Story : The One

~Paramendra Bhagat~Paramendra Bhagat

She looked like the one. He met her on a boring Saturday afternoon after having been online a few hours. The crowd had dispersed. She asked a few questions, and he answered best he could. That had happened before to him. He would talk to someone, and have a nice time talking, and nothing would come out of it. He had been feeling stuck for a while. But she kept walking with him. He did not ask for her number. And when he got back, he hoped he would bump into her again. And he did not. That worried him. But then he had been through that routine before. What’s one more time, he thought. And then he bumped into her and asked her if she would like to go to the performance with her, to watch. And she sounded unsure. I guess, she said. She did not have other plans for the evening. He did not have a nice time. He did not have to talk in the dark and later the noise, but he could tell she was feeling uneasy. She said aftewards he did not have to walk her to her place. And he thought that was the end of it. The next time he saw her, she was with her friends. He did not remember having seen the other girls before. And he thought she might not even recognize him, but she did. Other girls waited for her, and then she went back to join them.

He thought she was just being nice to him. And so he forgot about it. But then one day he decided to call her. He looked her number up in the phone book. She was not at her place, so she left her a message. He was not sure she might remember his name. And so he was nervous the next time he saw her. She came over to say she had gotten the message. He asked her if he could call again, and she said yes. He asked for a time, and she said she should be in for most of the evening which was only a few hours away. So he prepared to call her, and then he called her. He was trying to see if they had common interests. And she seemed to be able to talk about a lot of things. So he was not sure if that meant she was just well-informed, or that they had found some common ground.

Just then he thought he would ask her out again before she said it was time for her to get off the phone. Sometimes people have work to do late in the evening, he thought. And she said she already had plans for the weekend. But that he could come along with her and her friends. And he did not know what to make of it, but said yes, that it would be fun. And he did not know what they would be doing, and he thought it was too late to ask. But then, on her own, she told him they were going hiking. And he said he liked hiking, that he used to go hiking with his dad, and later with his elder brother. He said he was pretty good at it, and then realized he should not have said that. Most people can hike just fine, he thought. Why did he have to make an ass of himself, he thought. But she did not seem to mind.

She introduced him to her friends. And there was this one guy in the group. And he thought maybe the guy was going out with one of the girls. But it was not obvious who. He kept admiring the scenery. And the other guy seemed to be on pretty good terms with her. They must be good friends, he thought. But he did not ask. It was not his place to ask, he thought. Everyone else in the group knew everyone else, it seemed. He will probably look even more out of place if he asked, he thought. Plus, the girl did not seem to be in any mood to talk about such things. And he had come to have a nice time, not to cause discomfot, especially not to her.

You really are good, she said. He had kept a sturdy pace up the slopes. He did not tire easily. But others rested often. Even the guy stopped often. But he might have been tired, or he just liked to talk. It was hard to tell.

She was nice to him. He started to feel comfortable. Someone cracked a joke, and he laughed out loud, and the girl looked at him in a nice way.

When they got back, he thanked her. He said he had had a nice time. So you used to go hiking with your dad, she asked. By then her friends had all dispersed. I don’t much like to talk about my dad, you know, he said, he passed away a long time ago. And before she could say she was sorry, or something like that, he quickly added that it was okay she said what she said, no big deal really. It was a long time back anyway. Plus that he had a nice family. He loved them, and they loved him. And that meant a lot to him. He was surprised she was paying so much attention to him.

And then he was about to leave. But then he looked at her and asked about her friends. She talked briefly about each of them. And he did not know what to make of it.

He did not know what to say next. He was about to leave again, but then he realized if he did, he might not see her again for a few days or more. But he left anyway.

The next time he saw her, she was with her friends again. She did not see him. And so he kept walking. But then, another time, she saw him, and walked towards him. She looked more friendly than usual. And he talked about the weather. She asked him what he had been doing lately. And he said he read a lot, that he liked to read a lot. His father taught him early on how to read, and it caught on, I guess, he said. He said he would rather read than do many other things. She asked him if he read fast, and he said, not particularly. It is just that he liked to spend a lot of time reading. She asked if he read certain kinds of books. And he said he read most of everything, but that he liked to read novels once in a while. He also liked to read ancient history, he said.

And while they were talking, they were walking, and he did not realize they had been walking a while. And he asked her what she liked to do when she had time on her hands. And she said she liked to hang out with her friends a lot, and that she listened to a lot of music. She mentioned some musicians he had not heard of. But that was okay, he thought. And that guy friend of hers came along out of nowhere. And she was standing close to him when talking to that friend in passing, and he thought, maybe they are not going out after all, not that it was any of his business if they were.

Are you guys going out, he asked. She said no, they were not. And he was glad he had asked, because he was starting to feel they had talked so many times, and he was starting to feel comfortable. He did not have to prepare to meet her anymore. But he still was not sure she sensed where he was coming from. He had had thoughts of getting steady with her, or someone like her, but he had not figured out how to broach the topic. So he kept with whatever conversations came along. He felt happy when he was with her. He read perhaps a few less books than usual these days, he noticed, but he thought it was worth it. I can always read books later on, on my own time, he thought. She made him feel comfortable around her, and he was thankful for that.

And one day she asked him about his friends. And he said, oh, he forgot to mention, but there was Dick who went to high school with him, but had stayed back in the town. He has a lot of family in that town, you know, he said. When he goes home, he visits with him each time, he said. That is my closest friend, he said. Everyone deserves to have a friend like Dick, he said with some emotion.

She was going away for summer. He learned that first from others, and then she told him herself. And he was not sure what that meant to him. When she is gone, he will probably read a bunch more books, he thought. But he will probably miss talking to her. He liked her enough that he had told Dick about her, how nice she was and stuff, how easy it was to talk to her. And Dick had said maybe he was in love, and he had protested. We are not in love, we just spend some time together, and she asks me about my books, he had said loud and clear. But he did not tell her about that conversation with Dick. He did not know what she would make of it. What if she did not think that was funny? That would not be nice, he thought.

And then one day she must have seen him running, because she later asked him about it, and he said once in a while he liked to run long distances, kept his head clear, besides he enjoyed the breeze immensely.

And then she was gone for summer. Before she left she told him, she was hoping to have a nice time. When she got back, he bumped into her. She said hello. She asked how he had been. He had been just fine. He did not think it would make sense to ask her about her summer, because he had not asked even before she left, and now it was already over.

They never really arranged to meet. So he did not see her much for a week or two. And he decided to call her. He asked if she would like to go for some coffee. And she said she was not really big on coffee, but they could go out for a drink, and he said he would appreciate that. So they went out, and she got herself a soft drink.

She looked like she was eager to hear what he had to say. And he thought this was as good a time as any, and although Dick had not exactly been accurate, he would have liked to think in terms of a relationship with her. He was surprised how easy it was for him to tell her what he wanted to say. He started out by saying he liked her. And she listened without interrupting. And he said that he meant to say more than he had before. That he wanted to express his feelings. That she made him feel really good, and that it was always so wonderful to be with her.

And she started to look a little confused. He did not understand why. And then she spoke. She said she thought he was a wonderful person, kind, and that he was so different from many people she had come to know, and that she had really liked the friendship. She said she understood what he was trying to get at, and that was such a relief for him to hear her say that. And she had a few times thought of him as possibly more than a friend, but then she had met somebody that summer. And that guy and her were going to try and keep at it long distance. And he was grateful she had taken the time to say all that. She could have briefly said she was not interested. But she was so nice about it. She had gone on in great detail. So it was not just him, he thought, she had also kind of liked him before. And he liked the feeling.

I am sorry if I made you feel comfortable by bringing this up, he said, and she said he did not have to worry about that. That it was okay. And I hope this is not the end of us, she said. The friendship otherwise had been too good, she said. But, she said, she realized it was unrealistic to assume things will be the same. And that confused him. He would have been happy to go to the way things were before, getting to spend time with her. But it did not work out that way. She had been right after all, he thought. Things started changing little by little.

October 3, 2002

(Source : Parmendra Bhagat’s Blog )

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