Saturday, 15 February 2020

part 5 : The Bookstore: An AR story


Her best friend who was also her roommate was irritated and annoyed at her attitude. She had recited every poem he had uttered and had even tried to mimic his tone but failing miserably. The reason for her roommate's frustration was that she had failed to mention the bookmark to her for couple of days; also that she still didn't know the name of the stranger. She had tried to convince her friend saying that it really didn't matter to her. Knowing a person's name, his background, his job, might influence on her unbiased perception of him. At this point, they were reading each other in the level of blue prints where everything is raw and very clearly defined. The finished product which is presented to society generally hides minor flaws. It also hides fantastic foundation. Her friend however, had
thought that she was simply scared to accept something so good in her life. She had zoned out after that, barely paying any heed to her friend's rant. Her experience with men or even people for that matter was very less. She took things by face value and had no interest in games people played with body language, subtlety and wordplay; not that she knew how to play those games in first place. With him, things were black and white and they rarely tread the gray areas. She wasn't comfortable in sharing her insecurities, but with him, it had not really mattered. In the beginning she was honest because she thought she would never see him again. There always found a comfort in talking to people who were strangers because they offered a fresh perspective since they had no clue what she truly was. But after the first meeting, she was honest with him because she wanted to be; because she felt that she could not be otherwise with him. It had been more than a week since he last showed up at her bookstore. It had been a lazy day and she had thought of closing the store a few minutes early and head straight home. She was arguing with her roommate on the phone about not wanting to go to a club when a familiar set of hands placed two cups of steaming coffee on the counter, she hung up stating that she now did have some plans for the evening.

"Was that your best friend who is always looking out for you?" He was smiling.

"That was my best friend who is always badgering me to get a life." She said sourly.

"What's wrong with that?"

"Everyone has a perception of how to lead a life. Many people think that I don't have a life because I don't socialize much. I don't blame them for thinking that way because anything other than what majority of the population does is generally not accepted easily in this society."

"But a man, a human as such is not designed to be a loner. Yes, there are tonnes of philosophical books which talk about singularity of human existence, but our nature is not designed that way. There is no organism which lives alone. And man especially, since the dawn of evolution has lived in packs."

"Yet, here we are."

"Yes. Here we are." They shared a smile. Both of them knew that being a loner is something that no human would ever want. But most of them would prefer being that way instead of being with other people. Everyone had their reasons for that; some valid and some totally illogical and downright stupid.

"So why then?" She whispered. She knew that if she hadn't asked this question, then he would. Invariably, they would and should know the reasons for their self inflicted seclusion from social boundaries. He was silent for few moments.

"I think it's the arrogance that I have about my intelligence makes me stay away from a lot of people. Sometimes it's the prejudice that I have about people who party hard, that they have no capability of participating in a sane conversation. I start drawing conclusion about people after talking for a few minutes but without making an effort to get to know them further. It's not a conscious decision you know. It takes years to grow and one fine day, you do realize that this is what you have become. I had become a loner in the crowd. I had pushed people away with foolish reasons and even now I am paying the price for it. When I was pushing those people away, I hadn't even realized what I was signing up for."

"Have you changed from the person what you used to be before?"

"Change is never a conscious decision; except the ones that have to be made in point of view which has an influence on entire outlook of one's life. I have tried to be the friend that my best friend wanted me to be when he was going through some personal crisis. He was surprised by my actions and the words I had offered him at that time and he has expressed his gratitude for that. When he said that I was a great friend for him in those difficult times, I felt as if I had accomplished the greatest task in the world. If satisfaction of my friends is the result of me overcoming my prejudices, then I think trying to change my perception to fit better in my social circle was very much worth it."

"Have you ever felt that by changing so, you have lost a little bit of your own identity?"

"Identity is not something predefined and there are no hard and fast rules that it has to be constant for the rest of our lives. Identity is what I show people today how I am. When they meet me years later, some may still see me as how I have been before and some may see me changed. Sometimes people's perception itself changes and they see that everything around them has changed when in reality most of the stuff remains the same."

"So would you go and change your course of life for the sake of someone else?" She was intrigued by his personality. She knew that he was not modest about his looks or about his intelligence but to accept that he was or perhaps still is a snob was something else entirely.

"I already did." He answered looking at her intently. She didn't want to know about that. She wasn't scared of his answer but she was mostly scared of her own reaction to his answer.

"I wonder what your roommate slash best friend would say if I tell her that I convinced you to take a road trip." He mused idly.

"You would be her friend for life and I would never hear the end of it." There was a fondness in her voice whenever she talked about her friend.

"You care about her very much, don't you?"

"It's hard not to care for a person like her. There have been times when all she cared about is my happiness. Whenever she makes plans, be it for an evening or for a holiday, she always considers me in them. For her, it's natural to be attached to people she loves."

"So sometimes you feel that you don't deserve that kindness. That's why you were questioning me about changes and individuality." She had not understood why her roommate stayed had with her for such a long time. It wasn't a self deprecating statement but a logical deduction based on their quite clashing personalities.

"A relationship to work needs nurturing from every party involved. Between me and her, I feel like I have been the one who is always taking and rarely giving. She doesn't expect anything from me but some days I feel horrible for taking her for granted."

"A relationship also needs all the involved parties to be honest with each other. Sometimes, we might have to make sacrifices to keep the relationship intact or to keep it smooth sailing. Do something for her which would make her happy. It might make you uncomfortable for a while, but seeing her happiness, you might not regret it."

"You know, I never understood the logic behind sacrifices."

"That's the whole point. Sacrifices are illogical and irrational."

"In my younger days, I believed that end justifies the means. But when it came to sacrifices, the whole logic crumbles badly."

"When I started working, I was very much impressed to see people with families balancing their personal and professional life remarkably well. But when you look at them closely, you can see that there are tiny little sacrifices tucked between major bursts of happy times in their lives. A man works for seventy hours in one week, misses his little boy's game, forgets an important anniversary; all this to get a fantastic vacation for his family. In one week, each one of them has been unhappy and has sacrificed a tiny bit of happiness for something bigger."

"But this is along the assumption that this 'something bigger' is much better than the little things that the family has missed in one week. For a little boy, seeing his dad cheer him during a game is much important than spending a week in a resort."

"That's why sacrifices are illogical." They both contemplated on things that were spoken in past few minutes. She broke the silence first.

"Sacrifices in relationship are helpful only till the other party acknowledges it, accepts it and appreciates it. When it becomes an expectation, the relationship reduces to a mere compromise of ideologies." He looked at her. Her face was hidden behind curtain of her hair. He got a feeling that she was not talking about her best friend anymore. No, the tone had too much sorrow to associate it with her roommate.

"I thought I had a good relationship with him. There were no fairytale sequences or over the top romanticism in the way our relationship progressed. It was like a gentle river. All of us invariably have certain amount of expectation from one another. But when that expectation supersedes over any other decision, then there is very little left of that relationship. What started out as a wonderful companionship had reduced to a compromised companionship; not that there was anything left of that." He still couldn't see her face. Perhaps it was her way of dealing things; alone and behind a veil of set of ideologies.

"What exactly went wrong?"

"Nothing and everything I suppose. When relationship becomes stagnant, then even smallest of the ripples seem like tidal waves. We were not able to deal with that. We were in college, we were looking for place to live, searching for jobs, dealing with sudden responsibility of adulthood, student loans, everything. Again, it was nothing that one doesn't face in his or her life. Responsibilities only increased with time. But our patience with each other rather got taxed."

"So you went separate ways?"

"I said good bye to him before our differences turned into something nastier. He was OK with that since he said that being with me was a mistake in the first place. He had managed to reduce three years of my emotions to something that he preferred to forget in his life and used it as a bench mark of what he would never want or go for in his future." She never got over the fact that how an end to an event had nullified everything that led to that end. Had the journey not mattered at all, just because they took different directions when they encountered a fork in the path?

"I don't think that it's possible to forget a person especially after being with that person for three years; at least not you. Please, do not see this as an act of sympathy. He might have said that it was a mistake and perhaps would never want to see you again, but you cannot rule out the fact that the influence that he had on you or the other way around would take sometime to fade away or they might be with you forever, if you let them. Is one person's perception of you has influenced you to such an extent that you lose faith in yourself?"

"I was with that person for three years. That has to account for something." He could not answer her. There is only so much convincing one can do. Unless she changed the perception about herself, she would never free herself from this tangled mess.

"I am trying you know, to get over my own insecurities, my pessimistic view of my own self." She whispered looking at him for the first time since she started talking about her first and only failed relationship.

"I will always be there to help." It wasn't a statement to console her current state of mind. It was a promise he intended to keep for the rest of their lives.

"I know and I am glad that it's you." In that moment she had crossed all the boundaries that were set between them. In that moment, she acknowledged everything that was there between them. In that moment, she realized the inevitable and constant presence of him in her future. And in that moment, she accepted that she loved him as much as he loved her. She found that her acceptance of him wasn't earth shattering or ground breaking. It was as if she finally found a place to rest her permanently aching head. She felt she was home at last.

"Where do you keep comic books?" The tension of the evening was dissolved and there was warmth in his gaze when he asked her. She guided him to the shelf where comics were stored.

"Is this for you or your kids?" She grinned at him cheekily. He rolled his eyes at her.

"Of course it's for me. And besides, only an adult would enjoy humor in Calvin and Hobbs rather than a kid."

"Isn't it kind of ironic? It seems as if the author, Bill Watterson is trying to tell the adults what kids already seem to know."

"The knowledge that we gain during our childhood gets maligned over the period of time. Books like these remind us of that."

"It would be like, you and I would say – 'existential complexity' where as a kid would say 'life sucks'."

"We go on complicating things in our lives by applying too many rules in the name of social etiquette. If you are a kid, if you share the swing for few minutes with another kid during recess, then they are best friends from then on. It's nice that way." They fell silent at that.

He picked up a copy of Calvin and Hobbs: Homicidal psycho jungle cat and asked her to ring it up. He noted that he was short of cash to cover for the book.

"I am running short of cash. Can I pay it later?" He gave her a charming smile.

"We do accept credit cards you know." She raised an eyebrow at him. Even if he had offered his credit card, she would have probably refused it. It looked as if both of them believed that the gift of anonymity was rather intoxicating.

"Put it on my tab please. I will pay it next time." He grinned at her and waved a good bye. As if remembering something, he came back to counter and dropped a thin leather journal around four to five inches long on the counter top. He smiled and left as suddenly as he had come. She felt warmth spread around her when she opened the journal. There were poems, anecdotes, philosophical ramblings scribbled in varied colored inks. It was his of course. This was his way of sharing his private thoughts. As conversation from earlier ran through her head, she decided to take a break from monotony and gave a call to her roommate. She thought she would lose her hearing when her roommate let out a surprise yell when she said that she would go to club that evening. As he had said, the happiness that she sensed in her friend's voice was totally worth the discomfort she would feel for the rest of the evening. Life was changing and for the first time, she welcomed it.


Tomorrow (Saturday): Where they talk about humanity, life altering instances, miracles. Also, he has surprising news for her.


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