A girl stops her bike in front of a photocopy shop on a really dirty, busy street on a rainy day. Eyes turn to check her out just as she inadvertently steps on dog poo. Some smirk, others laugh out right, and many just wait in suspense. What will she do? She curses under her breath and tries to clean her slipper as best as she can and proceeds to the copier. She tells him what she wants. He agrees. She’s feeling hungry. It’s long past breakfast time and there has been little breakfast in the day. She sees a bakery next door where he is selling hot tea. She excuses herself saying she wants a cup of tea and that she will be back in a few minutes.
At the bakery she decides she needs a smoke as well. She gets her tea and she lights up her smoke and let’s her mind drift. Anything to escape the filth on the road.
It has been a rough day already, and the day hasn’t even begun yet. In the class she attends, she’s had to beg her mates for notes they were reluctant to share. It bothers her a lot; she had even cried thinking about the number of classes she had to miss because she was sick. And she is struggling still to make sense of a foreign language and having to beg for someone’s notes almost desperately. She is upset with the attitude even as she tries to justify it to herself. They don’t know her. Her attendance has been sporadic at best. You can’t really blame them. But.
Would she have done the same? She knows she wouldn’t have. So she starts a random game in her head. Would her friend F have behaved like that? Not at all. C? No way. A? Are you kidding me! G? No, there would be instructions though on what to do and how to return it and all that sort of thing and she’d have had to roll her eyes. M? No, but M would repeat that she wants it back till the girl would chide her for being a nag. And then they’d both laugh. V? She’d say, ‘Here, beauty’ and just hand it over. P? She’d probably have made copies already. If they were friends then they’d be for her to use. Otherwise it would be part of P’s planning and studying. And she would share.
There are some good men and women in her life. She is thankful.
It is a beautiful day, her pain has eased. Her heart is lighter remembering the people who matter and thinking about conversations filled with comfort and love. She is feeling reassured about her relationships with her men. It is a peaceful, easy feeling.
She finishes her tea and smoke conscious of the stares and the leers. She ignores them all.
For now, she is all about herself. Complete within herself. She can still do all that she planned to do. Mere setbacks will not stop her from getting what she wants. Stupid people with their dumb attitudes certainly won’t. She’s happy. She’s resolute. It’s a good re-beginning.
She goes into the shop again. The middle-aged, pot-bellied man who runs the shop is suddenly very friendly.
“Sit, ma.” He says.
She smiles and thanks him and sits on the chair. “Do you want tea or coffee?”
She is surprised, but she answers, “Thank you. No, I just had tea.”
“You could have come inside and smoked, ma, no need to have stood outside.”
“Oh! I didn’t know that, anyway that doesn’t matter now.”
“So you smoke everyday?”
She is beginning to get just a little annoyed and her good mood is beginning to turn a little red at the edges. “No, once a while.”
“Oh. One pack a day?”
“No, once a while.”
“Oho all the while.”
“No. Once. In. A. While.” This time the tone is sharp – diamonds that can cut.
He is quiet for a while. Then, “Are you married?”
She stares at him for a long time before answering and finally decides to speak the truth. “No.”
He smiles at her. She doesn’t smile back. He is finally done. He hands over the papers and she hands him the money. All in silence. He says, “What’s your name?”
The lie comes practiced and easy. “Pooja.”
He says, “Pooja, give me your number.”
She looks him over and says mockingly, “Why?”
He begins to blabber – “Just, I do bulk orders and I can call you.”
So she says, “Sweetie, then I will come here. Why do you need my number for that?”
The tone is that of a merciless Queen talking down to an erring foot-servant who is about to face the guillotine.
He has learnt his place.
He says, “Sorry.”
But she is pissed now.
She says, “Just because you saw me smoke one cigarette you think I am friendly. You are wrong, you know, very wrong.”
There’s a hint of menace and threat in the words and faint mockery.
He feels small. It shows in his body language.
He has shrunk, he is cringing. “No, not like that. I am sorry.”
She doesn’t dignify the apology with an answer. She walks away to her bike.
At the institute they are frantic. No one has her number. No one is sure if she will ever turn up again. What if she is the notorious notes nabber everyone has heard about? They heave a sigh when they see her.
She thanks the girl who shared the notes. She is very polite to the girl. The others want to ask her about her work. She answers. She is extremely sweet, almost shy. They all stare at her. She wonders if she should join them and continue to play the charade. But she is bored already by their stares and questions. And again she thanks the girl who shared the notes, more politely than before. Her entire body conveys her gratitude. They continue to stare. She says ‘bye’. She walks away.
But she is smiling thinking of the men and women she loves. She has found new reasons to appreciate them. She thinks of new ways to do that and the look on her face turns gamine.
It is a good day. She has a song playing in her head where a man is described as having Alexandrite Eyes. It turns her on and even the murky road doesn’t stop her from smiling. She looks at the sky and thinks again that it’s a beautiful day.