Smita was in a mall. Not exactly shopping, but essentially killing time. Sometimes staying at home made her feel claustrophobic and she felt this desperate urge to get out, once her husband Abhijeet and son Arnav had left for office and school respectively. She liked watching strangers in the mall and imagining their lives. If someone was speaking on the mobile with a smile she would think, ‘ Is he talking to his girlfriend? ‘ If a couple passed by arguing, she thought ‘ it’s a Lovers spat. How exciting ‘. The world was full of love, seen from her eyes. She envied couples who were window shopping in the mall and enjoying their togetherness, holding each other’s hand. Smita’s thinking started to run wild, ‘ Maybe both have lied to their parents and are secretly meeting here. No no. The girls have to lie at home, give a false story. Boys are never questioned at home about their whereabouts. World and families still have a misogynist attitude. But the best part is the lovers still meet’. Smita derived immense satisfaction from this thought.
World as they say is a reflection of your inner being. What we lack, we see all around us. She lacked love and she could only see love and lovers in the world. If you asked her, ‘ On the way to the mall did you see some homeless people begging?’ In all probability she would say, ‘ No’. As far as she was concerned there were no beggars in the world, only lovers.
She was having coffee in the mall’s cafeteria, when she first saw him. He was with his young daughter, helping her eat a brownie covered in hot chocolate sauce.The daughter was no older than five or six years. The sight of a father helping his daughter have a brownie with a plastic spoon, the hot sauce dripping on her chin, which he is constantly wiping with a tissue, brought a smile to her face. ‘ Caring for his little girl makes him look so warm and kind. There is a good- heartedness about him which is reflected in his brown eyes ‘ she mused. She could tell the colour of his eyes even from a distance. His hands were big and so were his shoulders. But yet those big hands when helping his kid eat, appeared very generous and kind. She wasn’t looking at him from the corner of her eye. She was too orthodox for that. She was looking straight at him unblinkingly. As if his persona had a magnetic power of attracting her whole being towards him. Looking at him with his daughter was seemingly filling a void within her. She must have stared at him for a few seconds or maybe a minute, when he became aware of her presence. He looked at her. She looked away. But in that split second before taking her eyes away, she felt as if he had smiled at her. She instantly looked back at him. He was still smiling and he nodded politely when their eyes met. She awkwardly nodded back and smiled. Then he got busy with his daughter once again. She had finished eating her brownie and was now wanting to taste his lemon soda. After some argument with the daughter, which she could hardly hear, the man gave in and allowed her to take a sip of his soda. The little girl had her father twirled around her little finger, Smita thought, bemused. His helplessness was evident. Smita felt a sudden rush of blood to her heart watching his vulnerability and helplessness in dealing with his daughter. The daughter was again throwing a tantrum and asking for something more to eat. Maybe a muffin and he was firmly trying to explain to her that she already had eaten enough to eat. He once again became aware of her eyes and this time he looked at her directly and smiled, clearly embarrassed by his daughter’s tantrums. She smiled back. He wanted to leave, inspite of the stubborn daughter refusing to move. The man was now hell bent on taking her as far as he could from this cafeteria. Ultimately he managed to convince her. He stood up, helped his daughter get down from her chair. He was tall and handsome, Smita thought. His daughter looked like a little doll standing beside him. He again looked at Smita, sighed with a smile, raising his shoulders in helplessness, as if saying, ‘Children. Always tough to handle’. She smiled back at him. Then to avoid his eyes any further Smita pretended to get busy with her coffee. Sadly enough she did not want them to leave, but they left and her eyes lost the sparkle. The usual emptiness came back to occupy them. The emptiness she felt in her heart and soul was her only true companion, she thoughtand sighed. She finished her coffee and quickly paid her bill and left the cafeteria. She had a sudden urge to return back to the refuge of her home. As if she was missing the walls of her home, which were witness to her pain and lack of love in life. With whom she had shared her tears and unfulfilled dreams. She walked through the mall at a brisk pace, as if she was being chased by someone.
As she was making her way towards the exit, she saw the man again, standing outside the ladies toilet. She slowed down, not wanting to look panicky in front of him. As she came close she could see him knock on the door of the ladies toilet and loudly ask, ‘ Riya are you done ?’ As she came closer, he again smiled at her politely. Again he called out to his daughter. ‘ Riya, lets go darling ‘. She had passed him when she heard, ‘ Excuse me ‘. She turned. ‘ My daughter is in the washroom and she isn’t answering. I can’t go in as you know. Will you please…. ?’ Smita nodded, words not forming in her mind or not coming to her lips and then she heard herself say, ‘ Yes ‘. ‘ Will you please bring her to me if she is done ? ‘ ‘ Yes. Sure’. ‘Her name is Riya’. ‘ Yes i heard..you were calling out her name’.
Smita went in to the ladies toilet and called out to Riya. Ultimately saw her in a cubicle, which Riya had not locked. But Smita did want to encroach on the little girl’s privacy, so did not go in. She intead asked her, ‘ Riya. Are you done ? Your dad is waiting outside for you’. Riya asked, ‘Who are you ‘? ‘ i am.. just a friend helping him out. Since he cant come in’. ‘ He doesn’t have any lady friends ‘. ‘ Well i am not his friend. I was just kind of.. passing by and he asked me if i could help him. Are we done here ? Can you please come out’. After a little delay Smita heard the flush and Riya came out. She looked at Smita and said, ‘ Hi ‘. ‘ hi ‘. ‘ You are nice looking ‘. Smita not used to getting a compliment, blushed, before saying, ‘ Thank you’. She took Riya out and on seeing her dad Riya said, ‘ Whats the rush ? Why did you send this poor lady in’? ‘Because you were gone for more than five minutes and weren’t responding when i called out your name’. He turned to Smita and said, ‘ Thank you so much. By the way my name is Saurabh ‘. ‘Hi. I am Smita’. ‘ Hi Smita. Shall we ‘? They started walking towards the exit. ‘Do you often come to this mall ‘? She replied, ‘ Not very often ‘. ‘ Nor do we. But i am babysitting these days. Her mother is travelling. She works. And Riya’s school vacation has begun. So i take her to a different mall everyday’. Riya interjected, ‘ I want to come to this same mall tomorrow and have my muffin. You did not allow me to have it today’. Saurabh laughed. ‘ This one is a stubborn little girl’. Saying this he picked her up and held her above his head. She squealed with delight, but asked her father to put her down. He did. As they were about to part at the exit Saurabh said, ‘ Why dont you come tomorrow, around the same time. We can have a cup of coffee together’. Smita was caught unaware. She did not know how to respond. He saw her confusion and said, ‘ Think about it. If you are free and can make it ‘. ‘ Yeah ‘ Smita said, not wanting to commit. Then she shook Riya’s hand and they parted.
That evening Smita went through the motions at home as if in a trance. She smiled and laughed at the right times. Abhijeet did not notice any change in her. But Smita kept thinking all evening about Saurabh’s invitation and whether she should accept it or just not show up.
Only after Abhijeet had made love to her and fallen asleep, she was at last left alone to think about the afternoon. Saurabh and Riya. His kindness mixed with his manliness. His large hands and his disarming smile. His love and caring for his daughter and yet he possesed an animal like magnetism, which could attract any woman. She relived those moments over and over again, when he asked her to join them for coffee. She was in the midst of sleep and wakefulness when Saurabh started caressing her face. Then he looked deep in to her eyes and she could see his hazel brown eyes pierce in to her and touch her soul. Then he embraced her and tightly held her close to his body, his tall broad frame overpowering her and for the first time Smita felt very secure and reassured in someone’s arms. But she woke up and the spell broke. The sun was up and her bedroom was filled with light. After very long she had flown on the wings of the night and travelled in to the sunshine of the morning. Her first thought was to check the time. ‘ How many hours have i left, before i go to the mall and meet them’? There was plenty of hours left for that. She wondered when did she make that decision of meeting Saurabh and Riya once again. Oh ! May be in my sleep she thought. Perhaps that’s why they say, ‘ Sleep it over’.
She got busy with her morning chores, looking at the clock every few minutes. Ultimately it was time to leave. She changed her clothes a few times, wearing different combinations but not feeling satisfied with the way she looked. At last she decided on blue jeans and a simple white shirt.
Then she hurriedly left for the mall, lest the walls of her home guess her secret and discuss her outing with each other.
She came to the mall and straightaway headed for the cafeteria. They were not there. She sat down and waited patiently, not ordering coffee. But there was no sign of them even after an hour. Now with every passing minute she watched herself descend in to a dark hole. Deeper and deeper. It felt as if she was falling in to an abyss. She now understood how desperately she had wanted to meet Saurabh once again. His caress, his embrace, all of it had felt so real, as if it had truly happened between the two of them. The line between reality and dream was beginning to get blurred in her mind. Then a strange thought struck her. ‘Had she really seen Saurabh and Riya yesterday ‘ ? She was no longer sure if seeing them in the cafeteria was real or imagination of her fragmented mind. Was it illusionary ? Had she invented them ? Is it possible that they didn’t exist and she had imagined all of it ? She felt a shiver run through her body. And yet again she felt the same dreading feeling ; Was she was loosing her mind ?