Thursday, April 16, 2009

That one moment

“Excuse Me”


The lady blocking the way moved away slightly and he could check out the B rack now. He liked this place. A lot of books both new & used and both types were available on discount. As usual he surveyed the place around. There was this lady he had just passed on his left checking out books on the A rack. There was no one to his right. He continued to scan the books on the B rack. Nothing interesting caught his eye. He moved on to the C rack.


He scanned the place around again. He did this most times. What he looked for or what he wished to see wasn’t clear to him. But it was something he did. He walked to the parallel isle. There was no one there. Just a pile of books. He walked to the other isle parallel to it. There was a man checking out some books there. He just walked back to the first isle he came from.


No book was interesting him today. He didn’t know what he felt like reading for the next couple of days. He just stared at the collections hoping something would interest him. But nothing did. Finally he walked away towards a section that he always visited whenever he visited this bookstore. Once he had seen a girl quietly checking the books under this section. Occasionally she looked around to confirm if no one was looking towards her. He had seen her there & knew what kind of books she was going through, but he ignored it. The section was clearly titled “Erotic”. He looked around again. Scanned the place & pulled a book from the rack & browsed through it. He always thought why people got really conscious of checking the books under this section. He too felt uncomfortable being there for too long. Although he visited this section every time he visited the bookstore he never really bought anything from that section. Somehow he couldn’t get himself to really like anything in the first place & even if he did he couldn’t gather enough guts to take it to the cash counter. What he was uncomfortable about was not the cash counter staff but the other customers who could see what he had picked up.


The section as usual had a variety of books on erotica and sex. He was always attracted to the big books in this section. One reason being they had excellent paper quality & the other because it had nice pictures. Actually everytime he saw a new big book he invariably picked it out. Most of these books were on the Kama Sutra. He didn’t like Kama Sutra very much. The sketches in those books didn’t really excite him. But then, wait a minute….there is something else today next to the Kama Sutra book…. This book was big, really big. For a big book the cover was very simple. It was called ‘The playmate Book’. He pulled it out. It was difficult but he eventually managed it.


Holding the book in his hands he randomly opened to a particular page, what he saw stunned him. Although he was expecting it, he didn’t quite fathom what could be in it. He immediately closed the book & looked around. There was no one around. It was strangely less crowded that day. His heart beat loudly & his hand slightly trembled. He was confused. He couldn’t decide if he should put the book back in the rack or take a look at a few more pages. He decided to check out a few more pages. It was not like he handn’t seen these pictures earlier. He had seen them & he had also watched movies. But that was a private thing. May be sometimes in the company of his friends. But this was a very public thing now. All around him were people he didn’t know. If they got to know what he was looking at what would they think about him. Thoughts rushed to his mind.


The pictures were awesome. The book itself was a great one. He tried to figure out the cost of the book. On the back cover he saw the price tag. Rs 1500. The price didn’t seem too high for him. He was trying to reason with himself about buying this book. According to him it was priceless. He looked for some more details of what this book is all about. He soon learnt that the book was the compilation of all the playmates that had posed nude for the famous US magazine Playboy. It contained all the snaps from its first issue right up to the December issue of 2004. Simply this was a collector’s issue. He too had sometime thought of laying his hands on the Playboy magazine. But it wasn’t available around wherever he checked.


Unable to decide he put the book back in the rack. He felt relieved. He tried to relax. He scanned the place around again. There was no one. He saw a tiny book on erotica. He picked it up. Now he was just acting. He tried to look normal. Tried to look as if he was attempting to read a few lines in that book. But that wasn’t the case. His mind was still on the big book. His heart & mind raced. He knew he had to buy it. He pulled the big book out again. He looked on the back cover to confirm the price again. It still read Rs 1500. He wondered could this book be only worth Rs 1500. What if he took the book to the cash counter & they charged him much higher for it. But that was generally not the case. Whatever cost was put on the book was the cost. He scanned the place again. Nobody. What should he do now? He had to take a decision & walk out of the place. But what if somebody sees him with that book. What if there is someone at the cash counter. He held the books – both the big one & the small one and walked out. Right outside the entrance to the first floor of the book store was a Security guard. He usually doubled up as the person who was authorized to collect the bags & helmets of the customers & locked it up behind him in one of the baggage lockers. He handed over the keys of the locker to the security. The security opened it & gave him his helmet.


He looked down at the stairs he had to climb down to go to the billing counter. He could see there was another security sitting at the bottom of the stairs. He paused. He held the books close to his body & held the helmet in such a way that the books were not completely visible. He began to descend. The security sitting down looked up at him for a moment and then he turned away. There was a rush of feelings in his head at this moment. He finally descended. The security was seated in front of him. He had to go left & enter the ground floor to go to the billing counter. To his right were a few more stairs. If he descended them he would be on the road. In that confused moment, he decided to step down those stairs. Once down he began to walk away. He still had the books in his hand. He expected the security to stop him. But he didn’t hear anything. He continued to walk. His heart raced. He couldn’t believe what he had done. He had a book worth Rs 1500 & another worth Rs 65 in his hands and he hadn’t paid for it. He was just walking away from the store. Nobody seemed to be coming after him. But he walked faster. He just wanted to go out of sight before the bookstore people realized.


It was a wet evening. It had drizzled for a while & it seemed that it would pick up again. In that confused state, he walked faster & faster. In the rush of thoughts he decided to take a left. Why left? He didn’t know. Probably it was to get on to another road. He wondered what if someone had seen him. He thought of the consequences. May be someone was following him now. Would they beat him up? Would they hand him over to the police? God so many things could happen.


He walked more & faster. Somewhere along he stopped by at a petty shop selling cigarettes & asked for a carry bag. It had started to drizzle steadily and he was worried the books would get wet & spoilt. There was no carry bag with the shopkeeper. Disappointed he continued to walk. He was carrying a big white book of Playboy. It was not wrapped, not in a carry bag. It was in his hand. What if someone he knew bumped into him and what if they asked him what was that he was holding.


He slowed down. He stopped. He looked around. No one was running towards him. There were many people & nobody seemed to be giving him undue extra attention. He calmed down a bit. He pulled out his hand kerchief and wiped off the drops of water on the book & then on his face. He continued to walk but he was slower now.


He began to introspect. Although what he had done was something he could brag about to his friends. He didn’t feel very nice inside. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the money to buy this book. He had done it more out of the extra rush of blood to his head. He was excited that he had picked up a good book, but the thought of taking the book to the counter made it all the more heard pounding for him & in the rush of emotions he did something he completely wouldn’t if he had been in his normal senses. Now he was far away from the shop. Nobody had followed him even. Probably nobody had realized it yet. He could get away with it. But then what about the guilt? He felt he couldn’t live with it.


He took a right turn. The road he got on to was the same road that had the shop. As he walked he contemplated the idea of going back to the billing counter as if nothing happened. Producing the two books to them & paying for it. But then what if someone was outside waiting for him, what if the security guy got a feel of what had happened. What if he rushed inside to the billing counter & said, “I saw this guy leaving with these books earlier, now he is coming back to pay for it”


He was walking and he was getting closer to the shop. Probably he could just say that there was some emergency & he in the process forgot to get it billed & now had returned to pay up. Would that argument hold strong. It could, however may be it wouldn’t either.


He approached the shop. The security guy was still sitting on the seat lazily. He didn’t seem to get alert or anything when he saw him. He climbed the stairs & walked inside towards the billing counter. There was no one inside there. A sales girl was some distance away and a guy was behind the billing counter. Both of them looked very normal. They didn’t react in any other way other than to smile & get busy with the billing. This calmed him down. It was a clear indication that nobody from the store had yet figured that something was stolen a few minutes back. However they did notice one thing.


Both the books were wet on the covers. The billing guy seemed to wonder how it was wet. He started looking for a cloth to clean it & seeing this, the sales girl approached to help. His heard started to beat faster again. He hoped the rain drops on the books are not going to give him in. The girl took a piece of cloth & started to wipe off the droplets of rain water on the cover of the two books. It was pretty clear what those two books were about, but no one seemed to be too bothered about it, the girl included.


The billing guy wrote out the bill & he handed over a card to pay for it. As he waited for the receipt to come out of the machine, the billing guy yet again looked at the book on all sides & wondered aloud, “how did this get wet”. But then, the receipt came out & he put the book down & proceeded to tear the receipt off and gave it to him to sign. He hurriedly signed it. The girl had meantime put both the books into a carry bag.


He collected the bag & said a thank you. He turned & walked out. He closed his eyes & took a deep breadth. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A girl walked in to the bus (Part 3)

His eyes were closed. His face had turned towards her. He looked like he was having a good sleep. She had only turned to take a glance. She knew she obviously couldn’t stare in to the face for long. What if he noticed it? What would he think?

The travelers on the left side of the bus, especially those occupying the window seats were looking out. She could also see some visuals of what was going on. The bus had stopped for about 5 minutes, practically no where. The commotions outside made her think it was a puncture.

She realized she had a disturbed sort of sleep after the tender coconut she had. Was it because of the tender coconut, she wondered and immediately dismissed it because she knew that tender coconut was good for the body & it always helped her.

She moved the curtains on her side of the window & looked out. It was pitch dark outside. Every few seconds a vehicle would pass by & it was then that she noticed that beyond the road there was a vast arid ground. She sighed & hoped that the puncture would get repaired early & they would get moving again. She then put her hands on the handle on the front seat & got into the same position she had described to this boy some time back. She put her head down on it & turned towards the window. But there was nothing much she could see. She could see a slight reflection of hers on it, but not very clearly. She then turned to the opposite side. He still continued to sleep in the same position. She looked at his face & kept looking for a moment longer. She liked his face. He had short hair and probably a day old beard. What she did seem to register was that he had nice long eye lashes. Now that was not normal in a boy she thought. She tried to think hard if she knew anyone who had similar kind of lashes. She couldn’t think of anyone.

Just about then, the boy turned & got into a straighter position. She relaxed in hers & closed her eyes a bit. With her eyes closed she could hear the lady from the back seat ask “what happened. Why have we stopped here?” The male sitting next to her replied very softly, “It’s a puncture”

She sat back on her seat & stretched her legs well below the seat in front. It relaxed her. Now slowly more people were waking up & some of them were starting to get off the bus. It was when a slightly heavy man was trying to get off that the boy woke up. The man had touched the boy’s shoulders on his way out.

The boy woke up & registered that the bus was not moving. A man in one of the front seats was standing up & combing his hair with his fingers. He then looked left & saw 3 to 4 men all looking down. One of them was smoking. He seemed to get the hint. He then checked the time & looked right. The girl was sleeping. After shuffling uncomfortably in his seat for some more time, he decided to get a first glance of what was happening. He stepped out.

The bus driver & conductor were preparing to change the tyre. The other passengers who had got off were all looking at them do the job. A few had a normal & sleepy look. While others seemed upset about the break. One guy was smiling & typing away on his mobile.

The girl got down from the bus & walked towards him. He noticed that & smiled at her. She smiled back. The air outside was cold, not very but just enough to want a nice jacket or a shawl around you. The girl had her hands folded. The boy had his in his pockets. Both were looking at the work happening in front of them. They were not exactly next to each other. They were some distance away.

He looked around. The bus was in a nowhere sort of place. There were a couple of trees along that road. None close by to where the bus had stopped. A little distance away he saw some light & a couple of cars parked outside. It seemed like a shack selling some tea. He saw a couple of them from the bus headed there & that kind of confirmed it. The girl seemed to have noticed it too.

“How long is it going to take”, somebody asked the conductor who was fetching another tool from the bag. “Atleast another 20 minutes” he said without looking up.

The boy began to walk & looked at the girl. “Want some tea”, he asked her.


“Yeah. I think we’ll get there”, he said pointing at the shack further down.

“Umm. Not sure. Not at this hour. But I think I’ll come along. Is that fine”


They began to walk there. She still had her hands folded & he had them in the pockets.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A girl walked in to the bus (Part 2)

“Excuse Me”, “Excuse Me”. He woke up. The girl was looking at him. “The bus has stopped for a break. I just wanted to step out. Could you excuse me please?”


“Sorry I woke you up” she said.

“Its OK. Actually I am sorry. Hope you didn’t have to struggle to wake me up”

“No. Not at all” she said & began to walk away towards the door. He sat down on his seat & looked at his watch. It was 2 AM. He thought he could do with some fresh air as well and stepped out. The bus had stopped at some hotel. There were at least 4 other buses there. Even at that hour people were grabbing themselves something to eat. He walked to some isolated place away from the hotel & relieved himself.

When he walked back to the bus, he saw the girl. She was drinking a tender coconut. He noticed that she looked confident. He liked that. A girl traveling alone, talking comfortably to a complete stranger, stepping out in the night, drinking tender coconut, it was all very nice.

He stopped at the entrance of the bus & looked around. The girl was paying the tender coconut vendor, there were a couple of other folks near by smoking or drinking tea from tiny plastic glasses. He suddenly wondered if the girl smoked. Now, why was he thinking like that he asked himself. He shook his head a couple of times & tried to get such nonsense thoughts off his head. The girl was walking up to the bus.

“Hi”, he said & smiled.

“Hi”, she replied. “Its actually warm out here, No. The AC in the bus is set pretty high I guess”

“Yeah, think so. But between AC & no AC, I prefer AC”, he said.

“Me too, actually. Shall we get in, or you staying out” she asked him.

“No lets get in. I think I see the driver coming over as well”

Once they were settled in the seat, the girl once again stared out of the window for quite a while. He noticed it & sat quietly. A couple of moments later a beggar stood out side her window. He seemed to be staring at the bus & especially at the spot where they were sitting. The girl seemed to get conscious of that & looked away from the window.

“You know once”, she started to speak to him, “sorry hope I am not disturbing you”

“No not at all. Please go on”, he advised

“Once I was traveling in a friend’s car. We were on our way to Lonavla I think. We had stopped like this on some highway dhaba for some tea. I was sitting in the car at the window & I had put my head down like this…”. She then went on to enact the posture she was sitting in. She put her hands on the handle on the front seat & put her head on it & turned right facing the window. She stayed in that position like that for a couple of seconds. “…I was sitting like this & before I knew I felt drowsy & closed my eyes. There was no one in the car; all my friends were outside drinking tea. They were a little away from the car. Suddenly I feel someone touching my hands. You know for a few seconds I thought it must be one of my friends and slowly opened my eyes. When my eyes were wide open & I registered the view in front of me, I was shit scared & I screamed. It was a monkey”

“Oh Shit”, he said, the look on his face was also of shock. “God. That must have been scary.”

“Scary? It was shit scary. I screamed & screamed. I had a hand bag near by & I took that to shoo it away. Only when it was away from the window did I breathe easy”. She paused for breath & continued, “the worst part is none of my friends could hear me scream. They walked in like as if everything was normal. I was so mad, you know…God…”

“Some Adventure that huh”. She smirked & shook her head.

The bus started off again.

“So you watched the entire film?” He asked her.

“No yeah. I slept pretty early. How about you?”

“I slept early too”.

The bus was on the highway again & the driver shut off the lights. It was dark inside & both the boy & girl sat in silence for the next many minutes.

“No yeah” she had said.

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