The hustle-bustle of the mall looks fantastic after a year long lockdown due to the pandemic. The crowd and noise that was irritating earlier now feel good. Feels good that we are back to normal. Three kids passed running on the floor, caring little about the crowd. They looked so happy. They were going up and down through the escalators, talking to strangers, and finally stopped near an ice-cream stall. Suddenly my attention went to the lady in a black dress standing at the stall.
She looked familiar. The way kids were speaking with her, it felt they are related to this lady. I was trying to churn my memory sack to find out how I know her.
My iconic memory of remembering people was laughing at my attempts loudly, but I did not give up this time. I kept rummaging through the memory lane to find a clue.
“Yesss, I know her,” I shouted. People around me looked at me with surprise. My wife was inside a cosmetic store, and I was sitting outside as it was crowded, and I found a place to sit outside. I looked at her; she was busy selecting the nail polish shade and occasionally showed me to get an affirmation which one will look better.
I recalled, she is Kavita from my 11th standard Physics Tuition class. I saw her after almost 3 decades. She used to sit next to me in the front row. It was Vinod Sir’s Tuition. We both used to compete to be recognized as the best student in the tuition. She attempted to speak with me on several occasions, but I was the shy one who used to respond through nods and gestures and hardly spoke. She used to wish me every day and compliment my answers in class. She became my reason to come on time to the class. I made all attempts to get noticed by her but never dared to speak with her.
If I remember anything from that entire year, it would be waiting to get noticed by her and make at least one eye contact.
Her father moved out of the town, and I never saw her after my 11th. But one incident during that period kept this afresh in my memory even after 3 decades.
It was my birthday, and I wore a new shirt to the tuition class that my mother bought for me. It was light pink. That day we had an evening class. We went to the tuition around 5 in the evening. All my friends made fun of my shirt color as they found it girlish. I was a little upset with that and tried to hide the entire class so that Kavita doesn’t notice me and laugh at me. For that day only I sat in the last row with some of my friends. I saw she was there at the front bench and felt like she was looking for me. I continued to stay hidden from her world. As soon as the class got over, I went out to get my cycle out and go home before she comes out. But my cycle was stuck among others. It took me some time to get that out, and by then, she was out. I hid beside my cycle, but then I heard Vinod sir calling my name. I had no other option to come out. Sir said Kavita’s father is unable to come today to pick her up. Her house is on the way to my house if I can take her along.
I was not able to believe what I heard and was nervous about going with her. What will I talk to her? I will go speechless if she asks me anything. My throat was going dry, and I was sweating at this thought. On top of it, my shirt was sitting on my shoulders like a mountain.
She came close to me, and by then, I had taken my cycle out.
She said, “Let’s Go.” I started walking, holding the cycle.
She said, “Happy Birthday.” I was shocked to know that she knew.
“Why didn’t you sit in the front row today? I was searching for you.”. I smiled and kept my head down.
This shirt looks so lovely on you, she said, and I felt she is making fun of me.
Men look complete with colors, and this light pink makes you look like a man.
I felt as if somebody has pumped me, and I am swelling like a balloon. I was literally pressing my feet on the ground so that I don’t float.
She kept talking, and I kept responding with my gestures.
For the first time, I saw her face. She was the most beautiful girl I had seen in my life ever. But the moment she looked at me, I turned my face down so that she doesn’t realize that I saw her. After a hundred meters of the walk, she said, “Do you plan to go home by walk?”.
I looked at her in surprise as I was unsure if she expected me to ride the cycle and let her walk alone. Then I realized she may be asking me to give my cycle to her to go by cycle, and I will walk home.
I thought, How stupid of me. I should have thought that before. I said, You take the cycle and go home. I will come running behind you.
She laughed so loudly that I wished earth to split, and I go deep inside.
She said, “Don’t you ride double?”. I said, “Yes.” “Okay,” I will sit on the rod you ride.
Now I was trembling like a dry leaf. I wanted to vanish from this world and never return. But before I could think, she was sitting on the rod of the cycle, and I started riding. My hands and legs were shaking rapidly, but I tried to control myself and save myself from any embarrassment. I was speechless, beatless, breathless, lifeless till I dropped her. And that 20 minutes of cycle feeling is still alive with me.
I saw she is wearing a black gown, looks as beautiful as she was then, and went up to her. I was much more daring now, so I went to her and was 300% sure she was Kavita. I called her Kavita. How are you?”. She looked at me. “Hi, I am good.” She looked surprised. I could imagine 3 decades. I told her, “Sakti from Vinod Sir’s Tuition.” She recalled Vinod Sir’s tuition, “Yes, I remember in 11th. Were you in that class?” I was not sure if she forgot or playing a prank with me. “Sorry long, long years unable to recall. Good to see you”. She excused herself and left with her kids and husband.
I realized my wife had selected the cosmetics and was coming out. She told me ‘Buttlescotch for me. Don’t you dare to eat alone” and laughed. We both laughed and soon after that left for home.