It began on a sunny, March afternoon,
with my English professor remarking
playfully that not a sun, but the full moon
had lit up the sky, when she saw me escape
the dreariness of a structured student life.
We probably took off in a bus to someplace
far away from them – the college, its mean
narrow hearted students and staff. Incompetent
teachers (except her), the snide asides
about my jeans by girls and boys alike
who secretly aspired to be as anglicised
as me while they spewed Marxist
platitudes. The digs flung at our taste
for English Rock instead of Rabindra Sangeet
and even Hindi film songs. Everything
suffocated us. Everything delighted us
in our insularity. They envied our freedom and
hated our nonchalance. With few escape
routes, we often dived into the movie halls
at the Esplanade. That day we watched
Al Pacino making love
to his Italian beauty. The strains of the love
song playing in the background stung
our skins until we shivered in our seats.
With bare pockets and purses, we walked
all the way from Dharmtolla to Cornwallis
street. You were glad to have a girl
who could match your stride. I didn't tell
you that I was walking slower than usual, and
what I really wanted to do was to jump, skip
and hop, which I finally did when I finally
caught the drift of your conversation. What
you had been taking such pains to explain. Surprised
that I had never guessed. Puzzled by this un-girlish
trait. And finally laughing, embarrassedly, you told me
to quit being a grass hopper. Or was it rana tegrina
that you said? Who does that when proposed to?
(Except that this was not marriage. We were
teenagers.) Is that what you thought then, turning
a rich maroon under the sun, as you
watched me? Or did it occur to you later
when you saw couples slow walking their way,
coy and ripe for sex at the same time, meandering
through the city? Years later, when marriage had
made a woman of me, and motherhood hadn’t
managed to slow my pace, I looked back
to that ring-less, flowerless, candy-less afternoon.
The dust of construction debris. The garbage strewn
road. The not holding of hands. The matter-of-fact
admission, though long winded. And the parting
grin, as if we had together pulled off
a successful heist, and were sanguine that no one
would ever catch either us or the loot.
Our confidence that we would
carry on, picking up from where we left with
the same ease and assurance of bears
that have awakened from their winter sleep.
You never wore your wedding ring, because
your finger felt constricted. These days
my thickened fingers follow your example. Our
hands are free. We still don’t lock them
together when we walk, except on one occasion
when I had a bandage on my knee and the stairs
were steep. We still match our strides, a bit
slower now, but as self-assured as before.
Our walking shoes worn thin.
Shikhandin is an Indian writer. Her book of stories, Immoderate Men
, has recently been published by Speaking Tiger Books.