When I saw her for the first time she was sitting in the women’s compartment of a running metro on a winter morning in Delhi. I don’t know if she saw me. I mean I can’t be sure, but when I think of it I like to believe that she did. My favorite sequence is imagining her lifting her eyes and taking a note of me for a couple of seconds before getting back to her own business. I saw her and just kept looking at her face until I realized that I might be doing so at the risk of appearing like a dumbstruck fool.
It was already seven forty five when the lady constable was running her detecting machine across my body. She pressed my pockets twice, took a close look at me and then let me go. I have gotten used to that kind of look now. Have you ever seen the sign on the door of public washrooms meant to denote gender. The woman is always wearing a frock sort of a thing and has got long hair. I understand it’s for convenience sake, but then tell me honestly, how many women do you actually meet in India wearing frocks on a normal casual day? It’s rare sight, isn’t it? So you agree that it’s just a foolish way to signify gender? Women wearing jeans or say, sari are equally women, no? If that’s so, so is the woman with short hair. There is nothing wrong with her. She does not have to be mad or radical to do that. She changed her hairstyle without putting much thought to it and may be with the same amount of ease with which you change your dress. Yes, may be she isn’t your idea of a feminine woman, but that is a problem of lack of imagination on your part not hers.
Anyway, I am here to tell you the story about that woman whom I saw in the women’s compartment of a running metro on a winter morning in Delhi and not about me and my problems with the world. So, without digressing again let’s concentrate on the story.
I punched my smart card on the slot and rushed to the platform skipping every alternate step of the stairs. I entered into the metro seconds before the door closes. I bent a little by my waist panting, desperately trying to catch my breath. I coughed a little and tried to concentrate on something else other than my coughing and rushed breath. The way I was bent I could only see varieties of footwears, mostly shoes because winters in Delhi are ruthless. Midst all those shoes was a pair of boots being tapped on the floor with a certain urgency. They were the most exquisite dark brown boots I had ever cast my eyes upon. For a moment I forget all about my panting and was lost in its design, its beauty and richness of colour. I had probably figured out the image of its wearer in my mind by then. It had to be a beautiful rich woman with flawless skin, perfect dressing style, known among her friends and colleagues for her supreme taste and style. May be even now she must be busy dealing with her numerous admirers on whatsapp or smiling on the number of likes on her latest photo on Facebook, I thought.
But why that urgency in the tapping of her boots?
A paper fell beside her boots. I saw her hand when she picked it up. And the first thing that I noticed was the flawless sparkling even coat of black film on her nails. She had beautiful, shapely fingers.
I noticed that my panting had stopped and so I got ready to face that face which is still fresh in my memory. She was everything that I had imagined her to be with a couple of minor changes here and there. So, she wasn’t busy checking her status on phone, rather she was busy with a couple of notebooks and papers spread across her lap. At first, I couldn’t see anything but the white beanie berret cap that she was wearing. Will you believe if I tell you that her hair was also cut short? Little strands of red mahogany coloured hair hung loose all around the cap but her face was bent over her books in such a way that only the red rim of her glasses could be seen. May be she had an exam to write but I am not sure.
She raised her head a little to read a page kept at a distance and that is how I saw her face for the first time and froze right there. I had never seen something so appealing all my life. It just pulled me inside. I forgot myself. Forgot where I was standing. Forgot about the world around us.
I saw her shoving all the paper inside her bag and pulling out a thick book this time.
After a second she raised her face and looked in both the direction, may be randomly or to guess which station it was. She looked at me with questioning eyes but mumbling something all the time. She kept looking at me, stopped mumbling, looked more closely and then dipped her nose in the book. After a minute or so, she fished a small paper from her bag, scribbled something on it and made a hole on its edge. She tied it to the book’s marker in such a way that the paper hung from it. She looked at me once more and looked at the hanging paper.
The paper read: You’re distracting me. Please don’t disturb now. Call me instead after eight-thirty tonight. Her number was written below it.
It’s eight forty-five now. Should I call her? Will she remember that I am the woman from the morning metro?