Write

Staring at the screen, the speakers blaring A R Rahman music. Faint strains of home. Soft voices of neighbours floating up through the windows. Clutter of roommate cooking busily in the kitchen. Words float around head.

Type furiously for a while. Stop. Look. Cringe. Backspace-backspace-backspace. GAH. Frustration! Am I a bad writer?!

Favourite childhood song plays. Smile. Think of days past. Holding on to Ma’s pallu and hiding from people shyly. Perched on the bed, looking at Pa getting ready for work. Dancing to my song, this very song, for everyone. The only confident, preening time. Running away again and hiding from compliments. Smiling softly to self.

Renewed vigour. No one is watching. I can do this. Start typing again. The beats are running out. Quick, before the song ends! Finish with a flourish. Sit back with sigh. Wide grin. Read.

Grimace again. Never perfect, hardly good. Well. That is that.

Strangers

It was a hot, dusty summer morning. She covered her nose with her dupatta to avoid the smoke coming from the minivan in front. Sitting right in front of the bus, especially during the summer, was a bad idea, she supposed. She looked at her watch. It was getting late. She had to be home soon and the traffic didn’t seem to have any way of letting go. The man opposite the aisle slapped hard at his wrist, scaring her. She stared at him flicking the dead mosquito off. He looked up suddenly and noticed her staring. He smiled a slow, lecherous smile. She looked away hurriedly.

She checked her phone messages. Then laughed at herself. Who would text her? She didn’t have any friends who would text her, especially not at 8.15 in the morning. She tried to push away the feeling of boredom that began to settle in her mind. She rummaged in her bag for the book she usually brought along. She carefully smoothened the pages of the old paperback and sat down to read.

***

He dodged the honking cars and leapt onto the bus. He looked around victoriously, and noticed that no one was looking at him. He straightened up, dusted his clothes and made his way to his favourite seat on the last row. His phone buzzed against his leg. He grimaced and whipped it out, not in any mood for socialising with another one of his million friends. He checked the text, turned the phone to silent and smiled at the old lady sitting next to him. He plugged in his iPod and sat back to listen to some music. That was when he saw her.

She was sitting right up in front, curled up on the bus seat cradling a paperback which looked as though it would fall apart any moment. Her hair was over one shoulder and he could see only half her face. The sunlight pouring in from the window behind her had illuminated her hair, and it almost looked like a halo around her. The book was certainly entertaining for he could see her suppressing her laughter at some points. He noticed himself smiling along with her, and stopped. He took out his sketching pad and began sketching her.

***

A loud honk by the bus driver jolted her out of the world of her book. She looked outside urgently, wondering if she had missed her stop. She hadn’t. She relaxed, but put the book away in case she actually did. She smoothed her hair over her forehead and looked around. The swatter was gone, and was now replaced by a paan-chewer. She turned to look around at the rest of the people. That is when she saw him. IPod plugged into his ears, a sketchpad in his hands and looking right at her. She stared at him, trying to spook him into looking away. To her surprise he smiled at her. It was too late for her to look away so she smiled back uncertainly. He was waving his sketchpad at her. She smiled and shook her head. She wasn’t going to take some good-looking yet funny guy’s book on the bus. He looked disappointed. She smiled again and turned back.

***

He realised he probably came across as a bit crazy, waving his sketchpad at some random girl like that. It was obvious she wasn’t going to come over and strike up a conversation with a stranger on a bus. He looked down at his sketch of her. The side profile did no justice to her. She was a beauty. But he could see her getting ready to leave. Her stop was probably coming. He hurriedly tore the sheet off and gave it to the passenger in front, asking him to pass it on to her. The sheet was passed forward, till it reached her just before she got off. She looked incredulous, but took the sheet and got off. As the bus began moving, he craned his neck to look at her, get a final glimpse. There she was, looking at the sketch. He thought she looked up and smiled, but just then, her face got lost among the sea of people.