Joined: 23 August 2009
He walked through the narrow lanes, his head bowed against the chilling breeze. He didn't like this route but it was a short cut to his office building. He was already late for his office after the lunch break. Sitting in that closed up space all day always got on his nerves and he thought a walk outside the building would be a welcome change. That was the day when he first came across her, or as he thought so. She was slouched at the end of the narrow lane, trying her best to be inconspicuous. Her dark hair was unkempt and her face, half hidden in shadow, was covered with bruises and cuts. She held a cigarette to her mouth, smoking although it was making her cough loudly.
He moved towards her concerned. He stopped where she sat and noticed that she wore an expensive dress and makeup. She had not noticed him. Carefully he bent and said in a slow clear voice, "Are you alright?"
She looked up as though he had interrupted her and he looked into her eyes for the first time. They were large and black, with nothing really exceptional about them as they said in movies and stories. They were neither perfectly shaped nor of a striking blue, green or violet color. But something in them held him there. She looked strangely familiar.
"Waddya want?" she demanded in a rude accent.
He mused over and replied, "Aren't you scared of this place? It's not exactly pleasant."
She took a puff from her cigarette and turned her head saying, "It is'It is nice, dark and lonely'to think'. or rather it was, until you came barging in."
He was smiling now.
"Oh, I will go, don't worry. Just wondering why you would choose a dirty lane for retrospection'"
She looked up and blinked twice. Then suddenly a coughing fit overcame her, and she bent double spitting blood from her mouth. He patted her back and she didn't move his hand away. When she straightened up, her face was sweating. It made her milky skin shine. He gently took the cigarette from her hand resting on the hard concrete and squashed it. She just stared at him from the corner of her eyes silently. He grinned at her and did not explain. Rising, he said
"Try to get rid of it' You will feel better. And try to avoid places like this, it is not safe. Now if you will please excuse me, I am getting late for office."
He turned to go but then stopped. He pulled out his wallet and pulled out a visiting card. He smiled again and tossed it into her lap.
He waved his hand in farewell and walked out of the alley. She picked up the card. It read "Dr. J. Thomson-
23/B Shadow Street, New York"
She sighed and rested her head against the brick wall.
It was after a week from that incident that he was overcome by an impulse to see her again. Sitting in his cabin, as he stared at the clock on the opposite wall, he was suddenly reminded of her. It was a split second decision. He called his secretary and told her that he was going out for some time and would be back soon. Putting on his black jacket, he walked out of the glass building towards the secluded alley. He stopped at the mouth of the lane, squinting. Yes, she was there, just harder to spot as she was dressed in black. He went to her and this time she was watching him approach. She didn't look surprised. He greeted her with a smile and handed her a mars bar. She looked at it quizzically.
"I bought one for myself so I thought you might like them." He said settling down beside her on an overturned paint can. She took it and smiled. Her cigarette was missing. He kept observing her as she unwrapped her chocolate and took a bite. After a while she glanced up and asked, "Where is yours?"
"I had it while looking for you!"
She didn't press the topic and continued to eat. He kept viewing her. It did not seem to bother her. After eating, he wiped her hands off on her black sequined dress.
"Why do you come out in your lunch break?" she enquired like a schoolgirl. He bit his lip and muttered
"I prefer fresh air to Air conditioner." Then he added, "And maybe to find nice dark places to think."
She laughed and he joined in. Then she handed him the chocolate wrapper and said, "Do me a favor and throw this in the dustbin on your way back."
He nodded and stretched out his hand for it. She placed it in his palm.
"Black looks good on you" he said after another long silent moment. He found that he really did not need words to communicate with her. A simple glance was enough and stretches of silence were not uncomfortable, as in most cases. She waved the compliment away and muttered
"I don't think it really matters' thanks anyway. Do you like music?"
"I think so' my wife usually played country music and it did not bother me. But I prefer classical though. Do you?"
"Yeah'It puts your mind off other things doesn't it?"
"I, on the contrary, feel it helps me concentrate better."
She tilted her head and said
"Your wife played country music?"
"I think she does even now'But I wouldn't know'We are separated." He smiled again. It was a sad smile now.
She blinked again and stared at the ground. The long cut on her neck was even more pronounced. He looked at the spot where she was making a pattern in the layer of dust. She looked up suddenly and said
"You still love her." It was not a question.
He pressed his lips in deep thought and answered.
"I don't see how signing a sheet of paper is supposed to change the way you feel about a person."
She laughed bitterly again and said, "No it does not change the way you feel. It changes the way you are supposed to feel."
He gave another dry smile. He dug his hand in the pocket of his coat and pulled out his wallet. Opening it up, he showed her a picture of his ex- wife. She took it from his hands and examined it carefully. After some time she returned it and said, "Don't mind, but you should have seen it coming. She looks very temperamental to me."
He spoke in a strange constricted voice, "Maybe you are right' I kept avoiding it- all the disagreements and fights until she shove the papers under my nose. Thought maybe that will kind of ward it off. That we will wake up one day feeling the same way as we used to. But I am here instead, talking to strangers about my bad marriage."
"I thought you must have learnt till now, but obviously you did not. Believing that she will come back to you is not going to make her do that. If she had to come back, she would not have left you in the first place."
He lapsed into silence again. She did not break it.
Then he spoke
"So what have you realized after spending so much time thinking in this nice, dark and lonely place?"
She rested her head on the wall again, her brow furrowed in concentration.
"Well, for one thing I discovered that talking to strangers is not so bad after all. Highly overrated as dangerous."
He did not react, waiting.
"Then I think I have learnt that it is more important to concentrate more on what you want rather than what is expected out of you, otherwise they get mixed up and mess up your life."
"Good thinking." He nodded appreciatively.
They lapsed into silence again. Suddenly she straightened and said
"I think it is time for you to go."
He checked his watch and saw that she was right. Only 5 minutes remained of the lunch break. Getting to his feet, he smoothed his suit and said
"Thanks for reminding. I can't really afford to lose my job' and boss is usually in a bad mood now days."
She gave him a long slow smile and said
"That was nice of you, to come back."
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and said, "Don't thank me' it was a little selfish if you ask me. I don't have many people to talk to usually."
She nodded and he went back to his world leaving her in hers. As he exited the alley, he heard her cough violently.
Back in the office, he took out the picture of his wife from his wallet and slid it in the drawer. Then his eyes fell on a new file on his desk and he shook his head exasperated.
"How I hate making reports'"
He sat in a bar, swirling his drink idly, watching one of his colleagues spin a blonde around. He could not even remember why he was there. Then the memories of his colleagues dragging him off his chair into the bar came back and he sighed.
A month had passed since that little encounter. He could not find time for walks as he was chasing deadlines. Nevertheless, he had made a mental note to pay a visit to the dark alley as soon as he was free. But something in his head told him that this time he would not be able to find her. He finished his drink and turned to order another one. The bartender made him one and he reached out for it, but somebody beat him to it. A large beefy guy took his drink and gulped it down in one go. In his earlier days he might have picked a fight for this but now, he merely shook his head and looked at the bartender who smiled understandably. His next drink was ready. As he drank it, a voice came from his right side
"Make me one of them too"
It was her. His eyebrows shot up as he saw her sitting in the stool next to her. Her long hair was perfect- shining and straightened. Her makeup, turtleneck and dim light completely concealed the signs of physical abuse. She however seemed to be aware of his presence.
"I never thought I would see you here." She said, stirring her drink.
He smiled and said, "Same for you' I was practically dragged into this place."
She looked around at him said, "Fancy a walk?"
He paid for their drinks and she led the way into the darkness. She looked better in the dark somehow' as though the light made her look unusual and abused. The darkness hid her pain and brought out only its beauty.
'So' he said casually kicking a stray can in front of him, 'What brings you here?'
'My boyfriend' she replied.
'Ummm' wouldn't he be looking for you then?' he asked not wanting to stir up trouble for her.
She smiled her sardonic smile and said, 'There are many people in there to keep him busy. Don't worry its ok.'
He didn't press her for more. Turning to her he asked
'Do you read books?'
She laughed and shook her head, her long hair flying in the breeze.
'Never had time to do it much' you do read regularly I think'
'Yes I do' it gives me solace' you should try it sometime. It will make you feel better.'
She looked at him keenly and said, 'I will take your advice for it' so from where should I start?'
He tilted his head and bit his lip as his habit whenever he was thinking and said, 'Start with poetry' I know its complicated what I'm recommending but you will manage. Try P.B. Shelley'one of my favorites. Here'' he handed her another visiting card, this time of a book store. 'I would have got it for you myself but I have no idea when we will meet next so, there you go!' he was cheerful again.
She took the card and read it under the lamppost, leaning against it, het long boots tapping the road. He stood opposite to her, his hands stuffed in his pockets. After pocketing it, she glanced up at him and asked
'Why do you like this poet so much?'
'Well' his style mostly' and the emotions' he translates them into words in such a way that you can actually feel the spring in the air' or wind blowing through your hair' his grief' everything can be really felt' you will know when you read him'
She nodded and then kept looking at him. He also continued to stare into her eyes for some long moments after which she got another one of her violent coughing fits. He again patted her back as she doubled up, coughing and spat blood from her mouth. As she straightened up after some minutes, her face was glistening with sweat. She clutched the lamppost for support and took long deep breaths. He looked around and spotted a small shop at the very end of the alley. He ran and fetched a water bottle for her, which she accepted gratefully. When she was normal again, she gave him a sheepish grin. He looked angry.
'I went to the doctor.' She explained. 'Yeah, forgot to take the medicine today, that's it really' now don't look at me like that, you are scaring me''
He smiled reluctantly and she started walking back to from where they came. He caught up with her and they went back into the bar. His friends spotted him with a girl and gave him meaningful looks and catcalls. Her boyfriend swelled with rage and dragged her out of the place. He looked shocked and started towards them to explain but she held up her hand and smiled ruefully as the guy pulled her round the corner.
2 months had passed since he last saw her. He went to check the alley a few times but she was not there. He doubted whether she would be in the disco or not. He did not know why but he was seized by a sudden anxiety about her. He recollected their previous encounters for some reference of her identity but there was none. Then it occurred to him to visit the doctor he had recommended for her who was also his friend.
On reaching the clinic and finally identifying the girl, he was told that she was suffering from lung cancer with no chance of recovery. She had taken medicines that would help her reduce that coughing but other than that there was no help that could be offered to her. She could have died by now.
Shocked and dizzy he left the hospital and his feet carried him to the book store automatically. When he reached there he was greeted by the old saleswoman. He silently sat down in the chair near the counter. The saleswoman came to him and handed him something. It was a copy of "Gone with the wind". He looked up at her quizzically even though the understanding dawned on him.
'A girl came here and bought this for you.' she said kindly.
He thanked her and opened the book. A piece of paper caught his attention. He unfolded it and read the words written in a neat hand
"When the winds blow stroking your hair
When you hear a strange whisper through the air
It's nothing but it's me
Telling you that I am still there
To look after you and hold your hand
Even when everything slips away like sand"
I know it's not that good but still this is the best I could do for you' thanks for everything. Don't stop taking those lunch break walks. There might be others in the dark alleys who need you.
P.S. This book is my favorite.
He went to his office the next day and discovered that a holiday had been declared because their Boss' daughter had passed away. He watched wide eyed as her photograph smiled back at him from the newspaper his colleague had passed him.
Joined: 14 October 2009
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