I wonder if you’d like me now. The thought has crossed my mind more than once. Not a trace of the little girl (Lovely, you’d once said) you used to know; I am a woman now. Tall and ungainly. Gaunt and rather gauche. But people say my eyes have remained the same. And believe me, dear Les- they still sparkle for you.
I am on search for the past fifteen years. Having put my life on backburner. I stand corrected. I have no life without you. I am on search- for Les. I am on search- for life.
Living death; I go to Agara junction. Catch a bus to Hebbal. Jack fruit ferments to fecundity in the tropical sun. Its heady smell titillates and beckons. The lady selling it looks at me expectantly. I probably have jackfruit devourer written all over my face.
I don’t ripen and flourish like jackfruit in summer. Rather, I wither. But my eyes are fiery with hope.
I pass a slim alley; sandwiched between vendors selling cotton tops, boiled corn (hot off the stove), ice-creams, raw mango and cucumber slices laced with salt and mirch. I pause tentatively at the tattoo stall. Then resume my search.
Not a head like yours or eyes, lips, limbs, ears, torso, manner, gesture, that sing-song undulation in voice- nothing.
And I have taken yet another day off work.
I walk into office next morning; swallowing once, twice, three times. Will I get blasted? My boss, however, doesn’t look up from her files. Probably, she’s given up on me.
I sit at my desk. My mind walks off. This time, I catch a bus to 4th block, jostle through heavy crowds, skillfully skip blobs of spit, pensively chew on an ice-cream cone as my eyes survey ( and probably sear) the passers by. They look back, conscious that they are being stared at.
Ditto situation here. No sign of you. Zilch productivity at work. My boss looks at me- her face an amalgamation of disapproval and pity.
I don’t feel like a lakh rupees letting her or anyone else down.
But then- I am on search. That’s my primary job. That’s my purpose.
I live with my parents. From the past many years, they seem somewhat ashamed to be associated with me. I can understand. Ours is an affluent family; my parents enjoy tremendous social prestige (there might have been a drop in that, thanks to me). To their credit, they let me be.
I haven’t done well in my career, have refused to marry; my grooming or rather the lack of it is a social embarrassment. Mom and my father are worried about my ‘one track devotion’ in looking for Les (Whom they don’t remember, by the way). ‘Deviyani’s back, Sarala. Get her dinner soon’, mom calls out to the cook. I refuse food.
I lie on the mat (I have abandoned the soft luxury of my bed long back) looking at the moving clouds through the window. One becomes Les, the other me. We are playing in the skies, just like we used to in the backyard of his house.
Les just left. Without a word to me- his ‘Dev’. I arrived with the usual enthusiasm one day to see a gigantic lock staring me rudely in the face. The keyhole gloated at me. I suppose it was always envious of our being together.
Well, the keyhole has got the chance to show me down everyday. Undeterred, I have come and checked daily for the past fifteen years. ‘Fifteen years?’ people snicker. To which I think in my mind, ‘But what is time, anyway?’ even a genius like Einstein had said ‘time is just an illusion’.
Time….a horse or an hourglass? A virile man or a curvy woman? Does it always trot? Why does it pause sometimes? I wish its ways were more predictable.
But predictability isn’t for ones like me. I wonder who forsook which first- Predictability I or vice-versa? Anyways, I am not going to start making any allegations. Counter-allegations become inevitable, then. I’ve learnt to accept.
Les had accepted me and I him- body, mind, spirit, soul, ether, space. The same colour red flowed in our veins, the hearts throbbed at the same rate, the air coming in and exiting through nostrils felt the same. Food tasted the same in each others mouths.
The need for space was non-existent or so I had thought. Had I been wrong? Had he felt suffocated? Had he felt bound?
Had he felt the need to breathe his own air…..taste his own food….feel his own blood privately….his heart to pulsate at a rate different from mine. Is that why he had left?
I can’t ever buy this theory. It doesn’t at all feel credible.
I’ve tried looking him up on social networking sites, on the web too. Many males named Les. None of them mine. Quite sure about that.
A horrifying thought springs- like a jack in the box. What if Les hasn’t left at all? He could be inside. Murdered. His body putrescent at first, minimized to bones and cartilage by now. Haunted, I break the skull of the monster lock with a rock and barge in. the house is empty. Zero sign of life. No smell of death.
I notice something in a corner, covered with dust. It is barely recognizable now, but I know it- the friendship band I had given Les. I wash it at the tap in the utility area; slip it down the front of my t-shirt. It feels like an adorable water snake (all snakes aren’t bad, are they?) in the bosom. I go to bed that night with a sense of relief. Les in all probability is still alive. I doze off with the precious friendship band still close to the heart.
I am able to concentrate in office the next morning. The boss doesn’t say anything, but I know she’s quite happy with me.
I visit a lake in the evening. The place is clogged with garbage and milling with mosquitoes. I concentrate on the teal of the sky and the azure of the waters by twilight. I watch an egret capture a minnow in its beak, fly a short distance and then clumsily drop it. The minnow swims away rapidly and the egret looks befuddled. I feel strange- an amalgamation of happy and sad.
Something disturbs the water’s placidity. A stone, skipped by someone. I turn my face towards the source of the action. I see the back of the head in the beam of the dim lamp. My heart stops beating. I am unable to move. My throat seems paralyzed for a second.
‘Les’, I suddenly call out aloud. The boy turns, a sweet puzzled look on his face. He walks to me. ‘You called?’ he asks presently.
I shake my head in negation. He walks off and absorbs himself in his activity, forgetting that there had been an interruption at all.
Strange are the tricks the mind plays. Surely, Les would be a grown up man now. He’d not be stuck forever at twelve a la Peter Pan. Whatever made me think this boy was Les?
Was it the angle at which he held his head, his stance or just the deceptive half- luminescence of the lamp?
‘Bye, Auntie!’ the boy says as he prepares to go. ‘Auntie’- I am completely in the present now. ‘Bye’, I answer. Then, not wanting to let an opportunity go by, I try my luck- ‘Do you have an uncle or any other relative called Les?’ ‘Les?’ the boy ruminates for a second. Then he shakes his head. ‘No, I don’t know anyone by that name’, he says before running up the steps leading to the main road.
I stand motionless for a minute. Another dead end. But not to worry.
I take a deep breath. Then go about my mission of the search with renewed zest.