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The Girl Next To Me
By Dee Kay & Roy
There is something special in everyone yet the lack of self-belief often tend to send one’s thoughts in a spiral. I look around only to find people passing harsh judgment on others even before getting to know them. Why is it that we always hate when someone judges us even though we don’t take even a second to judge someone else? These are just random thoughts wandering in this beautiful mind of mine as I take a seat near the window in this empty bus.
The bee-like buzzing at the bus terminal was loud enough to snatch me out of my thoughts with the occasional scream of someone calling out another person. The petty vendors would hop onto a crowded bus to try their luck at selling their products while few who would come into my bus only to leave immediately. I could have gone on the bus leaving at this moment but I prefer the less crowded ones as it lets me have a window seat as well as allows me to buy the ticket in advance.
I continued staring at the hustling and bustling in the terminal while the bus started seeing some new faces. I turned to look in the bus as many strangers tried to figure out which window seat to sit while couple of families tried to organize their members to take a particular seat where the kids jumped towards the window only for the mom to make them sit in their laps. Occasionally, a kid would turn to look at me with a little confused look as I usually would pass a smile at them. The seats were finally almost full except the one next to mine.
Then a young woman climbed up the bus stairs as she stopped in the front to search for an empty seat. She calmly adjusted the strand of hair falling on her face before her eyes came on me and the empty seat next to me. For a moment, we made eye contact only for me to restlessly turning away from her stares. I could see her walking towards me from the corners of my sight as my heart began to throb within. It’s not that I had a love at first sight scenario rather I would have preferred a male co-passenger as then I won’t have to worry about our bodies mistakenly getting in contact but now I am worried.
She reached the seat and stood right next to it while I shifted a little more towards the window to the point where I was pressing against that side of the bus. She sat down slowly and got her phone out. I took a deep breath and decided to relax as more people poured into the bus. Only when the bus was full to its capacity that the conductor and driver decided to add a few more just to make sure we only have enough space for the air to barely pass through. Due to the extra souls on the bus, the aisle area was cramped to the level where people standing were almost pushing the seated ones to the sides.
That only meant the girl sitting next to me was primarily pushed towards me and to make matters worse I had already shifted to the edge that now the only left was out of the window. The bus blows the horns to mark the beginning of the journey as I took a deep breath as now the windows would let in some much-needed breeze of fresh air that doesn’t stink of sweat. The conductor began to make this way around the bus giving tickets to everyone. As he approached our seat and I reached into the pockets to retrieve the already bought ticket of mine.
“Chandigarh…”, the girl next to me spoke in a soft voice as she gave him the money while waiting for him to cut the ticket for her destination. She was looking at the conductor so was I but my eyes would often trace back on her. She is quite beautiful and I need to stop myself from staring at her. I feel like such a creep. The conductor gave her the ticket and the change as he looked at me waving my ticket like a 5 years old kid. He went ahead while I tried to place the ticket back into the pocket of my jeans. As I tried to do so I mistakenly elbowed her and as soon as our skin touched a sheer horror looked came on my face.
I wanted to say sorry but I just couldn’t utter the word as she stared at me in what could be described as pure anger. I bit my tongue and gave her a sorry look but she was expecting a verbal confirmation of it. I too wanted to say it but there are things which I really don’t want the world to know about me so I just turned towards the window and prayed that she could simply ignore it. It’s really weird for humans to sense someone’s stares without even looking at the person staring. I guess as spiderman says, ‘my spidey senses could feel something was wrong.’
“Excuse me..”, she said in a frustrated voice while I didn’t even dare to look towards her.
After a couple of minutes of me looking at the road and people, I thought I was out of treacherous water so I could relax a little but just then the phone began to ring. I completely fell like the universe was playing a practical joke on me as I turn to get the phone out of the pocket I could see her shaking her head. I looked at the screen and it was my mom so I disconnected the call and messaged her that I will call once I reach back. I don’t know why but when I was putting the phone back in the pocket I gave her an awkward smile which I could feel she did not appreciate a bit.
I didn’t turn to look at her for the rest of the journey not because I didn’t want to but mostly cause I knew I would end up doing something really stupid like pass another smile. The bus roared on the national highway without missing a single pothole or bump while racing on high speed. If the ride wasn’t uncomfortable enough there were kids crying their lungs out, me acting like a weirdo, and the girl next to me thinking of me as a pervert. The bus finally reached Chandigarh and everyone began to descend out while the girl was still seated. She finally decided to get up and before leaving she said,
“Sorry isn’t that hard of a word to say.”
I just couldn’t even muster the courage to look at her so forget about saying anything. I felt really bad for her as well as me. She left while I somehow pushed myself out of the seat. With my head held low, I travel back to my apartment then spoke to my mom. The next few days passed on as I resumed normalcy while occasionally the thought about the bus ride would cross my mind. The office wasn’t any different as my boss was trying his best to make our lives as miserable as possible; he succeeded.
“Excuse me, Rudra..”, I heard a soft voice from behind me as I sat in my cubicle. I turned and it was one of my co-worker from the department.
“Can you please help me with a presentation as the client is waiting in the conference room?”, Sakshi politely asked to which I just smiled and nodded. We jump-start the laptop and got into how to show the slides and everything. Then we went into the conference room where the client was already there. She said hello to everyone while I just nodded towards them as we began to set up everything. I stood near the laptop while she was on the other side ready to give the presentation. Just then the door opened and to my utter shock the girl from the bus ride came in while checking her phone.
I just hope she doesn’t remember anything or maybe I could be invisible for a day. I held my head low as to hide from her when my boss introduced us to everyone. As he came to me and everyone’s gaze came on me I could feel her stares getting intensified. Her name was Vani Mehta and she was heading the meeting for the client which only meant we had to do our best to impress her. My co-worker began the presentation when Vani spoke.
“Let him give the presentation!”
I could sense the instant panic in my boss as well as the co-worker while I stood there frozen. The boss tried to make some excuse but she was adamant so he cave-in under the pressure as this deal was really important for the company. Sakshi and I interchanged our position and while I was passing her by she whispered “All the best”. I wish she knew that I would need more than just her wishes.
“Hhheello…”, I somehow managed to say.
“I..I..I..I… I am… Ru..Rud…Rudra……”, I could feel the whole conference out silent like a graveyard at night while the stares were more than just stares.
“To..To..Today… We a..a..are…”, I was struggling to get out the words as the stutter worse when I am in a situation like these. I could hear the whispering under their breath. My heard was pounding while the ounce of self-confidence that I had was taking a hammering.
“Quiet everyone..”, I heard Vani speak out as I somehow looked towards her. She leaned in towards the table as she gave me a nod to carry on. I really wanted to run away from this room and away from all these people but then she smiled and said,
“Carry on Mr. Rudra…”
There were numerous reasons for me to just let Sakshi take over but the small gesture of Vani was reason enough for me to take a stand so I continued the presentation. Even though there were bits where I was struggling to pronounce the words or even get the whole word out I just looked at her as she constantly gave me nods and smiles as if there were no one else in that room. I stammered my way through the rest of the presentation with her providing me the much-needed strength to carry on.
“Th..Th..Tha…That…That’s all… Tha..Tha..Tha…Thank… You…”, I concluded the presentation somehow as I looked at everyone. My boss shook his head which made me lower my head again. I wish I could make him understand that I wasn’t doing this on purpose. I wish he could understand that I never asked for this rather I had to play with the cards I was dealt.
Suddenly, I heard someone clap and before I could even look at the person clapping I heard more people joining in. I looked up to find Vani standing and clapping as the rest of them joined in. Sakshi came towards me as she held me. I had failed to notice the tear that made its way out innocently. There are more to a person than their flaws and sometimes its easier to judge a person before getting to know their part of the story. I looked at Vani and said an inaudible, ‘Thank you’. She just gave me a nod and smiled.
I guess at times broken words can’t speak the emotions which a small smile and a nod can say. Vani came towards me as she shook my hand while my boss kept looking at me with surprise. Finally, I was able to let out a smile as I wipe that tear off. I know that people like Vani are rare but then they are more than enough for me to believe in myself and the beauty of this world. Some people might judge you wrong initially but they also put in the effort to rectify themselves once they get to know the story. I might not be able to speak like normal people but I do feel emotions same as them so I guess next time when we see someone like me we can all try to be Vani for a pleasant change.
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