Monday, 3 February 2020

Part 3: I See You!

Armaan sat on the park bench with a cigar clenched between his teeth as he looked on the scene infront of him. He blew the smoke out and looked at the kids laughing and playing football but that was not what held his attention. He looked behind the kids where a lone figure sat staring away in the space for all intents and purposes. In reality she was not staring at anything because she could not see anything or that was what everyone said. He took a drag of the cigar as he thought to himself that over the past week whenever he had seen her he had no reason to doubt her.

If he was not wrong she had also tried to avoid him whenever she had become aware of his presence. He let his gaze wander over the park enjoying the game being played but his gaze was pulled back as he heard her laughter floating across the park to him. He saw the kids calling out to her in response to which she waved back at them.

He leaned back on the bench and acknowledged that there was something about the girl which pulled at him. Daija was all praises for her and thought of her as a daughter making him a bit jealous to share daija's affection.

He came out of his reverie as he heard the kids call out: di! Could you throw the ball back to us? It's a couple of steps infront of you!

Shilpa got up: tell me where to go?

Armaan saw in fascination as she took a step forward and bend down to retrieve the ball, she started to move forward to armaan's horror. Armaan looked on as she started moving forward without realizing that there was a tennis ball lying in her path.

Without thinking armaan called out: watch out! Shilpa!

It was the absolutely wrong thing to do, armaan immediately realized as shilpa didn't know what he meant. She didn't stop her foot landing on the ball making her foot to slip. Armaan ran as he saw her go down and got to her side as she lay on the ground stunned.

Armaan: hey! Its ok! Just lay still for a second! Do you feel any pain any where? Are you hurt?

Shilpa drew in a tremulous breath her cheeks flushed with color: the only thing that is hurt is my ego! (she gave a small laugh)

Armaan sat back on his heels and looked at shilpa as she sat up and moved her arms and legs gingerly as if testing. Armaan stayed out of her way as she very carefully managed to get back on her feet and then stood there waiting. Armaan not sure what she was waiting for looked back towards the kids who had long ago retrieved their ball and were busy playing.

Shilpa cleared her throat to draw his attention as they both stood in silence. She knew he hadn't left as she could feel his presence and hear him breath, as she didn't have an option she took a deep breath and spoke up: Ammy! You there?(she waited for him to respond and heard him grunt in response. Rolling her eyes inward she ventured) could you do me a favor?(again she waited and could actually feel reluctance rolling off him in waves, tired of waiting for his response she continued) point me in the direction of the bench where I was sitting. The fall has disoriented me and I'm not sure of my direction here!

Again silence prevailed, shilpa could feel her cheeks burn with embarrassment as she waited his response. Just as she was going to call him all sort of vile names and turn away she heard him clear his throat.

Armaan: turn to your left! Yes that enough now walk straight ahead! Ok! You're standing infront of the bench.

Shilpa managed to feel the bench and retrieve her bag and stick from there. She turned and after taking a couple of minutes to get her bearings she started slowly to make her way out of the park. Armaan stood back and saw her walking out, he wasn't sure what to make of her, she hadn't asked him for help so he was under no obligation to help her. He stood there for a minute and then on a curse jogged after her.

He caught up with her as she walked out of the park: hey! Need help?

Shilpa gave a small smile: no thanks! I can manage! (she continued walking down the road)

Armaan clenched his teeth and tried again: where are you headed?

Shilpa: home!(not sure what he was angling for)

Armaan: so do you mind having company?

Shilpa turned to where she could make out his voice: no I don't! but why do you want to tag along?

Armaan: because I want to! (his voice full of impatience)

Shilpa couldn't help it her lips twitched in response to his tone : how can I refuse such a gracious offer

Armaan fell into step with shilpa trying to match his stride with her slow pace. Shilpa was amazed and amused as they continued walking in silence. When they stood on the cross roads that led to her house she spoke up: I think I can manage on my own from here!

Armaan: you sure!(when shilpa nodded) ok then!(and stood there on the corner keeping a watch as shilpa crossed the road and stood on the side walk)

Armaan was about to turn away when he heard her call out his name: Ammy!

Armaan turned and saw her standing on the sidewalk facing him smiling he called out: what?

Shilpa grinned: just wanted to inform you that calling out to a blind person "watch out" is of no good!

Armaan: why you telling me this?

Shilpa: what good is it to stand there and watch out for me when you don't know what to do? So think about it!

Shilpa turned and started walking towards a corner house where she disappeared.

Armaan was still thinking about her when he sat in the evening at Daija's house, daija was regaling him with the story of the day, he was listening as he smoked his cigar but his mind was on Shilpa.

Daija looked up from the sewing she was doing and saw the distracted look on armaan's face. Not knowing the cause of it: Ammy! How many times have I told you not to smoke inside the house?

Armaan snapped into attention: sorry daija! I'm almost done! (He got up and put the cigar out and opened the windows to bring in the fresh air.)

Daija looked at his serious profile: Ammy! Is something wrong?

Armaan surprised: why do you say that daija?

Daija looking at him with worried eyes: coz you have changed! You look as if on an edge! You've started smoking! And you are rude! My Ammy was never rude!

Armaan looked at the woman who loved him the same as his mother: I'm sorry daija! I didn't mean to worry you!

Daija: then tell me whats wrong?

Armaan rubbed a hand across his eyes: nothing is wrong! I've been under a lot of pressure lately! I've launched new projects a lot of media coverage and hardly anytime for myself or the family. That's why I came here to get away from all the pressures, I started smoking during all this! I know it's a bad habit and I'll try and get rid of it.

Daija: but beta this can't be good if it is impacting your personality. That day you even doubted shilpa whether she is blind or not.

Armaan: I know daija and I'm sorry! The world is very cutthroat nowadays! You won't believe the lengths people go to, to get a piece of story or  project. It has made me suspicious of people usually I can mange to control my temper but I suppose coming here has sort of loosened my tongue.

When daija continued to look worried armaan wrapped an arm around her: I promise nothing is wrong! Everything is under control!(then hoping to distract her) why don't you tell me about Shilpa! What's her story?

Daija looked at him quizzically: you interested in shilpa?

Hoping to sound casual he shrugged his shoulders: you like her so just want to know her story! You said you've know her since she was a kid!

Daija gave him a look: she's about the same age as you! She came here after her accident to live with her maasi!

Armaan: what about her parents?

Daija: well she never talks about them but I think they were with her in the accident and they didn't make it.

Armaan dropped the conversation as daija prepared dinner and talked about other things. In the morning armaan made his way to the vendor outside the grocery shop to get a newspaper . He bought the paper and stood there reading it, he heard her laughter which made him lift his eyes from the paper. He saw her walking across the road to the other side with a teenager boy who said something to her and then went his own way.

She continued to make her way along the opposite sidewalk, armaan purposely looked back at the paper and started to read it again. He lasted less than two minutes when his gaze returned to shilpa who continued walking. Armaan shook his head and jogged down the road to catch up with her.

Armaan finally caught up with her: hey! So I've got a question!

Shilpa: hey Ammy! I am fine! So kind of you to ask!

Armaan: ya well! I can see that!(on second thought) no bruises from the fall!

Shilpa: I didn't see any!(her lips twisted in a smile)

Armaan frowned: well that's what I wanted to ask! How do you do stuff? Like you are wearing this yellow color shalwar kameez! How do you know its yellow and not pink?

Shilpa: what shade of yellow? Lemon or egg yolk yellow?

Armaan looked at her suspiciously trying to figure out if she was making fun of him: how is that important?(shilpa continued to wait for his response until he answered) Lemon yellow!

Shilpa smiled: that's my favorite! I absolutely hate the egg yolk yellow!(sensing his annoyance) to answer your question Maasi helps me out! I tell her what color I want to wear and she gets the clothes for me, once I'm dressed she checks me out and lets me know if something is not in its place. Happy!

Armaan: what do you do? I meant are you involved in something?

Shilpa: I am involved in a lot of things! I love to read and I also write! I also indulge in some pottery making and sculpting.

Armaan: what do you do for a living?

Shilpa: I teach at a blind school! Plus I'm quite good at piano playing so I give lessons too.

Armaan: is it enough? I meant is the pay good enough?

Shilpa stopped walking making armaan come to a halt: so you finally believe that I'm blind or are you trying to trick me in revealing myself.

Armaan scowled: I was just curious! And if you are still miffed about our rocky beginning than I'll apologize! I'm sorry!(he said it without meaning it)

Shilpa gave a laugh which reflected her surprise: I don't believe this! You sure are weird Ammy and when you do actually mean it only then apologize to me. Plus why are you so curious about me?(trying to understand him)

Armaan ran a hand through his hair thinking of a possible answer to her question and decided to settle for the truth: you fascinate me! There are very few people in the world who actually are satisfied with their life. I've never met anyone who was, until you! Even though you have your share of reasons to be angry with god but somehow you are content. And I want to know why?

Shilpa listened to him as he spoke and heard much more than his words: I've had my share of quibbles with god! I have shouted and cried just like everyone else but after a point you have to pull yourself up and get on with life. Life is not going to wait for us to pull our act together sooner or later it is going to pass us by if we continue with the self pity routine.

When he stayed quiet shilpa continued: but you are not one of them! What you are a man with a sensitive heart who gets hurt by looking at the world's hurts? But you don't know what to do with that hurt and you keep it inside thinking that you can deal with all of this by being all tough and not talking about it. Its not wrong to show your emotions!

Armaan a little shaken by the insight: you got all that from one statement!(laughing to cover up his discomfort) if you are done doing your psycho analysis of my…(he stopped as she touched his arm with her hand)

Shilpa: Ammy! I would love to stay and chat up with you but I have a class at the moment! If you are interested I'll be getting free in the afternoon, I usually come to the park at that time! Why not join me there? We can chat up some more! And now I have to go! Bye!

Armaan stood there and saw her make her way, he himself started walking back and muttered to himself: as if I have nothing better to do!

It was 3 in the afternoon as armaan stood under the shade of the tree waiting. He stood watching the kids and then finally saw Shilpa walking towards the bench in the park. She sat carefully on the bench and placed her stick and bag next to her.

Armaan: so I'm here!

Shilpa smiled: good! And here I thought you won't come! So why did you?

Armaan looked at her in disbelief: you asked me to come!

Shilpa: and since when have you done anything someone tells you to do!

Armaan: this is too much! I didn't wait here for two hours so that you can start with your weird questioning!(he turned on a huff)

Shilpa laughingly: you waited for two hours!

Armaan: well you were not clear! You just said afternoon!(walking back to stand near the bench)

Shilpa couldn't help but laugh: I'm sorry! I actually forgot that you don't know my routine, every one else does. How about I stop teasing you and you sit down?

Armaan looked at her as he decided what to do, then giving in sat beside her on the bench: so how was your class?

Shilpa smiled apparently pleased at his interest: it was great! Thanks for asking!

Armaan: I took some lessons as a kid but I could never stay still for so long!

Shilpa: really! I would love to hear you play sometime!

Armaan: no you don't! trust me!(shaking his head at the foolishness of  the thought)

Shilpa didn't speak then both sitting quietly enjoying the afternoon breeze. Armaan turned to look at her serene expression and asked her the first question he could think off: so what's your story?(when shilpa just raised her brows in question he clarified) how did you lose your sight?

Shilpa took a deep breath: I was travelling with my parents from Mumbai to Punchgani by road. We were involved in a road accident!

Armaan quietly: so you lost your parents in the accident! How old were you?

Shilpa sadly: I was 10 years old! But then I came to live here with Maasi, it wasn't easy for both Maasi and me but slowly things started to get better.

Armaan: what do the doctors say can't your vision be restored ever?

Shilpa: things change! Last I visited a doctor a couple of months back he said there might be some new treatment that could…but nothing is 100% .

Armaan lapsed into silence thinking about what she had said, shilpa waited for him to respond but when he stayed quiet she ventured: ok my turn! So whats your story?

Armaan: I've come from Mumbai to spend time with daija!

Shilpa: oh no you don't! give me the story! A guy like you just doesn't drop out of nowhere!

Armaan frowning: what do you mean a guy like me? And I don't have a story!

Shilpa: sure you do! Ok it seems you are shy! Here I'll start for you! You are 30+ male approximately 5"11, healthy, educated and some form of moneyed background. You speak in cultured tone, though not very polite, but the rudeness also feels at times forced or as if it bursts out of you in spurts.

Armaan: bull! I'm 40 years old, I have high blood pressure! As for my height I'm 6"2!

Shilpa: liar! You are not 40 coz daija herself told me that you and I are almost the same age group. If you had high blood pressure you would not have jogged down the street so easily and you would be blowing your temper every two second!

Armaan shook his head: ok fine! But I'm still 6"2!(which he wasn't)

Shilpa threw her head back and laughed: you are not Ammy! I know this! Coz I can tell when we talk how far above me your voice is coming from as I'm 5"5 myself so I know! So now that we have established that you were lying why don't you tell me about yourself!

Armaan frowning: why is that you were able to tell my lies when you can't even see me!

Shilpa: first answer my question and then I'll answer yours.

Armaan sighed: I'm from Mumbai and daija use to take to me when I was a kid, this place is like home. I currently have a very high pressure job, high stakes, high rewards and big losses. I came here as the pressure got too much I needed to get away.

Shilpa was listening to him as he spoke and could hear the underlying excitement and passion he had for his job: you like your job!

Armaan couldn't help but smile: I love it! Its what I always dreamed of doing! I enjoy the planning and the execution and ultimately the rewards. I don't mind the hard work coz its work only if you don't enjoy it.

Shilpa smiled: then you are very lucky to be employed doing something that you clearly love.

Armaan thought of correcting her that he was not employed but had his own business empire but then changed his mind: I know and I'm willing to go that extra mile to get things done but the last couple of months just got a bit too much. I needed to get away and this is the only place in the world which is home away from home.

Shilpa: what about your parents?

Armaan: they are away at the moment! But they are there for me!

Shilpa smiled softly: then you are a very lucky man Ammy!

Armaan glanced at her: yes! I am! So! What now?

Shilpa grinned: well I know its going to surprise you but it seems we are friends now.

Armaan: and what do friends do?(his voice full of speculation)

Shilpa: well friends meet each other daily and chat about stuff they like, they want to do!

Armaan gave it a serious thought: ok bit I've got a question for you first! You need to answer it and then I'll think about the friends part!

Shilpa: dude! You seriously have issues! Ok shoot!

Armaan: tell me! How are you able to discern the meaning of my words where so many others have failed? You've understood my passion, my love for my work and to a certain extent my frustration. You take my rude behavior and twist it around so that I'm left feeling guilty as you see through it. So kindly answer the question that how come of all the people in the world you are able to see me so clearly.

Shilpa answered in all seriousness: because I was listening to you! And I was listening to what was behind your words!if you want to know why the only answer I have is that when god takes away one of our senses the remaining senses become sharper to make up for the absence of one. So Ammy I hear you!(then turning the conversation lighter so as to stop making it intense) its b'coz we are meant to be friends!

Armaan: Friends?

Shilpa grinned: your call!(she shrugged her shoulders)

Armaan: I need some time to think!

Shilpa: ok!

Armaan: fine! Friends!

Shilpa confused: you said you needed time!

Armaan: I did! And I've decided! So are we friends now!

Shilpa couldn't help but laugh making armaan also smile in return: friends! (they sat there in silence smiling) I think its time I head back home!

Armaan rising with her: so will I be seeing you tomorrow!

Shilpa smiled: of course!(she retrieved her stick and started to move ahead leaving armaan standing behind)

Shilpa stopped and turned: Ammy!

Armaan: yes!

Shilpa: well since we are friends now I think its only fair that I let you know.

Armaan confused: let me know what?

Shilpa with a smile playing at her lips: you know! How to help me!

Armaan shook his head: fine! Tell me!

Shilpa grinned: well you do need to know! So in case there is a situation where I'm heading in a wrong direction or trouble of some sort you don't call "watch out" you simply say "Stop" it would make stop from moving ahead.

Armaan disbelievingly: STOP! That's the magic word!

Shilpa: well not magic word but its effective!(she heard him muttering to himself and couldn't help but tease) its ok! Ammy! Not everyone is so bright to figure out the magic word.

Armaan laughed: I'll get you for this! Wait!

Shilpa started walking and called back: not if I hear you first!

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