He boarded the Metro at the Rajiv Chowk Metro Station. He was retuning home after seeing a friend. He felt not himself. A cloud of expectation hung above him. It was about her. With every passing day, he felt the absence of her presence from his moments more and more keenly. He saw a bunch of young boys board the train. They were very young, about 21 or so, and looked like any other Delhi youngster. Their hair rose in the middle in a symmetrical nod to anti-gravity that paid obeisance to some obscure god of fashion. Their hands were ringed by black beads that were dying to appear goth but were merely faux-religious. The boys had beads of perspiration lining their foreheads. They smelled of energy and looked restless in an appealing way. He found himself thinking of them as his children, their future, how lovely this age is, one discovering new ways of being. He wished she was by his side. He wanted to whisper in her ears the joys of raising a child who looks for you in a crowd, and then grows up to be an adolescent who runs away from you at all times. The joys of parenting. It was both wonderful and different to be thinking this. Just a few weeks ago, he would have eyed the same bunch and reminisced about his own adolescence. People and places took him back, until some time ago. Now he imagined them partaking in his life and settling into the home that he and she would build. Now it was all about the future.
He rested his head against the glass and closed his eyes. The train whizzed past the urban sprawl of Delhi with the sophisticated lady on auto-record asking you every five minutes to "mind the gap". Such politeness, he thought to himself. Men and women of all hues entered and left this space, and he would likely not see any of them again. It was strange. One passed moments of closeness for but a few minutes and then went ahead not just on his way but with his life. And all this was all right. It was how things were. The train halted at Mayur Vihar Extension and he saw a woman enter the compartment, jostling for space. "There is no space. My God! See," she said to her husband. She looked around for what he imagined was solace and when her eyes met his, he smiled at her broadly. She took a moment to register that he was not an acquaintance and then smiled back, in a way that was both unsure and grateful. He looked away for a bit, feeling the splendour of relief he imagined he had brought her. It was very subtle. The flyover outside rose and dropped in his gleaming eyes. He looked back at her. She was talking to her husband. I will not have this moment again with her, he told himself. Should I be grateful this instance for giving me this joy, or should I seek more, something similar with others? He was bounded by a rationality he sometimes found prohibiting, and wanted to touch some chord of human interaction that was both deep and flighty, so that it could form a casket of experience that would last him for some time. He waited.
The train reached Noida Sector 15 station. The compartment grew empty. People who had been standing found seats. Nearly everyone was listening to music. Some were resting with eyes closed. People all, he thought to himself. There was a watchman who carried a notebook that looked like it contained the entries of those who had visited the premises he guarded. There was a lady in a FabIndia dress who looked like she was waiting for a call that would define her tasks for the day. There was a salesman who wore a worried brow and sent frantic messages on his mobile. All strangers. Yet all vessels of moments that he could generate with them. He found himself strange. He was not like this earlier. He was not hungry. Now he was. He felt the need to define himself not in terms of one love, or one connection. He saw himself as a bunker where people's angst could be released. He was so hungry it showed in his eyes.
His thoughts returned to her. He did not want to possess her emotionally. He felt a gap in his love when he compared it with the received wisdom on love. He could be the perfect partner, for all purposes, he could be the perfect partner, yet he had a commitment to others. A baby on the opposite bench looked at him and chuckled. I have to be there for him, he told himself, and smiled. The baby looked elsewhere. I can love her, I can be with her, but I have to be around, he told himself. He was not sure who he wanted to be around for, but just at this moment, with the train reaching Noida City Centre, he knew he had to be around for the people in this compartment, on the station, in the lift, at the food counter below, those exiting the station, and the rest of them, the vast, unnumbered rest of them. I have to be there, he told himself, as he pointed to a woman whose dupatta was grazing the floor. She set it right but ignored him.
He heaved a sigh of weightiness and left the compartment.