Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Lip Balm Girl..

           It was a new day for him. After struggling for 2 years, he finally became a permanent employee with his firm. It was easier to get that in the night shift and he had been offered more pay but he simply couldn't carry on that harrowing lifestyle. He aimed for the day shift and the firm had proclaimed that there were no vacancies. He had toiled the dark hours in the hope that his hard work would be rewarded. It did. Like it happens with anyone who refuses to give in to temptations of the perks that comes with working nights in a call center, he got it later than all his counterparts.

          He waited sharp at 8 am for the conveyance car to pick him up. For two years he had stood outside the gate at 6 pm and returned in the ungodly hours of the morning. The watchman gave him a sly smile as he stood tapping his feet in anticipation.
          Finally the car arrived and he got in. The other two men at the back seat shuffled to make space for him. He noticed that they weren't making efforts to let him be comfortable. Instead, they exchanged looks and sneered. He was taken aback by their insolence but remained mute. No one attempted to break the ice.
                              ------------------------------------------------------------------------

            It was a good day to begin the day shift. The work was pretty relaxed and he was well acquainted with the nuances of the tasks and completed them with ease. He was feeling positive after the words of praise from his senior and the chances of his getting an appraisal seemed imminent. He made an inquiry about the shuttle car and learnt that another one goes the same route but 10 minutes before the one he took today. He informed the person who managed the services to change his car. "Do not like the company in that car" he sited casually to someone. The driver of his car gave a perplexed look nearby. He did not notice.
                         
           The next day, he was charged up with the prospects of his work. It was good to be working like others and not creeping in at odd hours.
           The car screeched to a halt as he was engrossed in his thought process. It broke his reverie and he climbed in. He sat in the front seat as three ladies were already sitting in the back. One of the them was busily chatting over her phone. She smiled at him and then started frantically typing away at the screen. The girl sitting in the center greeted him and seemed upbeat. She introduced herself. He seemed at discomfort with her open behavior. He was an introvert and shied away from social interactions, specially with the opposite sex. He talked to her briefly about his shift and then resigned back. It was the girl at the window seat who had caught his attention. She seemed in a trance. She closed her eyes as she listened to the music on her ipod. She had opened her eyes when he had boarded, as if acknowledging his presence. She crept back into her own world after that. The ladies were definitely a better company. His thoughts went back to the girl at the window.

            Her dark, moist eyes, that she had momentarily opened, had enchanted him. He could see her in the rear mirror. She had shoulder length layered hair which tumbled on her forehead as the vehicle surged forward. She brushed it aside with her thin fingers. Her wheatish complexion was flawless. She wasn't exactly thin but she wasn't fat either. She was a picture of tranquility as she sat immersed in the music. As if by instinct, she shut the music when they were a few minutes away from office. She dug her hands into her handbag and retrieved her lip balm. He watched her transfixed as she applied the lip balm. It was tiltillating, the movement of her lips as she spread the balm across them. That instant, he registered her as the "Lip balm girl" in his mind.

           As the week progressed, going to office had assumed a whole new meaning for him. Office hours revolved around her. He knew where she got down on their way back home. From that day, he went all the way to the first halt which was about 3 kms away from his home. He was the first to be picked up and she was second. Shortly after she got in, Jyothsna entered. Jyothsna was the girl who had first started talking to him. She had asked him how he had come first but he did not reply. Jyothsna left him to himself. The last girl was picked a few blocks away from his house.

         In the evening he was last to be dropped and from there he travelled back to his home. The shift was only 8 hours but this new endeavor required him 10-12 hours out of the house. It was all worth it for him. On an average day, he would get to see her for 2 hours. Sometimes she would come to the common cafe and he would relish her sweet presence from a distance. That was an added bonus, sitting in the cafe. He had stopped going to his department cafe and would spend his time in the common cafetaria. It was hectic but he was determined. He did it with a fervent passion. As to what exactly he would achieve out of it, he failed to see.

        3 months of his relentless obsession had paid off that monsoon. It had been raining a lot  that week. The office saw a lot of absentee owing to bouts of viral and diarrhea. That morning as he reached her halt, she was standing all alone holding an umbrella. The wind had played its trick with her hair and it danced freely. It had carried pearls of droplets on her face. She struggled to fold the umbrella when she saw the car. Seizing the opportunity, he came to her rescue. He folded her umbrella as she quickly slid into her usual seat. He sneaked beside her. He was astounded by his own show of courage but it was swiftly replaced by pusillanimity as their skins brushed when she reached out her hand to take her umbrella from him. He was electrified by that touch. It hadn't been deliberate but it sent shocks to his core.

         "Thanks" she whimpered, shivering.
         He had lost his voice. He fumbled. He was frustrated by his own lack of confidence.
         "Welcome" he finally found the words.
         "I m Sagar" once again he floated in a surge of adrenaline
         "Drishti" she replied

      She reached into her handbag and took out a hand towel. She wiped the rain drops adorning her arms and face. She tried to dry her hair but the cloth was too soaked to absorb any further. She gently shook them to set the water droplets free. She then took out a hairband and pushed her hair behind, the tresses on her forehead now tamed. She folded the towel and kept it in a polythene bag which she pushed into her handbag. She fished out her ipod and sunk into the music, drowning every other realm. She kept her eyes open, perhaps concious of the man sitting beside her.

      He watched her, amused. The handbag was like a pandora's box. She carried everything with her. He, on the other hand, carried just his handkerchief and wallet in his trouser pockets. He was exulting in the progress. "Lip balm girl" was "Drishti". She knew his name now. Maybe she would open up a conversation now. She emanated a perfume of strawberry. It was the first time he had smelt her. She looked even more beautiful in that wet hair. Should he start talking about the weather? or the office? He was still in thoughts when the other girl's halt came. It would not happen now..

      It had been 4 weeks since  they had first opened conversation. He was emboldened by her smiling "hello" as she met him every day in the car. He took the initiative to send her a friend's request on facebook. To his delight, she promptly accepted it. Days began rolling as their chats progressed. He was in a happier place now. He did not mind the long detour he took everyday to spend time in her company. He realised she was an introvert just like him but her chats were eloquent. They came close through the transpiring chats but remained strangers in person. It wasn't much but it was a start.

      It was the day he planned to ask her out for a date. He had never, in his 26 years of existence, been bold enough to do that. Financial constraints had taught him early to keep away from the carefree boys in his class. He kept to himself as he could not splurge like them. It was in these impressionable years that he learnt the art of disappearing. No one really noticed him. He could just camouflage into an environment. He felt it quintessential to make out of college with a good job. Alas! No one employed a tongue-tied youth like him. The next few years he spent doing mediocre jobs which gave no scope for romantic pursuits. Now life was looking up for him.
      He went over his dialogue again. Memorizing each line. His heart was pumping violently when her pick up point approached. Only Jyothsna entered. He looked perturbed.
      "She won't come today" Jyothsna answered the unasked question.
      "Why?" he asked despite himself.
      "She is getting engaged today."
   
   ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      His world had crumbled around him. How could she do that to him? She was aware of his feelings for her and reciprocated it and yet she thought nothing of telling him. She did not turn up the whole week. His desperation gave way to frustration and then to hopelessness. He walked about like a ghost. He did not eat, he did not sleep. He was distracted at work and received dressing down for the same. It seemed to not affect him at all. All he saw was her face, engulfing all his living hours..

     He had made peace with his misfortune. He was convinced that he was doomed to a lonely life. Drishti came back to work but remained nonchalant. It was eating him up but he chose to stay mum. He did not want to intervene in her life and nor did he want to embarrass her with his question. Rather, he feared his own insult. After all, what was he in front of her? She the image of perfection and he, a sculpture of failure.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  "Sagar, where are you?" his mother shrieked over the phone.
  He had just woken up. His body ached and his throat was sore. He ran his hand through his hair, it was wet. Did the power go off at night and he sweat so profusely? He felt strange. He turned his attention back to the phone.
   "Maa, I just woke up."
   "Oh, thank god! I was so worried after your call last night."
   "Ma, what are you saying? When did I call you?" he asked nervously.
   "It's ok beta. You rest, we will talk when you are calm."
   "But what happened?" he was confused now.
   "Relax.. I will call you later. Take care." She hung up.

   He went to work on his own, knowing that he missed the car. He was late and the system wouldn't accept his card. He tried calling his team leader but he did not receive the call.
    The security guard at the entrance came rushing.
    "Sorry sir, an inquiry is going on in the office. We had to keep the system off for some reason."
    "What inquiry?" he asked.
    "Don't you know? Drishti madam was murdered last night."


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    He knew he was doing wrong, but his legs wouldn't heed.
    "I did not do anything" he repeatedly muttered to himself and kept running.
    He reached the bend of the road and retched. Following his heels closely, came a police team.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


   "He does not know anything" emphasized the head of team of experts.
   "How can that be? We have strong circumstantial evidence. His prints are everywhere! His phone call to his mother was made just before the murder and from the same location." said the bewildered inspector Yadav who was leading the investigations.
    " I did not say he didn't commit the crime. I m just saying that he does not know about it."
    "  Are you implying what I think you are?" he raised his brow.
    "Yes, he is a schizophrenic that is clear. He has no memory of what he did that night. We need to carry more tests." the doctor said grimly.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

        Drishti had no inkling of the notions that Sagar nurtured for her. She had never had any exchange with him after that rainy day. She drowned herself in music like she always did. One evening she checked her facebook account and saw his friend's request. She did not feel like adding him and ignored it. Her engagement was drawing close and she was preparing full swing to marry her long term partner.
       Jyothsna had casually hinted about Sagar's interest to her one afternoon. Drishti had been alarmed but Sagar's composure even after the news of her engagement had calmed her. Crushes were common in such situations and she was relieved with his lack of interference.

       That fateful day, she had gone to the beauty parlor and by the time she got done, it was already 8. It was Sunday night and she was excited about the impending long leave she was taking for her marriage. She was turning to her house, when she saw someone walking behind her. The street was unusually deserted given the India-Pakistan match and the turn was dark. She started hurrying but was soon overtaken by the forceful hand that pulled her near the green isolated patch. She was petrified and no voice came out of her.

       "Why! Why did you play with me? I love you but you don't see that!" he accused her.

       She wanted to scream. Tell him that she never even talked to him. She never chatted with him or told him that she loved him. Why was he making this up? What would he do to her? Would he ruin her, throw acid, rape her or simply burn her alive? Was this the moment that she had avoided all her life?

       True fear numbs you and makes you forget to scream. The bloodshot eyes of Sagar and his maniac smile was enough to paralyse her. She thought she could plead, placate him somehow but he was unforgiving. He tightened his grip on her neck and strangled her with bare hands. Her last thoughts were about her family, so excited about her marriage..

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      "Ma your son isn't a loser like you think" he had called her.
      "What are you talking about?" asked his confused mother.
      "No girl can refuse me, I will kill her if she does." He cut the call. He walked away in the rains..

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

     "Did you hear? It was that Sagar who killed Drishti. What a beautiful girl she was. They say her eyes were popping out when she died." The cab drivers talked over tea.
     "I knew he was crazy." said one of them.
     " How? He looked so suave and gentle." said the regular cab driver who drove Sagar.
     "Arre I dropped him one day before he shifted to your cab. He said he had problem with the co-passengers!"
     "So what?"
     " Just that, that day no one else other than him was in the cab. I kept looking at him and he behaved as if someone is sitting next to him. I was scared you see. If I said anything, these rich people will say I come to work drunk."
      The others nodded in agreement.
 
           

8 comments:

Vivienne Z said...

This is brilliant! It's morbid, but brilliant. I can't wait for your next short story.

PeeVee™ said...

Omg. Some story, this, Em. Way to go..

Soumya said...

Oh wow! Clap clap clap.

maithili said...

Thank you Vivienne :D

maithili said...

Long way ahead :D

maithili said...

Thank you Soumya :D

Blasphemous Aesthete said...

OMG, this could actually be a full episode on TV :D

maithili said...

yehi kami reh gayi thi :D Wo bhi puri ho gayi!