He was not sure what he was doing there on a holiday. But when he saw her, he knew why he was there. He wasnt able to see her clearly from where he was standing. But the sight of a woman immersed in a conversation with a child and occasionally drifting to watch the lashing waves, captivated his attention.
He had resisted the CSR initiative of helping the flood wrecked village for a long time. His mind was occupied with too much work to think of nature's distress. And anyway every fortnight a contingent went there. His presence or absence would not matter. But, this week with his family away and his secretary thrusting the initiative down his throat, he had no choice. His secretary had the perseverance to nag him, inspite of his frowns.
The drive was about four hours and he was glad he didnt join the office gang in van. At forty he wasnt able relate with the younger crowd and probably they also felt stifled in his presence. After four hours of crazy traffic, quiet roads, peaceful coastline he arrived at the community centre. Suddenly he was transformed to a different world with children buzzing, waves lashing at a distance, women teaching aloud, men doing obscure tasks. This was not the world in office, with insecurities brimming, coffee corners reserved for office gossips and tensions. Here everyone seemed to have a purpose, even if the purpose meant something like teaching basics to children.
After loitering around and waiting for someone to guide him, he went to the quiet corner outside the thatched classroom. The lady inside was shouting alphabets and the children joined her either in giggles or loud reciprocation. It was then he saw her at a distance. Her blue saree camouflaged by the blue waters and skies. The child was in full attention, may be occasionally smiling. He walked towards her and when he came near, her face seemed familiar. She looked up slowly when the toothless kid grinned at him. How did kids manage the spontaneous warmth? She stood up, smiled and thrust her hand and said something about working in his team. In his team!! He never saw her. But in a pool of faces, may be he missed spotting her. He usually noticed the loud ones and the ones that barged in his office with some fancy reports. Numbers intrigued him more than people.
She told him about teaching the kids, her weekly sojourn here, that she was having a break with the toothless one, who required little more attention. He left her with the kid, with her words slowly sinking in. Something about her kept pulling him back to her. But, he did not want to disturb her moment with the child. It also seemed she didnt want him around there for a long time. He turned one more time, to again see the blues merging with blue skies. He noticed the skin beyond the blues and calm eyes talking to the kid.
That night, he saw her again. This time in jeans and a loose shirt, chatting with other people in office. He noticed everything about her, her slow munches, her occasional smile, drifting eyes, her eyes never seemed to have a direction, they were just moving about aimlessly. Then she saw him, gave a smile and went back to the conversation. She was may be in her thirties. But, she floated in every age group. He didnt understand how he missed spotting her in office. May be she was too subtle and quiet for people to notice her. After dinner, he went to the shores, watching the moon gleam like crystal in the black and dark waters. Suddenly, he felt her beside her. She said usually this spot was reserved for her and she was surprised seeing him here. She didnt think, he was a person who would enjoy nature and peace. He smirked and said that he was just standing there and yes now that she told him, he noticed the gleaming moon. They then sat down as though the weight of conversation and standing pulled them to the sands. The mild breeze touched him, and her tresses. Without makeup and in a plain shirt and jeans, completely lost in a conversation... An hour drifted by. She suddenly flashed her watch and said bed time. See you tommorrow and walked away. Unlike the other people in office, who would have clung to this moment, trying to impress him with their work skills, she just didnt seem to care. May be her nonchalance attracted him. He felt like the college guy who fell in love with the teacher. So incongruent and yet so beautiful.
Next day, he synched with the crowd, doing some errands and somewhere waiting for her. By evening, everyone was ready to move back to the city and the van waited at a distance for the entire crowd to pool. She was standing there, her hair fastened in a neat pony, backpack, in jeans talking to some guy from his team. He felt the guy was trying to impress her. On impulse, he walked in their direction and asked them about van and when they were leaving etc., He talked to the guy only. He didnt want to be very obvious about his feelings. But then, suddenly she asked him which part of town he stayed and whether she could pile on because the van would take some more time to start. He didnt ask her what was the hurry but simply kept her backpack in the car and drove the car away from the community centre.
He was never that impulsive with people, especially women. But with her he was losing a sense of rationality. Soon, the car was zooming past the quiet coastline. He asked her about her work, she told him she was working for more than a year. Her parents? They were in a town. Treading slowly to marriage. She smiled and said met someone, parents havent approved. Thats why she hasnt moved out of the job. Sudden pang of jealously flashed and he realised that she was content waiting for someone who probably would never be hers. Nevertheless, he felt this moment belonged to them and no one could snatch her presence from him. Entire journey passed in silence and occasional smiles. He never realised life could pass through such moments of peace, with a person so content and happy with silence.
When he dropped her, he was waiting for her. She introduced him and then profusely thanked him and drifted away in the traffic. He watched her become a speck in the crowd and holding the guy's hand in the midst of traffic chaos. Tapping the steering wheel and looking at the watch, he smiled, another eighteeen hours and office beckons.