I’ve been meaning to write a love story for a long time. But you know I’ve never been good with fiction. I’m cursed with an overactive imagination….and the pictures I paint inside my mind have too many colors to make any sense. Too many blotches and splashes and dots and swirls in intricate patterns all over…. But I still want to write a love story.
And not just any love story. I want to write just one of those love stories, the kind that make you think. So my heroine could be a twenty-something vibrant girl….preferably in her early twenties… who wears all sorts of weird clothes, and too much bling-bling. Who talks a little too much and thinks slightly too little. Or maybe just appears not to think at all. For all you know she could go back home, turn off the lights in her room, stand in front of her window with a lit smoke in her hand….and let it burn down right to her fingers without taking a puff…and all because she’s so deep in her thoughts. She could be this lost soul who goes through the rigorous process of hiding it from the rest of the world each damn day. And hence the flashy clothes. The outrageous swear words. The loud make up. They all just scream “LOST”. But I don’t know. Am just suggesting.
And there could be a forty-something writer. Yeah….he has to be a writer to be whimsical enough to be the hero of my story. The kind who listens to slow jazz while hustling pots and pans in his kitchen cooking up a gourmet meal for himself, all by his own… and then forgets to eat his dinner because he’s in the mood to write. He could be this idealistic guy who didn’t end up marrying simply because he was not motivated enough. No…. He’d rather live his life, weave it, mold it….coax it and cajole it to be the exact way he wants it to be, through whatever he writes. Specially when it came to the woman in his life. So someday he’d wake up wanting to be with a woman who’s the perfect doting housewife…..who’d drop the whole world at his feet on his one word….. and the very next day he’d yearn for a woman who’d make him feel like the lowliest creature on earth, with him pining and begging for his cold-hearted ice-queen beauty of a wife to simply acknowledge his existence. And live each day with the woman of his dreams he would, and remain happy with it. Or maybe we could make him the emotion-less sort. Who’s never known anything but indifference. Either this way or that. Who’s not used to conversation because way back in time when he’d been in company of other people they’d told him that they were discomforted by his blatant blunt comments and total lack of emotion. Well you get the idea… our hero is this dreamy guy who’s as removed from reality as possible.
So where could I make them meet? He hardly steps out of his house unless it is to buy stuff from the department store right next door. Even his editor (yeah, what do you think? He IS a famous writer…..but typically disconnected that he is, he doesn’t even use his own name….and me thinks he is filthy rich, except that only his bank manager has any idea about how rich he really is)… So yeah, even his editor remains in touch with him (push him to write and write, more like…he needs to be reminded of deadlines like a million times a day) through the internet. Our pathetic hero is plugged into the wall the whole day, while our butterfly of a heroine hardly steps into her house unless it is to sleep at night. Or lament the lack thereof. I want to make her an insomniac….who’s never known good sleep for a long time.
But coming back to the point… where do they meet? It has to be the department store….and maybe it’s a rainy day. The grey dull cold and irritatingly wet sort of a day, and my hero is especially sulky. He hates having to write during rainy days, and not being able to put down a single word on the screen that day he decides to cook an exceptionally grandiose lunch, and so finally decides to drag himself out of his chair to the go to the department store. And by sheer co-incidence (I have to make use of this bugger….or else how would I even make a story out of this?) my heroine chooses that very moment and that very department store to buy cigarettes from, since she’s run out of them. Or maybe all her cigarettes are soaked wet, just like she is, right down to her skin….and she needs one desperately. So, how do I make my absent-minded lost-in-his-own-world of a writer take notice of her? Maybe, the moment our writer comes up with a word he’d been groping for inside his head all day long, it slips out and that’s only because our heroine chooses that very moment to scream out loud one of the most delectable swear words in the English vocabulary, (one which you will never find in any dictionary though). But why, you may ask, would she do that? Her cigarette won’t light, poor girl… her matchbox is sopping wet too. And that makes the writer take a look at what obnoxious creature would have the audacity to do that. Disconcert him, that is, and break his train of thoughts. So what is the first thing he notices? I think its her long long hair…. (Wait, did you simply presume that she’s had her hair chopped off and looks like an imp?) Except that when he looks at her that’s the only thing he can see; a wet curly veil over her back, reaching way past the hem of her tank top. And just a few inches of the excuse of a denim skirt that she’s wearing beneath it. He hardly notices her long bare legs but he is intrigued by the anklet she’s wearing… a glittering something with what looked like dolphins dangling from a silver band. He is interested yes, so much that the second expletive doesn’t even reach his ears this time. Oh, but the ugly heels… he looks away. Not for long though, and by the time he takes a second look she’s turned around with her head still bent over her unlit cigarette. With the same curls now falling all over her face. He doesn’t realize he’s gaping until she looks up….and the first thing he notices is her eye make-up trickling down her cheeks from the rain. And the smoke between her lips. And there’s this one moment (there always is one, isn’t there?) when their eyes meet….but the moment is lost when they both hear the door of the department store open again, and a woman with a toddler in tow comes inside. She throws away the cigarette and bends down to smile at the kid, who shirks away from this abominable eyesore of a girl with black smudges all over her face. And then without even looking at our still gaping writer she walks away, but not before he catches the wistful look in her eyes, one that almost bordered on pain. With the tinkling of her bracelets and hip chain and dangly earrings ringing in his ears and her smell, a heady mixture of musk and rain, still in his nose, he goes back, even more frustrated since he knows now he’ll never be able to finish the piece his editor had been yelling about since morning. Oh no. He’s not in love. Not yet. And she’s already out of her mind by the time he opens the door to his place. But damn it, the word’s slipped out again. And now he’ll be stuck in that exact same sentence yet again for god only knows how many hours.
And what about her? She walks out without a smoke and with just a fleeting thought about this way too pale brown-eyed guy who looked like he’d never seen the sun, leave alone a woman of blood and flesh. But she’s used to this gaping by now. Hell, she demands it. And as she walks slowly in the rain with people around her scurrying under umbrellas trying to find some dry place she only wonders how his voice would be. Maybe it’s a mere whisper, kind of like his wispy hair. Can voice be wispy? She laughs out loud.
So much for the first time they see each other. But love is a different ball game altogether. So how do I count on just a chance meeting for them to fall in love, nothing less? Another chance meeting? I could bring in a series of co-incidences but then my story wouldn’t be any different from them Bollywood movies. No… my writer is above all that, and my heroine is no ordinary dumb-head beauty either. So maybe that evening when he’s almost out of his mind trying to put down one word, just one word on screen for more than five seconds before deleting it again, he paces up and down the room with long strides, with the screen of his laptop turned away from him. Like he always does when he is angry with his laptop, when it turns traitor. And he happens to see the counter of the departmental store through his window pane. Just where he’d seen her earlier in the morning. And everything comes back to him, just like that. Her curly messy wet hair, her anklet, her mascara streaked cheeks, and that pain in her eyes…. And that’s exactly when the words flow to him, and he rushes to his laptop, the rich dainty heroine he had been writing about unceremoniously dumped into the recycle bin, and he starts afresh. Typing like a possessed man, late into the night and early morning. Each time he’d get stuck he’d walk to the window again, and even in the darkness of the store he would see her….and then go back and type again. But he’s still not in love with her… he’s just obsessed with the woman he’s made of her in his story…because she makes him write. Big deal, you say? Then you don’t know what writers’ block is.
And so he finds himself writing about her even the next day, and the day after that. And the third day when he visits the departmental store he almost wishes she were there. He realizes he didn’t even notice the color of her skin the last time, and how deep set her eyes were beneath all that watery make-up. He needed to know, he muses. That, and so many other things… How else would he write about her? He’d exhausted all his imagination in fabricating her past and her present in his story… but to write about what is going to happen? That’s dangerous. Especially when he knows that she is after all a real person. He is disturbed… He’s seldom written about a real woman before. And never about one woman for this long. That too a woman he’s seen just for a few minutes. When the going gets tough the tough has to get going, he realizes. So he decides to do what he’d never done before… he steps out the departmental store and walks away from his house. Without even knowing where he would find her. And after half an hour of aimlessly wandering about, just when he’s about to give up on the nonsense he’d allowed himself just this once he sees her. She’s walking too and today she’s wearing dungarees which reach mid-calf. As he sneaks closer he can hear her red sneakers squeak with each step, and her arms swing by her side like they have a mind of their own. He follows her, every instinct of his screaming “This is crazy….” but he can’t seem to stop. Until she does. To untangle the bracelet that got caught in one of her curls. Another expletive, and he is repelled. Reminded of this one fact he’d conveniently erased from his memory of the first meeting with her. But before he can do anything he’s looking into her eyes again.
“And why would you follow me around if you can always stop me and say hello?” is what she says through the gum she’s chewing, quite noisily too.
He is stumped, and groping for an answer.
“Oh god, not one of them again…” she rolls her eyes and holds out her hand, “Hello. There you go. This is how we do it these days. In case you didn’t know.”
He takes her hand without smiling, and she looks at him all the more incredulously.
“Are you for real? You don’t say anything when I say hello?”
“Hello” is all he manages, and the first thing she notices is his voice. Deep, throaty, and extremely satisfying to the ears. She lets out a giggle. Kind of ruins the whole smoky-eyed, red-lip gloss, black nail polish effect, but works just as well. He is confused.
“You’re funny” she says. “You don’t say anything and you’re still funny”
He looks even more confused, and decides to walk away. He’s already gone too far. He’s made himself known to her. Even as he turns around she calls back.
“I have a name you know. And I live a block away. Just in case you decide to stalk me again and then walk away leaving my ego unfed”
But unlike in the movies when the heroine says a killer line and the hero stops in his tracks my hero walks away. And so does my heroine, as if it is everyday she encounters a man twice her age, who follows her and then doesn’t ask her name even when she offers it.
So my writer goes back home disoriented and disconnected, unable to believe what happened had actually taken place. The moment he steps inside the door, he puts on Miles Davis “It Never Entered My Mind” (my all time favorite, and has to be his… it is my story after all) on repeat, slumps on his chair and turns on his laptop. Takes a deep breath and tries to compose himself. And inspite of himself, it doesn’t take long for the words to flow…. He’s heard her voice, he’s looked into her jet-black eyes, and he’s held her hand. And now he’s consumed with writing about her….his fingers fly on the keypad like they have a mind on their own, And for the first time in a long time… he feels alive. And more than anything, he feels he’s given life to this woman in his story. He realizes all it takes is for him to meet her once, and he has so much to write about her…
And this goes on for the next couple of days. The editor goes crazy trying to make my writer finish this story on time to be published in one of those monthly magazines which feature one of his stories every month. And that’s when he drops the bomb…. He’s not writing a story this time. This will be his first novel, he types in. For the first time he’s found something which captivates him long enough to actually write for almost a week… and he thinks he could remain captivated for longer. And not waiting to see what the editor has to reply to that, he signs out, leaving the editor high and dry gaping open-mouthed at the screen. But so much as he has known about her from the second part-chance, part-planned meeting with her, he still hasn’t got enough to write hundreds of pages that takes to make a novel. And from the outlook of my story he isn’t anywhere closer to falling in love with her. He is interested, he definitely is, but love? To fall in love they have to meet, and for him to meet her, he has to go out again. And so he does.
But I can’t make it this easy for him can I? It can’t be that he meets her each time he goes out. It doesn’t happen like this in real life and neither will this happen in my story. And so he doesn’t meet her inspite of making two rounds of her block. Maybe that’s when he comes back and realizes just how much he’d been depending on meeting her, and when he finds himself unable to write after coming back, even after he’s cooked an elaborate three-course meal which then remains cold on the dining table because he’s sworn he’ll eat only after he’s finished one paragraph, he starts thinking real hard about how the hell he’s got himself into this mess. For a minute he even contemplates restoring the discarded heroine to her rightful place in that short story… but he’s given too much of himself to this novel to give up now. And just this once, he’s woken up every morning with her thought in his mind. Maybe he’s so much into her because he’s been writing about her…. Or maybe he’s writing about her because he’s into her. Damn…! He gives up.
And in the meanwhile, I haven’t talked a lot about my heroine, have I? Picking up from where she meets him and then goes away….. So she doesn’t even know his name. But his voice… She finds herself thinking of his voice when she least expects it. The poor man looked so lost. Wife left him for good, probably, she muses. Or maybe she’s dead and he can’t get over her. But boy is she reminded of that Dido song “See the Sun”. She is tempted to actually go open his blinds like Dido sings she wants to in that song. Looks like he needs it… But as she walks around she has too much in her mind to think of him more than just that. Aah… so baby boy with “trying-hard-to-regain-shape” Mom has finally learnt how to take three steps without falling on his tiny little bum. And well, old man with awfully thick glasses really needs to start reading the paper right side up. That anorexic teenager with curls all over her face, which would actually look better with chubbier cheeks is now walking around with a different guy from last week, and she’s yelling at someone over the phone… maybe her ex. And sigh..the way the man she’d met on the street had said “Hullo”. And that’s where she’d get stuck for a little while, and take a chance and look behind her, just in case.
But when she goes back home that night and is tossing and turning in her bed like always, willing her eyes to close and remain closed and gives up, she tries doing what always makes her feel tired and sometimes eventually sleepy. She imagines taking one of her long long walks around the street, and she thinks of every detail that she comes across…. The pattern of the curtains in that old restaurant that once upon a time was THE place to hang out. The exact shade of blue of the swanky new car that is always parked right outside it. The number of buds in that hanging plant right outside the dry-cleaner’s window. And how many have opened to bear thick petals of that blood red flower. She turns on her side, and thinks how far it is before she reaches her home inside her head. And that’s when she “reaches” the department store… now what color were those venetian blinds… pale pink? Or was it yellow…. Funny how she can’t remember… but it was raining that day wasn’t it? And… well, that was the day she’d seen that brown-eyed guy for the first time. And her “too-good-for-her” boyfriend for the last time. She opens her eyes. No. She won’t think about her ex. She closes her eyes again, and thinks of that store. How many aisles were there…? And what was the brown-eyed guy wearing? Were those flannel drawstring pajamas for real…? Or was she just exaggerating his worn-down appearance in her imagination? She sighs… She’s no way closer to falling asleep. She’ll go back to the store again, she decides. Maybe she’ll meet that funny guy again… maybe he’ll say more than a hullo. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll ask him why he was following her around. And when she asks herself just why she wants to see him again, all she can come up with is maybe she’s never heard a voice like his before. Now, I know that is not reason enough to just want to see some strange guy, but it’s a story right? I can make anything out of it.
So this time it is my heroine who sets out to meet him, if only for the sake of quenching her curiosity. Yes, the blinds are a pale pink, she notes. And there are four aisles. But he’s not anywhere around. The funny brown-eyed guy. So she does what comes naturally to her. Ask the guy sitting behind the counter. Does he remember the day she had come to the store? The salesman takes one look at the bright red hot pants and white spaghetti top, and her hair. Yes, he nods. Very well. And also that she uses the English language very liberally, he adds. Another expletive from that cherry-pink lip-glossed mouth. Like this you mean, my heroine says. He shrugs. But then does he remember there was another guy in the store that day, she asks. If he was interested in her long legs all this while he is no longer staring at them. He wants to make sure she is asking about the freak from next door. Weird guy who doesn’t ever talk, not even to discuss last night’s match or the weather that day, he adds. She doesn’t wait to reply. Just blows him a flying kiss as an afterthought when she reaches for the handle of the door and rushes out.
She doesn’t stop to think when she opens the gate of the house right next to the store. The rusted gates creak in protest, like they don’t want to open, but are doing a favor for her. But when she stands in front of the door, with her hand posed over the doorbell reason floods in. “This is crazy” she thinks, and turns away, only to turn back the next instant to press the doorbell. Almost simultaneously she hears glass breaking inside. She wonders again if she should let herself in, or just run away to sanity. But my heroine wouldn’t be my heroine if she chooses the easy way out, would she? No.. She waits slightly longer and then tries the door, feeling the door knob move on its own. He opens it for her, and the first thing she sees is the piece of broken glass he’s still holding in his hand, and then the look of disgust on his face.
(to be continued …)
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