MORE THAN AN ACQUAINTANCE…

It struck twelve. ‘Twelve in the night is an odd time to be in a small village, especially for a girl’, a man whispered not very far from me. I cringed at the shaky voice. It heavily smelt of booze. Suddenly, I was not alone anymore, and that frightened me more. The man moved away paces but I could feel his eyes on me. The ramshackle bus-stand grew eerie as I stood restless. I cursed the cabbie of my earlier ride once again for leaving me in such a state of panic. Why can’t they check the tanks for sufficient gas before having a passenger aboard? And just how conveniently, he dropped me off to the nearest bus station about 2 miles from the breakdown, to which, quite surprisingly his cab did not resist at all. Exhaling heavily, I tried to concentrate on my book.

‘But surely, he lived in the nearby village, and wanted to make what little fare he could make out of you,’ said Jessica. ‘How can you be so dumb as to not understand their tricks,’ she fumed over the phone. It was not like I was having the time of my life to endure her reprimanding now. ‘Relax, Jess. I’ll be fine,’ I said and cut the call. Well, quite obviously, I wasn’t all right and quite naturally scared of the man on prowl. I pulled the travel bag closer to me in a hope to shield myself and just how in vain! Right then, I wished to vanish inside it.

The waft of hot boiling tea from the tea-stall across the street made me want to run, grab a cup and drown my worries with the beverage. But a quick glance around, registered what little the secluded bus-stop held. A couple of men talking animatedly in the regional dialect. A man who seemed foreign in the land, was busy reading a book. An urchin was pestering an elderly for money.  That’s all the audience I had around me. And then there was the man casting dirty glances at me. Oh, how long, before the local bus picked me up. I didn’t care where the bus took me; I just wanted to get out of that place just then.
Once again, I tried to not be intimidated by my circumstance and struggled to find the lost thread from the book. Noiselessly, the creepy man came and stood right next to me, barely an inch away, muttering, ‘Can I take you somewhere?’ I was so absorbed in my book that it took a second for me to notice that it was the same man. I flinched and moved away. For some reason, the man who was reading a book at the far corner left his stance and came and took a seat on the broken bench, poising himself between me and the local creep.
If it was his gesture to shield me, I hardly realized and almost burst out shouting. But something about the book that he was reading delivered a different message altogether and I held my words back. Invisible Cities. The same book as I was reading. People who read are a lot better than people who don’t. I always believed that. Quickly, wiping away the tears, I looked up at him. He wasn’t more than thirty and with his glasses, he looked a lot younger than that. In a casual black tee, faded denims, and with a backpack, he looked like a budget traveler. He didn’t look at me first, but when he did, I knew that that look and that smile would change everything. ‘Don’t worry, he wouldn’t dare any more,’ was all he said and was consumed by ‘Invisible Cities’ again.

Twenty-five minutes later, the groaning, screeching bus pulled into the stop. I didn’t look back not until the bus had pulled away and all I could catch of his fast fading figure was the patch on his backpack that read Keith Martin. I wanted to say goodbye; but it could’ve been the start of something, or perhaps a thank you; but that would’ve sounded too needy. So, I gave up and maybe because I was too subdued to attempt, I just left. I will keep him safe in the recesses of my memory from that night, that village, but will I ever meet him again? And more than that, will I ever forget that look, that reassuring smile that became my sunshine on a dark eerie night?

Certain circumstances happen for you meet certain people. You may never cross paths again, but you can’t stop reminiscing about them every now and then. Whether it was a minute or a miraculous month, they’re inseparably linked to you because of that one incident that made them mean immensely much to you.

MY FROG FRIEND

All of us have that one person in our life whom we love more than a friend but less than a spouse, someone who is very dear and someone who witnesses our joys and sorrows unconditionally. I call this person as my “FROG FRIEND”.

April – June, 2007:
I was perusing my MBA-Finance and had started interning there for Canada taxation with one of the KPOs and I noticed him there. He used to sit across me but far away, in another team from IT. He was definitely not someone who would attract a second look from girls but somehow he managed to grab my attention. Girls have the innate power of understanding who is staring at them even without looking. So, this guy used to stare at me constantly but in a very natural manner which never made me uncomfortable. You all will agree that not every gaze makes you uncomfortable. Some gaze at you in a really clean way and his gaze was like that. So this “gazing” business continued for quite a few days and we progressed from a gaze to a smile. He had a very pleasing personality. We would exchange 100 smiles a day but neither of us ever felt the urge to walk up to the work desk and initiate a talk. We never even used office communicator to talk to each other. We knew nothing more about each other than the name and that too because other colleagues would often call out our names. This guy turned from a “stranger” to “someone familiar” over two months of time.

Once monthly shutout and best performer awards were being distributed. I was declared as the best performer and I was handed over a cash prize and a certificate amidst of a huge applaud from the team. My eyes were searching that “someone familiar” and there he was standing at the end half covered behind a desk clapping as loudly as he can. His face beamed with pride and I couldn’t help but smile again.


My internship was to last for 3 months and soon the time came to say a bye. It was my last day and I was bidding goodbye to all my team members. Between all the handshakes and hugs I was looking for that “someone familiar” but he was not to be seen anywhere. Not even behind any work desk far away. I lingered around with the hope that he might return from a meeting or a tea break, but no, it didn’t look like he was coming back. I had to leave. I left with a heavy heart and hundreds of questions like “Who was he?”, “Why did we never speak?”, “Why did I want to say him a good bye?”, “Why did I miss him on this last day?” I did not have an answer to any but there was this strange belongingness which refused to leave my heart. I stopped by the pantry to have a glass of water and what did I see? He was standing there with a sad face – as if he was sad that my stint at the KPO was over. Or maybe he was sad that we won’t see each other never again. I don’t know what he was thinking at that time but I was very happy to see him one last time before I left. We exchanged a smile – a last one perhaps and I left. His simplicity and his non-lustful gaze had impressed me. It wasn’t love but there was definitely something between us. Whatever it was, it had ended with the completion of my internship. Or so we thought that day.

2008, Aug:
The same KPO hired me after I completed my MBA and I was given the same team. However the team had now shifted to another building. That “someone familiar” had carved a special place in my mind and heart but it was very clear that he wasn’t going to be around when I rejoined the KPO because the IT team had not shifted to this building. And who knew whether he was still working with this KPO. After all, IT guys tend to switch companies real soon.

On one busy, while I waited for my food to arrive, I was looking around taking in the usual commotion that is there in the cafeteria during he lunch time. Suddenly my eyes stopped on that “someone familiar”. I blinked a couple of times out of surprise and a wide smile broke on my face. He reciprocated with even a wider smile. It made my day!
Later that day I received and email from him

“Hi!

Are you the same Aditi who was in the US taxation team?”

He was probably checking if he is contacting the right Aditi from corporate directory. Pat went my reply.

Hey!

Yes, I am the same Aditi. Btw – it’s Canada taxation and not US!”

This communication was an ice breaker. We would wish good morning sometime over the email of course and sometimes we would write about some achievement at work. We didn’t communicate daily and we never used the office communicator or phone for reason still unknown to us. Thus, our interactions were quite rare yet very special.

June, 2009:
That was my last email to him from office.

“Hi there!

Have to share some good news.

  • I got a new job
  • I am getting married

Next Friday is my last working day.”

I eagerly waited for his reply but he didn’t revert. Numerous thoughts crowded my mind. “Was he sad that I was going?”, “Why isn’t he happy with my progress?” blah blah blah. I waited for his reply for the whole week but he didn’t revert. On my last day, he called me on my work phone and wished me success in personal as well as professional life. I questioned him what took him so long to revert and he quickly said that he was on a “hibernation mode”. Nevertheless I was ecstatic! That was the first time we spoke.

Later, I got busy with my life but this guy was always there at the back of my mind. By then Facebook had started making its presence felt. I looked up for him on the Facebook but he wasn’t there. We had not exchanged our personal email ids. We had lost touch once again.

One day I had an urge to check on him on his corporate id. Once again I was unsure whether he still worked there or not but I took a chance. The email didn’t bounce which meant that he was still there! Happy Me ☺ I desperately waited for his reply but he didn’t revert. Days passed followed by weeks and months. By then, I had given up on him. I was sort of annoyed that he was purposely ignoring me.

One fine day I received a reply from him and I wasn’t a bit amused. I was angry and wondered what took him more than six months to revert. He was quick to send me an explanation in yet another email stating that he was on “hibernation mode”. It surprised me that he knew me so well and justified his disappearance.


After that there was no looking back. We continued to be in touch via emails. Our emails grew personal in nature. We shared about our sorrows and happiness, talked about our families. We discussed about our careers. We never felt shy of seeking advice from each other regarding anything under the sky. Of course he continued to be on “hibernation mode” at periodic intervals. I sort of accepted it because I knew that someday he will definitely revert to my email.


Time progressed and so did our relationship. Even though our interaction lessened over a period of time, our bond grew stronger. His career took him from Mumbai to Pune and from Pune to UK. Now he is settled in Canada. Emails are now replaced by WhatsApp chats but there is nothing that replaces his “hibernation mode”. Over the years I have asked him many times about why does he hibernate and he still tells me the same reason.

“Aditi, we cannot get used to each other. Our respective families should be our priority. Hibernation is important to stay focused.”

Such pious thought! He explained the most important truth in such a candid way.

At present we don’t talk much, but I know he will always be there for me. I informed him when I delivered a baby last month. He quickly replied that he was waiting to hear that. He was aware of the struggle I had gone through in last six years in order to have a baby. Likewise, he has been a witness to many of my difficult times where he played a role of advisor or someone who had shown me a mirror. He has been a great guide, friend and philosopher! Not to forget, he has been someone who has been happy with the smallest of my joy.

At times I miss him. But he is right. “Hibernation” is necessary. Due to his perpetual habit of “hibernation” I call him my “FROG FRIEND.”

Some bonds can never be described and relationships can never be named. Ours is one of them.

THE STRANGER

Sometimes, you develop an inexplicable relationship with strangers. A kind of connection that only the two of you can interpret.

I was in 5th grade, when we shifted to a new home. Almost a week had passed; being a socially awkward kid, I had not made any friends yet. It was a summer evening, and the walls of this house were becoming eerie to watch anymore. I stepped out in the parking area jiggling a ball, trying to kill time that was torturing me already. I sat by the plants, humming some romantic song in a ballistic tone. That’s how frustrated I was. Suddenly, I noticed a man who’d been staring at me and smiling all this while, I hushed hurriedly, ran back into my home as though some dog was running after me and locked the door. Peeped through the window, to see if he had left. He had gone by then, I took sigh of relief, though I was embarrassed that he heard me.

A few days passed, I almost forgot that man, until I saw him walking at a far distance. He recognised me too, waved his hand and smiled the brightest. That innocence and charm on a 60 year old wrinkled face had for some reason made me smile back and wave with the same excitement. I rushed in again before he could come any closer, anxiety has always been an issue. After that day, there was some kind of bond formed between us. He used to come for a walk every evening and I used to eagerly wait to wave at him and take back one of the most charming smiles. We hadn’t spoken a word, yet there was some kind of a familiarity we sensed in each other.

My grandfather had passed away before I was born. I always imagined what it would be like to have a grandpa. Most of my friends shared a healthy relationship with their grandparents, something I always envied. I wanted to experience what it felt like, would he protect me from my mother’s angst? Would he be my partner in crime to annoy my little brother? Would he tell me stories of his time? A million questions with no-one to answer.

I almost assumed this nameless wave-friend as my grandpa. However tragic or tiring the day would be that one wave implanted a sense of satisfaction within. A feeling that, this man is praying for my well being and no matter what he’ll be there to teach me how to give the widest smile in the hardest moments.

Months had passed but this wave ritual did not end. One day, this man, called me closer and asked my name, as soon as I uttered my name, he placed his hand my head and said ‘ May you succeed in life and receive all the happiness you deserve’. I smiled and touched his feet. He continued with his evening walk. Next day, I stood again at the door, waiting to talk a little more but he didn’t come that day. He never came after that. I was yearning for his return, I stood at the door for weeks . Suddenly, he was gone. I had lost my grandpa yet again. I don’t know where he had gone, if he existed anymore or not. I missed him . I hope he is fine wherever he is. I hope I get to see him again.