“Alisha, what’s wrong with you? Wake up! Wake up NOW.”
That’s Misha’s voice, my younger sister. As I open my eyes, I’m at my home, my alarm beeping loud enough to wake up everyone in the building but me. Misha’s on the bed next to mine, covering her ears with her pillow, getting cranky and screaming her lungs out at me. It’s 6 in the morning, and last night, I’d decided to go for a morning walk today. Misha had laughed at me the very minute I told her and twitted me about how I cannot do it. That’s why I wanted to, even more. There’s no joy in the world that can compare to the one you get when you prove people wrong. It’s like The Joy. I’m a little overweight, but that’s how I’ve always been. My friends would pull my cheeks and call me names, and ask me not to wear certain clothes because they didn’t look good on me because of my size, but I didn’t care until now.
Yesterday I’d been out with some of my friends, more like mere acquaintances, and I was walking past a store with glass doors and windows -- all fancy, and I happened to see my own reflection there. I didn’t look good but I wanted to. And that’s when I realized I needed to work on myself. So I set an alarm for the morning, and decided with all my heart that I had to get in shape, not for anyone else but me. I love myself for just what I am, you see, but improvements never hurt anyone.
Right now, I dismiss my alarm and still am lying in the bed, contemplating if I really need to wake up and go jog. It’s winter, and my blanket is more comfortable than it has ever been, and I know that if I don’t get up in a minute or two, I’ll fall back asleep. I think of postponing my plan, but then I see Misha on the next bed, snoring and sleeping peacefully, and I know if I don’t wake up, she’ll mock me even more than yesterday because she would be proven right and she would get The Joy, and I really hate when anybody mocks me for being lazy, which is true, but still. So after a lot of thought, I finally wake up, still half-heartedly. I can feel the unwillingness in my bones.
I take my toothbrush and go to the washroom. There’s a full sized mirror in there, I’d gotten it customized when we had first moved in here, around five years ago. I brush my teeth and put the toothbrush on the sink, and look at myself in the mirror. I see myself head to toe, every detail. My hair’s all messed up considering the fact that I’ve just woken up. The patch beneath my eyes is a shade or two darker than my chubby cheeks, and I remember how everyone tells me to get enough sleep to lessen it, but what they don’t understand is sleep evades me. There are a thousand things running on in my mind, it’s difficult to shut everything and actually sleep. I can lie in the bed for infinite time, thinking and scrutinizing, but sleeping is tough. Most of the nights, I’m up until 4 or 5, just thinking. People ask me to get ‘human’ sleeping patterns. I laugh. Moving on, my lips are pale, almost dry. I touch them and the tip of my finger feels itched. I run my tongue over my lips, but they’re still dry. My neck has always been darker than my face, I don’t know why. I see myself wearing a plaid pyjama and a black coloured full sleeves t-shirt. I put my hands over my waist, and breathe in, and look at myself again. Turning to the side, I again breathe in, my belly still a little out. I have to work on myself. I rub my hands on each other, and then over my face. I tie my hair, change my pyjama, and get my earphones and put on my shoes, and finally leave the house.
It’s a chilly morning, and as I climb down the stairs, I see a group of children waiting at the gate of the building. They’re all wearing the same school uniform, except for one girl. But all of them are wearing the same sweater. They wave at me, and I smile and wave back. I sigh a little, and I can see my breath. Damn, it’s cold.
I plug my earphones in and start my playlist. It’s completely full of Imagine Dragons’ songs; they’re my favourite band. I don’t really remember how and when I first heard them, it’s just suddenly one day I realized I have a lot of their songs and I happen to like them. So I searched even more, and every song I came across felt like a missing part of my soul. Each song with a deep meaning, incomprehensible by a lot of people.
I start walking without a direction, but it is fast enough to make me shed a kilo or two, because that’s what I am sacrificing my sleep for. My town isn’t really very big, and I almost know everyone that stays around, by face. I’m really bad with names, so whenever people come talk to me, I respond to whatever they say, but don’t initiate any conversation on my own because how am I even supposed to talk to someone without taking their name to say hello first? It’s silly, I know, but I always have been this way. So even when I’m walking right now, a bald man in his mid-forties comes to me and greets me a good morning. He stays in the C wing of my building, I know that, but I don’t remember his name. So I talk to him for a bit and keep walking.
I get bored of walking on the street, so I go to a jogging track that’s a little far from my house. Polaroid keeps playing in my earphones and I start stretching for a bit as my laziness hasn’t still left my body. I still have to psyche myself up for a good, weight-shedding walk, so I just stand on the track, staring at it, tilting my head and with a soulful look in my eyes, almost dreary.
“I can’t imagine losing my sleep just to come here to stare at the path.” A deep voice behind me says, startling me. I don’t instantly turn back, as I have my doubts. What if he was talking to someone else, and I respond stupidly, making a fool out of myself? I take a moment to look back, and within that moment, thousands of thoughts run across my mind, the first one being that I really liked the voice. A part of me feels ridiculed, one stranger said one sentence and I’m not even sure it was to me, and here I am liking the sound of their voice. Simply stupid. The second thought that’s a bit harsh says that he should be minding his own damn business, what I do or do not do is none of his concern, but I don’t say that out loud. That’s the thing about me. I cannot be rude to people. I can hate them all I want, but I cannot just say it to their face. Another thought that surfaces is that I don’t even really want to turn back and look at him and talk to him, that’s for two reasons. One, what if his face isn’t as good as his voice? I don’t want to be disappointed, but what I don’t understand is I’m disappointing myself even now, thinking this stupid thought. And two, I don’t want to talk to any new person so early in the morning. I don’t really like conversing with even people that I know, why should I waste a few minutes of a perfectly good albeit a little chilly and I-have-unwillingly-gotten-up morning talking to a person I’d never even see again? Little did I know. . .
I finally turn back and sense him standing right behind me, so I don’t directly look at his face. Instead I look down at his shoes, blue and black, a little muddy. As I start looking up, I see his sweatpants, his wide, masculine, really attractive chest hidden under the jacket he’s wearing, his hands - carrying a water bottle, and finally his face. The first thing I notice about his face are his eyes, they’re really little. They’re beautiful. He’s wearing glasses and the voice I had heard about a minute ago so corresponds with this thing that’s standing before me. I’m just in the moment, it’s dangerously struck me and I find myself unable to utter even one single damn word. I just raise my eyebrows as to respond and ask if it’s me who he is talking to, and then I hear his magical deep voice again.
“Well yeah, I saw you standing here for the past couple of minutes just looking at the track, so I thought of asking you if you had any intentions to walk or run. You could’ve slept really peacefully otherwise, instead of coming out in this chilly, silly, stupid morning.” He says, forming creases on his forehead and his eyes getting even smaller than they already are, and oh my God. I giggle in my mind over chilly-silly.
I think I was destined to meet you.
I just realize the words that I think in my mind and it bewilders me, what’s wrong with me? For God’s sake I don’t even know the guy. In Hazel Grace’s words, he could be an axe murderer. And I’m thinking about destiny. That’s so not me. I want to give a perfect reply to him, this time using words. So I breathe in and say, “Yes, I could’ve. But I really wanted to walk.” Perfect reply, eh? The inner Alisha laughs at me.
“I’m Sameer, by the way.” He thrusts out his hand, hoping for a handshake.
“Alisha.” I say and nod, not shaking hands with him, I don’t know what got into me.
He looks a little embarrassed, looks at me and his hand, and I suddenly realize I should shake hands with him and so I do, and both of us smile awkwardly. What the hell am I doing?
“Want to, uh, walk together?” He asks me, forming those creases again, this time smiling genuinely. I almost hate everyone I meet, and he is the first person whom I’ve not hated in the first five minutes of meeting, so I think, why not?
“Sure,” I say and nod, “yeah.” Why am I nodding so much? I realize I should stop, and so I grab the back of my neck because I guess my brain is not sending correct orders to the rest of me.
I look at him up and down again once before we start walking, I just want to. The first lap we walk, he’s a lot faster than me. I already have started panting and the muscles in my legs below the knee seem to have tightened, making it rather difficult to continue walking in that pace.
“First day?” He asks me, to which I nod again. “Walk a little slower then, don’t strain yourself so much on the first day, or you’ll not want to come from tomorrow.” He smirks, but how can I not want to come again, knowing he’s going to be here. I sigh and smile too, and start walking a little slower than before, and he slows down with me which I think is really sweet. We walk for three more laps, and he asks me to sit on one of the benches as I look tired, which I am. He says he’ll run a couple of rounds and join me back. I oblige.
I go sit, and see him start running, well, jogging. I keep looking at him as he goes farther away, and then disappears. I keep thinking about the last half an hour of my life, and what has taken me over, what has gotten into me. It isn’t that it was love at first sight or something. I just feel something weird and nice and powerful, a connection to name it. I wonder if he feels it too. I wonder if this feeling will fade away, or will stick by right with me until my very last moments.
He appears from the other side again, and signals me that he’s going to run another round, and I simply blink in response, as if saying a yes. I don’t feel cold anymore, the temperature is still as low, but I think I’ve had the time to adjust. I rub my palms over each other and run it over my face, that’s just something I always do, and realize that the tip of nose is still cold. I remember how when I used to go to the school in winters, this used to happen almost every day, and Misha and my mom and I used to laugh our hearts out on the same nose-joke every day, every year until it stopped. I don’t want to think of sad things, I actually feel good today in forever, because I met Sameer today, and I don’t want memories of the past to haunt me and clasp me today. I don’t want to fall into its clutches, as they take me to the Dark Place in my mind and today, I feel brighter after a long night.
The reason why I’m calling it the Dark Place and not the dark place is because it’s a ground full of bad memories and sadness and grief. I’d read a book called Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, which also is a movie, by the way, and she had used it somehow and that had really struck a chord with me. Speaking of which, I always have wanted to write a book. But I never found anything worth writing about. So many things happening around me, so many people with so many stories inside them, and still I didn’t feel like anything or anyone was worthy enough that I’d write about them. I also didn’t want to write about sad stuff, yes, it’s really appealing and people relate very much to it, but I don’t know any sadness except the Dark Place and it’s really scary for me. So I never wrote about it; never even told anyone. And I’d read somewhere, ‘The bigger the issue, the smaller you write.’ So I really had given up on the idea of writing about my Dark Place. Also, writing a book requires dedication and consistency, and I had neither of it, nor did I feel like I was deep enough to write anything that people will actually want to read, or will stick by with them. I had started a lot of times, well, I’d at least tried, but I just couldn’t weave words to resonate them into something meaningful. I felt I wrote rubbish.
As I’m lost in my thoughts, I see Sameer coming towards me. I get up and smile at him, and he doesn’t, rendering me feeling stupid. Instead, he just comes up to me and asks me, “What do you keep thinking so much about?” I’m flabbergasted at such a question and it takes me a few seconds to process it.
“Why do you ask?” I counter question him, the surprise clearly visible on my face, I guess.
“I passed through here two times after I told you I’d run a round more, and both the times, you were so lost in your thoughts, it seemed like you lost touch with what’s happening around you.” He simply stated the fact, and I knew it was true because I know I zone out many times even during the day. It was just my thing, and I’m too lazy to zone back in so it takes a few moments to persuade myself to come back to what’s real. And it would just happen, with no real or coherent reason, so I don’t have any answer to give to Sameer. So I decide to stay mum, like I’ve done for the most of the time that we’ve been together. He guesses that maybe he got a little personal, so he apologizes and says that he didn’t mean to intrude. I say that’s fine, but still am partly lost in my own world, thinking about nothing in particular, just losing myself in incoherency.
As we are about to leave, he asks me if I’d like to have tea. I bite my lower lip, and breathe a little deeper, realizing the tip of my nose is still a little colder. So I agree.
“There’s this place I go to for tea, almost every day. It serves the best tea in the world.” He looks excited. I smile, and we start walking again, a casual walk with conversations.
“So, Alisha. What do you do?” As these words escape his mouth, I feel my heartbeats race. The connection, you see. This has never happened to me before.
“Well, I’m a teacher. I work at a study abroad institute, and am involved in a little admin work, but mostly, the emphasis of my work is on teaching English, IELTS to be more specific.” I say a complete sentence and instantly feel proud of myself.
“Wow, that’s something.” He smiles.
“What about you?” I ask, almost feeling liable to ask him the same question in return.
“Sasha and Joe’s. It’s a restaurant and I’m one of the three partners, but I’m a dormant one, so don’t really have to participate in any work. I usually play guitar, and read books, oh I love reading.”
“So no job?”
“Perks of having a rich father and an elder brother.” He winks.
I instantly think of him as a spoiled brat, living off his father’s money, doing nothing significant in life and spending time and money as if it’s nothing. I regret my decision of walking with him, and talking to him, and now, agreeing to have tea with him. The connection, I bet he has had this connection with hundreds of women before me, and will have with hundreds of them after me. Why did I have to like him at all?
Soon enough, we reach this place he loves and while walking and talking to him, based on my opinion, I’d assumed he’d take me to some rich people place, the one I’d not be able to afford, but now that we reach there, I see it’s just a shack, with one man doing all the work. I’d not expected this, and it actually relieves me that this supposed brat might have a human side. A part of me also changes my opinion and thinks that maybe I judged him a little too fast, I don’t know him at all except for what he’s told me. I decide that I won’t conclude anything, and let time do its work.
We order two cutting chai’s, and sit on a wooden bench that’s so fragile, that it seems would break. “Tell me something about you then,” he says, “you seem deep.” I’m spellbound because of his straightforwardness, how easily he says what he’s thinking. “What’s Alisha’s story?”
“I don’t know about that,” I say, “but I think a lot. Maybe that’s what made you think that.”
“Maybe. What do you think about?”
“A lot of things. Life, love, friendships, daily chores, and a million other things. Why do you ask?” I ask him, realizing how I’m answering all of his questions with ease, without thinking twice about whether or not I should say something. I don’t have to think if I’ll say something inappropriate, or if this even was the answer he was looking for. I just say.
He looks at me for a minute and smiles, as if thinking something. It makes me wonder how someone can do that for a person like me. I’m shallow, and pathetic, and have a very low opinion of myself, but I love myself too. Complete paradox, you see. And it makes me feel weird and happy and confused at the same time, weird being the dominant of all.
I raise my eyebrows, anticipating an answer but he just smiles and turns his head from side to side, as if saying a no. His smile is nice. Only nice. I’m not even exaggerating. He takes off his glasses and hangs them in his t-shirt, as he sees our tea coming.
We remain silent for about five minutes, and it gets a little awkward, but he makes no effort of lessening it, so I guess it’s my turn to say something now. My thoughts race and think about what to say. I am really bad at this, I know. Conversing with people has always been a weakness, certified conversation killer, if you will. So I look here and there, and try to search for a topic to talk about.
“So, Sameer --” He cuts me, and thank God he does because I didn’t know what I would say after his name. “Call me Sam.”
Okay, so now I’m supposed to call him Sam but what do I say to Sam?
“Oh, okay, Sam. Where do you stay?” I mumble, words barely escaping my mouth and feeling inexplicably embarrassed. Why the hell can’t I say something coherent for once?
“Just a block away. And I bet you don’t stay in the neighbourhood or else I’d have known you, at least by face. I can’t remember people’s names. It’s very annoying.” He says.
“Oh my God, it’s the same with me. Remembering names is a challenge, I tell you!” I exclaim a little louder, getting excited.
“Oh, yes. And you were, uh--?” He says, pretending not remembering my name and I playfully punch him on his arm. It’s firm. Why did I have to do that? I instantly regret and withdraw my hand, feeling a little awkward.
“Heh. I remember your name of course, Alisha.” He smiles and looks at me, and takes the first sip of his tea. Oh, oh my.
He asks me if I’m going to continue walking every day, or today was enough of an escapade to me. I ask him if he comes every day, to which he says he does, but it gets boring to wake up and come out so early all by himself, but no matter how unwillingly, he does come, and he says so should I. So, we decide to meet 6.30 every morning at the gate of the track, and walk together every day. Seems like a plan!
Once we’re done with the tea, he pays and we start walking again. He’s a lot taller than me, I barely reach his shoulder. I like him. It’s almost 8 and people have started going to work and the day has started, and people have come out and the street is now getting busy. I tell Sam I’ll see him the next morning. He side-hugs me, but I feel almost enveloped in him because he is that big, but it feels nice. Everything’s just nice, plain. I start walking towards my building, but he calls me from behind.
“It was really, really nice meeting you.” He says, running his fingers through his hair, smiling from the left end of his lips. “I’ll see you.”
“You too.” I whisper, but he doesn’t hear it as he’s left by then.
There’s this unexplainable feeling in my heart, things have suddenly started to seem better than ever. Today is going to be a good day, I say to myself and I realize that it’s the first time I’ve ever said such a thing and that makes me happier than I was a few moments ago. This guy’s got something. I just keep walking till I reach my place. As I open the door with my keys, I hear my phone notify me of something, but I’m not in the mood of people right now, because I’ve experienced something extraordinary this morning. It’s not that I haven’t had boyfriends before, but this guy is something different. I want to meet him again, and I will. Calm down, my dear, dear heart!
I go in and wake Misha up, and once she’s finally up, I tell her about Sam. She’s seeing the difference in me and tells me that she’s happy that I’m happy, and we dance on the bed with no music put on. Typical sister stuff. Then we go off to our own respective lives, but what I don’t know is how much our lives are going to change from this point.
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