The first thing she noticed when she entered the office was him, everyday. She felt protective towards him. There was a sadness in him that she couldn't quite place. He was very intelligent, writing about books in a weekly column, that went from Roman History to Megasthenes to the other great rulers of the past. She found it terribly enlightening and also a little scary, to hold all the information inside one's head. She wondered about the thoughts in his mind when he was by himself. He sat directly opposite her and only a partition separated them. When he got up to go to the loo, she could see him from the corner of her eye and wondered if he was looking at her. She forced herself not to look up at him because then he would know that she was checking him out. So she waited to look at him as he walked away, when she was out of his sight but he was not yet out of hers.
They talked sometimes and her words seemed to spring from a part that was not her, that was more intelligent and more perceptive than she believed herself capable of. The other day, she saw him get up and arrange his things because he was getting ready to go home. He stared at his computer for a second and then, looking very serious, he switched off his computer and turned to leave. Just then, she asked him, "What do you ponder so hard, standing there, before going home every day?"
He stopped, startled, and turned: "Me?"
"Ah-huh! You stand there and look at the computer."
He laughed. He found it very funny, her observing him like that, when he was just waiting for the computer to shut down.
"Oh, I think about the untrustworthiness of womankind," he said and smiled.
"I wouldn't know about that," she said. "I have never been with a woman."
And they both laughed. And she was certain a gap had opened where none existed before.
The next day, he said hi to her and she waved back. She had taken special care to dress up that morning. Her skin was smooth and she felt light. She wished she would be held by him and their lips would meet. Sometimes she dreamt about that. Their lips meeting and he pressing down on her softly, his weight a sensation of such serene pleasure, she would wake up with a grimness she knew would last through the day.
She wondered what she should do to approach him. She felt it was for the guy to initiate the matter. But what did he feel for her, she wondered. Was he being flirtatious when he said he found women untrustworthy, challenging her to prove him wrong? She doubted he would say all that for any such reason. He was just being glib.
She told Naina, her childhood friend, about him, and Naina laughed at her shyness. "Just go and tell him, you fool," she admonished.
So, on the second Monday after she last spoke to him, she went up to him after the office had cleared and said, "I like you." All evening the weight of expectation had disoriented her and she felt she was floating above everyone else. It was an unpleasant sensation and she wondered if she should call the whole thing off. But she had pined too long and that other pain, slow and not sharp, was no less exasperating.
He looked at her, his eyes wide, and said softly: "What?"
"Well, I like you," she answered. "I have liked you for some time." She suddenly felt very brave as though she could accept anything at all. Everything that she had ever suppressed could come tumbling out, propriety be damned. If I was gay, I would accept that now too, she thought to herself and laughed at how weird that sounded.
"That's strange," he said. "I would have never guessed."
"And nothing. I don't know what to say. I guess I like you too."
She felt suddenly deflated, as though some dynamic energy was being sapped out of her. Is that all you can manage, she wondered, and it struck her that maybe he had never looked at her like that. Yes, that's possible, she thought and felt tired, and also a little ashamed.
"I guess I will go now," she said, and he nodded, and his nod was a gesture of such lovable simplicity that she wanted to move over and kiss him. Perhaps her eyes conveyed her wish and he looked down.
She turned and walked towards the cafeteria. She filled her glass with chilled water from the cooler and sat down at one of the tables. She tried hard to feel bad for herself, but she only felt stunned. How can such a connection be one-sided, she wondered, and downed the water in one large gulp.
She watched him walk to the loo and he was looking down, as he always did while walking. Often a light smile played on his lips but today he was withdrawn. Am I really in love with him, she asked herself, or merely with his face, his smile? He was not handsome, but there was a spark to him that she attributed to his quiet masculinity.
She came out of the cafeteria and walked out of the office. Her heart felt heavy and she did not know how to deal with that. She thought life was worth living and dealing with, but this new sensation was weighing down on her in a way she thought would change her outlook. She may begin to have her doubts about life, she thought.
She walked up to her car in the parking and eyed with longing his car that was parked some distance away. She heard footsteps behind her but decided to ignore them. She didn't feel like doing much and wondered if she should go back and get herself a cigarette. Absent-mindedly, she searched for her car keys in her purse.
"Hello again," he said.
She turned around and found him beaming at her.
"I just wanted to say sorry for behaving like a jerk inside. Thank you for saying what you said inside. But I have a girlfriend."
She heard his words as though from very far, and she took her time registering them. He is not declining me, she told herself, there is someone else.
"Oh, how nice," she said. "Whats' her name?"
"Geetika," he said. "She works at India Week."
She thought she had heard that name, but wasn't sure. "Ok," she said, and didn't know what more to say.
"I am sorry," he said, "but..."
"Oh that's fine, fine," she said emphatically and surprised herself. I must defend this, she told herself.
"I guess I will see you tomorrow."
"Yes, yes and have a good ...day," she stopped herself.
He smiled that heartbreaking smile of his and turned around. And then again she found herself standing in the darkness, cold and bereft.
She got inside the car and put the keys inside the ignition.