It was Prabir, standing behind, impeccably dressed in a navy blue colour suit, and had tie to match. His winsome smile and subtle welcome made me blush and reciprocate to his “hello”. Slowly confidence was setting in and I opened up myself slowly to the happening evening.

Prabir danced with colleagues and wanted me to come to the floor. I had to decline. How could I confess before the large audience that I can’t dance? My polite "no" was followed by "Ok" from his side. He saw all of us off and thanked profusely."It was a wonderful feeling to open up"-I thought as I boarded cab. Many times, his smiling face and caring ways strayed into my thoughts on my way back. I safely dismissed those as illusion and whispered to myself “I better focus on reality, why a handsome, suave man would have fondness for an ordinary girl like me, when there is no dearth of beautiful and accomplished girls around?" But thoughts had their wings and followed me everywhere. Whenever I closed my eyes I could visualise his presence, speaking through his eyes. This strange feeling I could not share as I did not want to be butt of criticism.

I decided to take a few days off, read and relax, tame wayward mind, elbow out wispy clouds from my thought process. I took two days off and vowed to remain within confines of flat's wall. There were enquiries from friends on the first day. The second day I thought would be peaceful as everyone was aware of my (feigned) illness. But, in the late afternoon there was a call from office number. It was Prabir wanting to know, if I needed anything, and my curt reply was “no”. He sought affirmation regarding my joining the next day. He seemed to be assured by getting a "yes" from me.

The next morning, I was in my seat in time. Files had piled up in these two days and the sight made me virtually sick. No wonder I thought, Prabir called to know, whether I was joining or not, so this was the reason, who else would clear the pile? I was distraught, felt let down. A strange feeling of uncared for was setting in. Many times before, I was allotted left over work, whenever there was absenteeism. But, never ever I complained or felt bad. “Why this time?" The resentment had no valid reason and the crux behind, I was unable to fathom.

I tried to attend to files one by one without taking break. I wanted to finish off the backlog as soon as possible. It was lunch time and two more files remaining, I patted myself on the back for the speed I had, since no one else was cheering me up. I gulped down food and came back to my seat to attend to the last leg. A sneak peek around took note of Prabir at the desk.”Till now?” I wondered. “what is he doing at this hour ?” He usually takes early break for lunch. Must be having some urgency... I thought and got back to work. A few points were to be highlighted and I opened my drawer to get a marker to do the needful. Apart from usual stuff, there was a pink coloured envelope in the drawer which I had not kept. It was sealed and “for someone special” was written on it.”It must have been kept there by mistake” I thought, and continued with my work. I was curious to know about the contents but was scared to open it. For, I knew, I can never be anyone’s special.

My job for the day was nearing completion. Smita in my neighbouring seat was calling it a day. I asked her to wait for me, so that we could travel together. I opened my drawer again to put pen, marker, pencil and most importantly “to do list”. Smita, who was standing near, could notice the edge of the envelope and said, ”What is the pink thing that you are hiding from me?” I said casually, ”Nothing dear," someone has put the envelope in my drawer by mistake. Tomorrow he/she will pick it up. Smita said, "Let us open it, find what is inside, then we will fix it and keep in the drawer again, no one would be able to find out, if it was tampered."

She opened it carefully. A small piece of paper was inside, on which it was scribbled “Missed you dear Neha! Those two days were terrible for me. Promise, you will not remain on leave – Prabir." ”Surprise, a pleasant one,” Smita screamed as she hugged me.”You lucky gal! Prabir sir has written this for you and you are dismissing it by saying – not meant for you?” ”How sweet of him. He must have been smitten by your simplicity and down to earth approach. Remember, I had told you one day, you are doing so much for your family, God is watching from above, and you will surely be rewarded for your good deeds. See, how I could prophesize."

I could not believe my eyes and ears. I had never thought, something like this would be waiting for my mundane day at work.” Is it from Prabir sir? Are you sure Smita?” I whispered, for I could see him.“ Well, see for yourself to believe”- Smita raised her voice. I was taken aback and looked at him holding the surprise in my hands. He was relaxing on a reclining chair, at a short distance. He smiled and nodded in affirmation. “I had kept it there purposefully Neha. I have to thank Smita now, for taking initiative to open the envelope." My demure and coy self was floored with the mention. My shivering hands had difficulty in putting back the envelope in the drawer. Focusing had become difficult by now but I managed somehow.

Prabir and me gradually became more than friends. Mutual respect and fondness grew day by day. We decided to name the relationship and inform our respective families, seek blessings. This caused my sojourn. Screeching halt of the train brought me back to realities from the world of nostalgia .I got down, hired an auto-rickshaw to go home .I was eager to savour my favourite dishes .Remain in fond embrace of my siblings. Narrate the incident- how mist of my breathing preceded my being that evening. My happening life had many a tale to tell. My friends, I knew had earnest desire to listen to every bit of the fascinating story that was nipped in the bud, a year before.

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