Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Meeting - I

‘Ragini Vyas?’
Ragini turned, stirred from her trance like reveries.

A round bespectacled face, framed by neatly cropped salt and pepper hair held her gaze. It didn't take even a second for her to recognize it; she had breathed those particular set of features day in and day out for more than 30 years now.

‘Massey…’ she said almost in a whisper, flustered by this unexpected encounter with him. He smiled broadly, nodding, looking at her straight in the eyes.

They shook hands.

‘You recognized, huh? Guess age hasn't rubbed much on me’ he chuckled, sitting next to her on the stone bench that faced the sea.
‘Just the way you recognized me’, she said smiling, trying to recover from the sudden jolt of seeing him after 30 long years.
‘Wouldn't have, but then I recognized you by that’ he said, pointing at her wrist.
‘ohh..’ she covered her wrist with her other hand, as if to shield it from his piercing gaze.

They looked at each other, smiling awkwardly, exchanging a silent minute to let the 30 years of absence sink in. She could sense his eyes all over herself, he was carefully taking in the older version of the lady he dated a couple of decades ago.

‘So, how come you are here?’ he asked, easing out the awkward moment.
‘And you look old by the way!’ he spoke again, without waiting for her reply, making her conscious for a split second. ‘But then you always looked old for your age…budhiya!’ he finished that in the same breath, from formal to the crass lingo that they used while talking years ago.

She looked at him perplexed, wondering how to react to it, and the disguised mischief on his poker face did it. She burst out laughing, all at ease in an instant.

‘Yeah, I’ve turned all the more budhiya while you are still in the spring of your age, right?’
‘Oh ask me about it! One needs to be young at heart and it just reflects you know’ he said winking.

She chortled while noticing him in a fleeting glance.
He looked better than ever. Fit body, dapper appearance, a glow of contentment on face that reflected a good, happy life over the years.
She always knew he’ll age well.

‘You still in love with this place, eh?’ he asked, looking at the vast expanse of sea ahead.
‘Yeah, couldn't think of a better place when it came to retiring. I've shifted here.’ She said.
‘Oh..shifted. Like with family?’
She took a moment to reply to it.
‘Yes, sort of. My son left for Ladakh 2 years back.’
‘Ladakh?’ his tone couldn't conceal the surprise.
She nodded, looking at the sea ahead. ‘Depsang Valley’, she said.
‘Don’t tell me! Defence services?’ he asked, amused.
‘Yes, serving with the Indian Army’, she said with the kind of pride that only a mother of a soldier can exude, looking at him confidently for the first time, smiling a happy mother's smile.

Massey took a second to absorb that fact. The glint in her crinkled eyes, the pride in her otherwise feeble voice and the subtle confidence in her frail, aging poise was hard to ignore. He wondered what kind of a mother she must have made.

'Poor lad…did you give him a choice?', he asked teasingly.
‘No’, she laughed, picking the brazen sarcasm.
'So you! Still have a thing for soldiers, huh?' he chuckled.
'Always! They are my favorites.' She grinned.

He felt good to see her happy.

'What about your husband? asked Massey. 'You guys must be...' his voice trailed off mid-sentence when a bunch of chirpy teenagers flocked around Ragini.
She pepped up instantly at their sight.

'Heyy Rags! We knew we'll find you here' said a girl dressed in an over-sized t-shirt and denim shorts.
'Hey..what happened? You guys were looking for me?' Ragini asked holding the girl's palm and acknowledging the rest of the lot, warmly.
'Yes, we went to the cafe first, but then Bodhi said you left early today' said a geeky looking, lanky guy from the group. 'We were wondering about John Green's latest one...did you manage to get any copies?' asked the girl in shorts, expectantly.
'Of course I did! Didn't I promise I'll get a few this time around' said Ragini brightly.
'Yayyyy!' the group cheered unanimously.
'I've got them in the cafe itself, let's go and get it for you guys right away' she said standing up.

The kids had not really acknowledged Massey's presence all this while. They were too engrossed in their own sweet business.
Ragini turned to Massey who too had stood up by now.
'Got to was nice to see you after all these years' she said wondering if her expressions gave away the eternal joy that she experienced in that moment for having met him, talked to him.
'I run a small cafe here, just around the corner' she said gesturing at the end of the road. 'Drop in sometime if you are in the city for another few days. Our cold coffee is pretty popular amongst the college crowd here, you must try it.' she said smiling silly. He understood the point that she was trying to make; he loved cold coffee back then, he loved it still. Not really surprised to realize that she still remembered the minute details about him.
'If it's about cold coffee then I've got to come, no matter what' he said purposely, laughing off the supposed seriousness.

She laughed along, slinging her jute bag on her shoulder.
'We'll be happy to serve you' she said.
They both rocked on their heels for a second, each skeptical on how to say a 'proper' casual good bye.

Hug..? Handshake..?

She clutched her bag's handle a little tightly and nodded, 'See you around then...take care.' He nodded back smiling, 'Sure, take care you too.'

And she walked away to join the kids' group.

He looked at her walking away. Her small frame seemed all the more small in comparison to the tall and average height-ed kids. The once beautiful, auburn shoulder length curls had now reduced to pure grey pixie cut. Her well starched cotton saree, simple leather slippers and jute bag faintly reflected the lady he dated 30 years ago.

Staring back at the gurgling sea ahead, feeling the cool Pondicherry breeze on his skin, he sensed deja vu all over again. It was the same beach road they had walked together years ago as a couple, and it was the same beach road where they met today as acquaintances, years after.

Lovers to acquaintances, youth to seniority, grudges to amnesty, everything between them seemed to have matured into a harmonious medley. But then why was that harmony echoing chaos, he wondered.

If only he knew how chaotic harmony at times could be!