When I think of it, the year was around 2002. I was around 18 years old. I was on a road trip going to get my college admission in a town two hours from my place. My dad was with me.
We got a good two-seater seat on a state-owned bus and commenced our journey. But then something happened.
There was this girl who hopped on with her male friend and started staring at me from her seat on the other row.
Initially, I thought, "Well, does she know me?" And I had to take a long hard look at her but no, I could not recollect about seeing her anywhere.
Pretty eyes, mesmerizing smile, and dimples. "Wow!", I thought. But I decided to look straight and ignore her. I thought it unbecoming of a gentleman otherwise.
But she did not stop doing what she was doing.
"Shameless girl", I thought once. But then I could not convince myself about not looking her way, so time and again, I did exactly that. And her smile and eye contact unnerved me every time.
I was never comfortable around girls and this particular one had started unsettling me. There was hardly anything I could do as I had not faced a similar situation before. Yes I have had girls look at me and then look straight or I have done the same, but maintaining eye contact and smiling incessantly at me, being a stranger, that was something I faced for the first time. Was she insane? Or had more sinister ambitions? Or just enjoying my discomfort? I had no idea frankly.
I looked at her male friend too and somehow he seemed to enjoy whatever was going on. My dad was already napping and had no idea about this.
Then something happened. The bus came to a halt as an intermediate bus stop had arrived. The girl got up along with her friend in a bid to get down.
Then I noticed, oh!
Behind me, a woman was sitting and had a kid in her arms. That guy had been silent all this while sucking away at a lollipop. This girl was actually gesturing continuously at him, or so I thought.
While alighting she made an affectionate sound to draw the kid's attention.
I was now, nearly drowned in embarrassment and shame out of the imaginary castle in the air I had been constructing.
Shaking my head, I looked at her one last time as she was about to get down.
And then she did something I had not expected.
She looked at me, eye to eye, from a distance.
What she then did, I'll never forget.
She gently tapped one eye and winked at me, waving a goodbye.
This time I looked around me to confirm if I mistook this time too. No, there was no one else even looking at her. So, that was for me!
Before I could see any more of her, she had vanished in the crowd. I didn't know her name and there was no mobile phone those days, but if possible, I would have liked to know her, at least as a friend. In a small town like ours, she was an odd one out, an interesting odd one at that.
It's been nearly 20 years, I have not seen her ever again.
But the vision of that wink remains etched somewhere in a secret chamber of my heart...