He sits next to me, his right hand rubbing his face, his forehead, eyes, cheeks, stubbleonchin, and then it does not stop but continues onto his right leg. Not a quick furtive motion, as if he does not want people to see what he is doing, but a slow one, all along the length of his thinblackcovered thighs. It continues, again and again, drawing my attention. I look at him directly, willing him to stop, but he ignores my look. No one else stares at him; I think they could not care.
I decide to look at the paper my lap. The words swim before my eyes. I will not cry.
Null and void. Null and void. The words reverberate, hard hammers of truth pounding onto my soft skull. The Metro moves forward, its soft sway plays background effect. My eyes shift from text to man on my side, his hand still moves, up, across and down, regular and rhythmic. I suddenly want to scream but look instead with unseeing eyes up ahead. The eyes stare back.
They are that of a dull woman with wind blown hair caught tight at back in ponytail. The hair stands in shortstraightfingers out from forehead to escape confinement and unhappiness. The face that stares back from the glass is that of an old woman. Deceit is everywhere; even my looks are playing tricks. When did the face change so much?
My mind shatters its image of perennial youth. The lips of the reflection pull down some more.
Null and void, that is why it was decided so. It’s all in my looks. I had blamed him for running away from me into the arms of Malvika Rajkotia. Raj-kutia I called her as a private joke. I did not say it loud though, always maintained my outward sense of propriety. He had called me a wet blanket because of this.
If he only knew what Francis the accountant knew, that I was not a wet blanket, I could be a bright and cheerful companion. Francis called me ‘Madamji’ with a strong emphasis on the D and the I. Rather middle class. In the beginning his manner of address had irritated me but I had let it ride. It was in my nature to let things ride. Maybe that is why… I do not know.
There are so many maybe’s in my life. I keep groping for answers and trying to find my way. Like the Metro. I did not know anything about it till I began solo traveling, without Madhavan holding my hand. He had been doing it all the time, but now had let it go forever. Francis knew this as well. About the letting go. He had begun to distance himself by then. I think he was scared. Now that I was free, I would make demands on him.
No one knew that I was actually not the kind who clung. I forgot Francis. But, I could not forgive Madhavan. Madhavan had committed himself to me long ago, then stripped me of all my independence and flung me out to fly. A young fledgling can do it, but a crone with clipped wings? I was barely getting off the ground.
I see my hands. They are clasped tight on my lap, finding comfort in the hold. The man’s left hand lies flat on his left leg. It does not move at all. The right one continues its journey. I feel like telling him, use the left as well, or stop this. I don’t because he will not understand my words.
I look at his face in the glass now. He is graydryskinned.
Worried eyes meet mine in a disembodied way. “Not interested.”
“Neither am I.”
We are too preoccupied with ourselves, we say to each other. Our lips don’t move.
“The next stop is Shastri Park. Please stand clear of the doors. Doors will open on the right.”
He gets up. His legs shake. Then, he is swallowed into the night. The ghost of his moving hand remains, white, a smoke wisp.
I clear my throat. I feel the need to talk, to say something. There is no one. My eyes sting as they return to the words on the page on my lap.
Null and void. But that is not what is written on the page. They are the words hammered onto my skull.
The paper slides from my lap.
I bend to pick it up.
All I see in front of me are shoes and slippers– black polished, brown dusty, green shimmer, red Reebok, blue laced, maroon one-toed. They laugh and smile, making faces at me.
“We are not interested in you.”
Their cruelty hits me. My tears shimmer and dry, sucked hard down my throat.
“This is Welcome station. Please stand clear of the doors. Doors will open…” As I get off, my image disappears.
The lights are blinding in their welcome.
I hurry towards the escalator and then stop. I have nowhere to go. The ants scurrying home leave me far behind.
The place has no time for delays. A loitering woman is a big question mark. I move again. The coin drops in the meter. The gates open to let me through. I must walk fast if I want to step across.
Uncertain now, my hand moves onto my face. I will it to stop. I am not the man next to me. I am not what he seemed to be.
I watch the young woman in jeans in front, her body certainstraightassured. I follow suit.
“The train for Rithala is arriving on Platform No. 2.” I think I’ll buy the ticket for this ride. There is some comfort in the sway of the train, in the reflection of a face with windblown hair. The rest is null and void.
I check my wings. They’ll hold for some time.
© ABHA IYENGAR 2010