I looked at her. She was looking at me. I smiled and she smiled at me.
“I know you. You’re in our class. Isn’t it?” she volunteered first.
I pretended as if I had received a call and started mumbling on the phone so that I could buy some time and gather some courage to confront her.
My mind zapped with only one idea i.e. I can do it. Yes, I can do it. I have been doing it all this while in my mind.
And yet, this was so difficult. Her physical presence was distracting.
My sight crashed on the floor and I started looking for answers to- How do I start introducing myself? What all do I say and where should I start from?
“Oh yes! I remember now,” her voice pacified me a little but soon enough I was again lost in my thoughts, frantically contemplating what exactly does she think of me.
“Aren’t you the guy who hangs around with Samarpit and all?”
The way she raised her brows, it became all the more difficult for me to concentrate on her words. No, I won’t say that the expression was beautiful or breath-taking or something of that sort like everyone would say. It was just unusual in a good way.
With the bits and parts that I could catch from her sentence which was later processed by my brain cells I managed to give away a convincing nod.
“Yes, yes you are the guy who is in hurry all the time and yes, you always carry some sort of book in your hand all the time,” she said enthusiastically, probably enjoying her ability to recall.
“Shit! She thinks I’m a geek” my heart sank. I rose in my defense, “No! I…actually I am into other things as well.” I wanted to add, “If ever you had bothered to know, you would have noticed,” but I didn’t.
She nodded with a hint of doubt in her eyes and then dropped her gaze and started walking with me.
“Oh anyway, where do you put up?” she asked again with her usual smile.
“Why does she talk so much?” I thought before I proceeded to utter the two inadequate words- university hostel.
“You mean the one right across the road?” she added rhetorically I guess for who does not know about it.
I nodded again. I could not bring myself to speak half as much as she did. Nervous? No. Scared? No. Shocked? No. Then what was wrong with me? Why was I being so silly?
I was just being what I had always been, nothing new in that sense. They call it “shy” and I call it “introvert.” I know they almost mean the same but “shy” sounds feminine in some way, I feel.
“You look cool…almost smart.” She smiled this time with an obvious gleam in her eyes.
I thought that this line will keep ringing in my head for a decade atleast. I smiled at this thought.
“Was she flirting with me or was this her usual way of complimenting? But, is this the way you compliment someone? Almost smart? What’s that?” shit! I was thinking again.
“My friend…or should I say my boyfriend stays at the university hostel,” she informed casually.
This took me by surprise, though it shouldn’t. I wasn’t surprised because it was unexpected or unwanted but because… probably it was just something. Ugh! I don’t know. Presently, I wanted to see this guy who was so to say “the” guy of “this” girl. So, I enquired about the room number with an exaggerated sense of curiosity to show that I was genuinely interested in knowing (or I really was?).
She said it was room number 711. I did not think it was a good idea to bother her with more information so I just nodded in response. But then it suddenly struck me that 711 was a familiar number. It was the room right opposite to mine. “You mean Samarth?” I almost blurted out.
“No!” her tongue popped out apologetically, “I guess it must have been 712 then.”
“But Jay, there is no 712 in our hostel.” I was almost surprised by my tongue. Did I just call her by her little pet name?
“Oh! Then it must have been 710 I guess,” she quipped.
“You mean Sankalp? That’s me and 710 is my room.” I took extra pleasure in saying that.
“I thought you were Samarth.”
“What? Have you ever seen Samarth?”
“No. I have heard that he is very good-looking and all that.”
“And you thought I was him?” Now I was not sure what she was getting at.
“No, you look only smart. Strange, isn’t it?”
This confused me more. Was she complimenting me or something else…or probably poking fun. And, what’s so strange about it, I thought.
She broke my line of thought when suddenly she said, “I will leave you now.” I saw we had reached women’s hostel and she started moving towards it. She turned back and waved at me and shouted, “I was chattering nonsense.”
I stood there stupefied and confounded. Did this really happen? Was I really talking to her and was she really walking with me a while ago? And, what was this thing about her boyfriend? Was she serious or really being silly…you know chit-chatting?
I reached my room thinking about all that had gone between us. At about eleven at night when I was alternatively travelling between my assignment topic and her, I heard a metallic clink on my window.
By the time I got up to see what it was, I saw Jagruti entering through it. She saw me and smiled and then jumped from the window and landed safely on the floor. She was carrying a bag full of I don’t know what and I did not bother to ask. I was too shocked to react. What on earth was she doing here?
“I did not have your number so I am sorry to appear unannounced,” she announced casually and sat comfortably on the chair without being offered.
I wanted to know when she found this way to my room and began thinking of all the ways I could use this new-found way out of my room. I could also probably go to her room like this. But, before my thoughts could take their own fanciful flight, I was interrupted by her.
“Why do you look so shocked? I did knock before I came in. Didn’t I?”
Okay! So that metallic clink was the knock, I thought. I smiled.
“Needless to say that you are intelligent,” she began speaking again, “but still you haven’t asked me why I am here.”
“Oh. It doesn’t matter. Make yourself home.” I tried to sound cool and casual like her.
“Thank you! But I intend to leave you with your books which I am sure you must be seriously engaged into and go to room no. 701. Yes, that’s my boyfriend’s room,” she said with an obvious spark in her eyes.
The word boyfriend was so annoying especially when it came from her.
She opened the door and peeped out to see if there was anyone in the corridor. Cleansing herself of all doubts she therefore ran towards 701. The door closed behind her.
I found myself staring at the closed-door for full five minutes before I got back to my own. Later when I sat on my bed I tried to recall who stayed in that room, but couldn’t. I decided to ask her about this when she would be back in my room. I walked to my window to see that there was a narrow beam which joined the two hostels.
I kept waiting for her and finally slept at around 5’o clock.
There was a small knock at my door at six in the morning. It was her again. She thanked with a pleasant smile and walked towards the window and left. I thought of watching her get back to her room but refrained myself thinking that it would not seem proper.
The next day, I kept disturbing myself trying to imagine what would have happened between Jay and her boyfriend that night. All sorts of thought kept coming and I tried to avoid imagining the worst.
Next evening after the class, I sat with my cup of coffee in my balcony facing, what I assumed to be, Jagruti’s room in the hope that she would turn up and we could atleast smile at each other. That would have been all. But, to my dismay, she did not come.
I waited for an hour with my mug and then went back disappointed. After a couple of minutes I heard the same clink. I hurried to the window and opened it for her. Infact, I even gave her a hand to descend carefully. I felt like a gentleman at that moment. She did exactly what she had done last time. She sat casually on the chair for a couple of minutes, smiled at me and asked some not-so-important things and made her way to 701. I kept staring at the closed-door once again for sometimes and then came back and resumed my work.
At six, she knocked and entered and vanished through the window.
As I crossed 701 on my way to the class that day, I had a pressing urge to knock at the door and find out whose room it was. But, there was a lock dangling at the door and so, I decided to come later.
The lock was still there when I returned from my class in the evening. After dinner when I was returning to my room it was still there. I concluded therefore that the guy was not in the room and so Jay won’t come tonight. This made me a little sad. But, she did come at her usual time, did her usual things and left me for the great mystery room with a bundle of mysteries for me to unravel.
She seemed to be a nice sort of girl. She had a pleasing smile and was a known face in the class. She asked intelligent questions sometimes during our lectures. We stayed back sometime after class to discuss certain things. She seemed to study a lot and was pretty serious about it too. I saw her talking to various boys and tried to picture them as her boyfriend. But, I had no way to be sure about my assumptions.
Sometimes, I wanted to ask her what went inside that room but it did not seem proper and I probably did not have the courage to hear from her in case she decided to be honest. Also, what if she bluntly refused to relate to me the secret? But, then I had some power because she used my room in a way, to reach her boyfriend. But, this once again did not seem a nice way to deal with such a lovely creature. She never tried to disclose it herself and I did not feel comfortable on insisting her though I did leave certain hints sometimes to acquaint her with my curiosity. But, she did not seem to pick them up.
Probably, she thought it was too obvious for anyone to deduce what went on inside that room all night and therefore did not feel the need to explain.
I tried to find through my sources and other friends on my floor about that room but strangely, nobody knew much about it. I did not insist further lest someone starts doubting unnecessarily. I waited every night for her to come and give me a smile. I insisted on her staying for some more time, obviously not in as many words, but she somehow successfully managed to excuse herself.
It was on the twenty-third day that she did not come. I could not sleep that night fearing that she might come and I may not be awake to welcome her. At about one-thirty when I could no longer resist thinking that something had happened to her or she had found some other way to reach her boyfriend, I went to my window. The light to her room was on and she could be seen studying. She saw me seeing her and waved her hand. I waved back and then stood there watching her for sometimes as she kept staring at me.
After a while she smiled and then went back to her books. I came back to my room and thought of making one last attempt to investigate about her boyfriend. I opened the door and looked across the corridor to room no. 701. It was not locked and I felt happy. But then I felt something else too as I started walking towards that door. Did I really want to know her boyfriend? Is he a better looking guy than me? Is he someone from our class or some other department?
I reached the door and was about to knock when it suddenly occurred to me- what would I tell him? Does he know that Jay used my room to reach him all these days or should I say that I only wanted to know if Jay was inside? No, that would not make a good excuse.
The door opened and a man attired in our night watchman’s dress came out. He saw me and smiled. He locked the door behind him with the same lock that I had seen dangling. Suddenly I saw myself asking him, “Is it your room?”
He shouted yes without turning back.
I ran back to my room, to my window unable to comprehend any of the things. I saw Jay in the same position as I had left her. I looked at the beam, it was too narrow for me, but I could no longer resist. Was she flirting with this old man? I could not make myself believe this.
I somehow managed to reach her room through that passage. I did not need to knock because the window was wide open. I probably scared her for she sprang on her feet when she saw me.
I did not wait for her to restore herself and embarked on my purpose of being there.
I asked her, “Who is your boyfriend?”
She kept quiet for sometimes and then sighed. She then started explaining, “The night watchman of your hostel had fallen sick. He was admitted in the hospital. He did not have enough money to undergo treatment and could not afford to lose his job and the month’s payment. So I just filled in for him.”
That was terse.
I fell on her chair with a thud. This was nowhere near my expectation. I sat there staring at her foolishly and she…. When I saw her again she was saying me sorry for using my room without making me a party to the secret.
For a moment I felt cheated but then it was okay, wasn’t it?