by Upagupt Mohanty


he sky was not any bluer nor was the sun any brighter. I was heading home by bus like any other day. The late night photo shoot had taken its toll on me and I was really jaded. Leaning against the window, with the cool breeze caressing my face, my worn out eyes were getting numb as they were closing intermittently. Soon, the bus came to a grinding halt at a stop and I could see a young woman board the bus. Barely had I given her a second look, my phone ring tune went off ‘Ek Ajnabee, Haseena Sey ,Yunn Mulakaat Ho gayee’. Never a movie buff myself, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my 6 year old son had tampered with my phone again.

“Hello”, I answered the phone.

“Am I speaking to Mr. Sumit?”

“Yes” I replied, without even bothering to think who the caller could be. “Sir, this is Rashmi from ICICI Bank. Can I take a few minutes to brief you about our offers?”

“Err, sorry, I’m in the middle of something, could you call me some other time please?” I quipped back, with a subtle twang.

I quickly disconnected the phone, since by now, I was clearly distracted by the presence of this lady.

Before your imagination runs amok let me clarify there was nothing out of the ordinary in her appearance. Cant’ call her pretty or beautiful but there was something about her that attracted me, intrigued me rather. She just seemed to have touched some chord in me.

As I tried to get a closer glimpse of her without coming across as an ogler, I noticed that she radiated innocence and she had tears accumulated at the edge of her eyes which could break out any moment with a jolt of the bus. Her simple attire complimented her persona. She came across very reticent but her face gave away a lot about her state of mind. She had a touch of vermillion on her forehead which prompted me to wonder if she was married or if she’d visited a temple.

A sense of déjà vu engulfed me as I felt I always knew this lady and was amazed by the instant connection that I’d developed. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her. I could feel the pain that she was obviously enduring in her life. I even prayed to the almighty to put an end to her misery and bring a smile on her face. Well if that’s not possible, give her the courage to deal with it. Soon, my stop had come and in a few minutes, I reached home.

“Daddy, you look so tired. What’s the matter? Too much work? Don’t worry, I too get tired after my studies. Let’s have dinner and go to bed early”, said my son, hugging me. I smiled and followed his advice. “Would you like to have some tea?” asked my wife. I said yes. But, in midst of everything, I couldn’t get the young lady’s face off my mind. I questioned myself “Why , why so much concern for an unknown woman?” I hit the bed early that night.

The same story unfolded, the next day. She got into the bus and took a seat in the front row. She turned back twice to look at me. Perhaps I came across as a sensible and sensitive man, owing to my long hair, bearded and bespectacled look, I couldn’t ever be sure though. She must have noticed me showing unusual interest in her but I could see the sigh of relief on her face, when she realized I’m there. Was she equally intrigued about me, I wondered. I was just going with the flow as we continued to acknowledge each other’s presence, through our eyes. Things went on this way for a month as I longed to see her each day. I named her ‘Ajnabee’—the stranger, even though I felt she was a part of my life now.

Few days later, the bus was jam packed and I didn’t find a seat. A woman in her 40s took a fancy to me as she threw herself on me every time the bus braked. I was too embarrassed to react as the bus stopped again and Ajnabee boarded the bus. It didn’t take her long to figure out the reason for my discomfort , as she found her way to me and butted herself between me and the over adventurous woman, like a saviour. This sounded extremely peculiar since it’s usually the women who are in this uncomfortable situation and a man comes to her rescue, hehe. Life went on this way for me and I was very enthused by this new development in my otherwise monotonous world.

Untill, one day, my wife called up to tell me that she was at the supermarket, which happened to come in the route of my bus and that she would join me at a particular stop.

In no time the bus stopped and my wife boarded the same bus . My cheesy ring tone went off again “Samne yeh kaun aaya, dil mey hui hulchul”, I guess my son could foresee my future. So now, my wife and Ajnabee were both in the bus with me. My wife joined me next to my seat as Ajnabee was seated diagonally in-front. In the course of my conversation with my wife we broke into a mindless fit of laughter. Boy! Little did I realize that Ajnabee would be so affected by it. The look on her face conveyed the unspoken words ‘Who is she? Why are you sitting so close to her?’ followed by several unhappy stares. That’s when Ajnabee’s phone went off and to my surpise her ring tune fitted her mood perfectly ‘Mujhe Gussa Dikhaya Ja Raha Hai’, a Jagjit Singh number. Was the ringtone set for me instantly? I’ll never know, because after that day, I have never seen her again. I don’t know if it was her disappointment or wrath, but it took me a while to fathom her silent protest.

Time flew by, until recently, when I spotted her, dining with a tall, dark, handsome man. I looked at her as our eyes met. But this time, the tables had turned as I wondered who she was accompanying. My eyes had the same questions that she had the other day. But what was heartening for me, was the happiness in her eyes and the million dollar smile that she wore in the company of her man.

“Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, Tum Rehti Ho”, my phone rings yet again, as my wife tries to get a whiff of my whereabouts .

Ajnabee may not have spoken a word, or expressed her feelings, but my instant connection with her was something, that I’ll cherish all my life . ❏

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