Her eyes searched every approaching form carefully until she was sure it wasn’t him.
In the beginning, he always arrived soon after dark, walked up fast, quickly thrust a note in her hand and grabbed the paper bundle she held out to him.
He would be gone as fast as he had come. “He’s afraid, ” she used to think and it almost made her scorn him.
She soon discovered that it wasn’t so easy to scorn him. He was ruggedly handsome and, after a couple of weeks, learned to saunter up as casually as one of the locals, quietly pocket the bundle and lazily walk off.
One day, as she watched him walk off, she discovered that she was in love with him. She liked his graceful walk, his deep brown eyes and the way his long hair danced in the wind.
She had never seen him smile but she was sure it would be a nice, warm smile. He did have a nice, warm smile and once it had made him very popular but now he rarely smiled because he had almost become a loner.
One day he had suddenly woken up to the fact that every influence in his life had corrupted him, doomed him beyond redemption. He had found intoxication the only way to dispel the smell of disaster that hung about him. Now he avoided the people who eagerly rushed to make his acquaintance. Somewhere between the booze and the grass he had found a happiness that could not be shared.
He did not have to go far for it, either. He could buy the booze in his colony and the grass in the neighbouring slum. He now drank and smoked pot all night, fell asleep at the break of dawn and woke up after the sun went down.
After some time, he started turning up later then usual. At first, she was worried about him. The worry sprang out of her impatience to see him. She was accustomed to seeing him soon after dark and though he turned up everyday without fail, she hated waiting for him. Their daily transaction had become a lover’s tryst for the poor love-starved girl.
Then one night, before she was aware of it, she asked him, “Why are you so late nowadays?” He was startled. They had never exchanged a word before. Even she was surprised by her boldness. Embarrassed, she averted her face. She did not watch him go.
Later when she thought about it, she grew quite angry. She had asked him a civil question and he had embarrassed her. Why couldn’t he have answered her?
May be he thought she was socially below him because he lived in the colony and she in the slums. “So what?” she muttered defiantly as she snatched the note a buyer held out to her, almost scaring him. At least, she didn’t smoke that awful stuff herself, she informed the man’s fast retreating back.
The next evening, however, she combed her hair and tied it with a ribbon and scrubbed her face until it felt like the skin had come off. When she saw him coming, she smoothed her dress quickly and smiled at him.
He looked very tired, she thought as she looked into his eyes. He didn’t even notice her as he pocketed the grass and walked away.
That night she couldn’t sleep for a long time. She kept thinking about the vague, lost look she had seen in his eyes. She knew that look. She had seen it in eyes that belonged to burnt-out pot smokers.
She knew that people like that could only go down. “Why does he have to smoke so much?” she thought as tears filled her eyes and stole down her grubby cheeks.
The next evening when he came up with the money in his hands, she was ready. “It’s finished,” she told him. He stood there confused, for a moment. Then he walked away. She didn’t know that her father had seen what had happened.
When she got a belting at night, she wondered for a moment whether she was going crazy doing something like that for somebody who was only vaguely aware of her existence. “I shouldn’t care about him, I shouldn’t,” she sobbed into the worn out mattress, all the while pathetically aware that she couldn’t stop caring about him.
She didn’t see him for a week after that. Night after night she stood in the semi-dark ally, pocketing money and handing out paper bundles under the watchful eye of the lonesome moon.
Her eyes searched every approaching form carefully until she was sure it wasn’t him. She became an automaton, performing her task mechanically while her mind refused to focus on anything but the memory of him.
When she ate, she wondered whether he was eating properly. When she bathed, she remembered the nice, clean smell she had smelled on him. When she combed her hair, she could almost see his defiant hair in the mirror. Every now and then tears would fill up her eyes and steal down the cheeks, but try as she would, she couldn’t get him out of her mind.
One evening, standing in the alley, she had a sudden thought that he could be buying grass from somewhere else. She was immediately afraid. Now she wouldn’t know how much he was smoking, she thought as she tried to subdue the wild beating of her panic-stricken heart. And then she saw him.
He sauntered upto her as casually as always but this time here was a hungry look in his eyes and he kept biting his lips. He bought four big packets of grass, all the while making tiny impatient gestures.
A drop fell on his hand as he was taking the bundles from her hand and he looked up. He was surprised to see she was quietly crying.
Without knowing what he was doing, he put his hand out and wiped the wetness from her cheeks. Then he turned around and slowly walked away.
He didn’t show up again. She waited a week for him before she slit her wrists with her father’s rusted old razor.
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2003).
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