I needed to clear my head. You were messing with it so bad my hands were shaking with, I didn’t know what, excitement?! I was nervous as if it were my first time, or as if you were a very important client and I needed to perform well. But it was a good sort of excitement, like how you get when you first make out with someone. BUT, that wasn’t the case then. I was only going to shampoo your hair and give you a cut. But that seemingly simple act had taken on an intimacy that I had never experienced before. This wasn’t right, what I was feeling.
So I gestured to one of my colleagues to rescue me. He grimaced. He had bout 15 minutes free till his next client came, and in our profession, we’re pretty much on our feet almost the whole day. Stamina is a prerequisite in this line of work. A few minutes of rest are a rare luxury.
“Ketan bhai, please, I need to take a loo break…”, I lied to him and made a puppy face (Yes, we guys make puppy faces too). He sighed and dragged his heels over to where we were.
To you I said, “He’ll give you a wash, and I’ll give you the cut”, and I smiled apologetically because I know clients hate the idea of being handled by someone else when you’ve already established the semblance of a rapport with another stylist. Thank God, my boss wasn’t around then or he’d have given me hell.
I could tell you didn’t like the idea. There was a faint crinkling on the sides of your button nose that told me we had that rapport developed. YES! My inner self jumped with joy. And just as soon I felt deflated. This isn’t right, I told myself again. I half-jogged to the kitchenette. I needed caffeine to shake this stupor off. And I could tell you had your eyes on me the whole time till while I was walking towards that room. If you were Superman, you’d have bored through that wall with your x-ray vision, but in hindsight, I think it’s a good thing you don’t have super powers. I can’t imagine the things you could do if you had them.
In the kitchenette, I got the coffee maker started and tried to calm myself down by mindlessly thumbing through a magazine. A colleague came in and smiled at me, “You’re holding the magazine upside down, buddy”, she laughed at me knowingly. Then, “What’s screwing with your head… or rather… who is?”
“I don’t know…”, I smiled sheepishly at her and she barked a laugh at me and made her exit. I poured myself that freshly brewed coffee and had almost put the cup to my lips when my phone began to buzz (we stylists aren’t allowed to keep our phones on anything but in silent mode). And there was the reason why this wasn’t right, my girlfriend!
I hesitated. Why? Was I feeling guilty? Maybe. But the fact that I hesitated told me that I needed to sort things out with you. I took the call.
“Hi…”, I said simply. We had stopped doing the sappy ‘janu’, ‘honey’, ‘baby’, ‘sugar’ thing a loooong time back. They’re all overrated anyway. Ours was a love jaded, frayed, coming apart, and it was only a matter of time when she and I, mostly I, would call it quits. We had only been waiting, clinging onto each other out of sheer faithfulness… and habit.
“Busy?”, she asked in an irritated tone. She got irritated so soon these days.
“Yes, kind of. Why? Something important?”, I enquired, mirroring her irritation.
Silence for a few seconds at the other end. Then, “I think you forgot it’s my parent’s anniversary today. We’re having dinner at their place at 8!”
“Yeah, I did. Sorry…”, I sighed out of frustration. Why we put up a facade for the sake of her parents was beyond me but apparently it mattered to her that we did, right until when we broke up. So I played.
Another silence. An angry one, I sensed. “You were supposed to get the cake. Did you forget to place an order for that too?”
I didn’t say anything.
“I can’t believe this!!! How can you be so forgetful… no, careless?!”, she thundered over the phone while I stared at the cup of coffee on the counter that read, ‘patience is a virtue’. Well, fuck patience.
“Well they’re not my parents, Suhana. They’re yours and you should be doing this, not me. I have a job too! You’re not the only one with a busy life…. Besides, I think they’ll be happier if I don’t show up. How long has it been since they’ve been trying to get rid of me?”, I asked her rhetorically, flashing back to those times when her folks had made it clear that I wasn’t a welcome match for their overqualified engineer daughter.
“That’s not the case and you know it! They love you like a son….”
“Oh, they damn well don’t!” I exhaled sharply and I think she sensed the justified irritation in my voice because she brought down her voice a notch and pleaded with me, “Just be there, please. You can do that at least?”
I rolled my eyes. I took my time but eventually I said, “Yeah okay, I’ll be there.” And I just hung up. Without a goodbye. I hated that but that’s how we had gotten.
It’s sad how relationships get when love’s gone out of them and you still need to stay on. It feels like a hollowed out tree, eaten away inside by years of decay and infestation. A diseased, deceased thing, waiting for the exterior that’s been holding it together to finally crumble into dust.
I gathered myself, threw the coffee into the sink (it was cold anyway) and headed out. You were back in the styling chair where we had began. Your hair smelled of lavender and vanilla and God, you looked fantastic in wet hair! It was as if the episode in the kitchenette never happened. I felt oddly invigorated. Odd yes, considering it had only been 39 minutes since we had met. Yes, I was keeping time, because I wanted to know just how much of it was left before my next appointment came up.
I smiled at you again and you beamed at me. I said sorry and you said it’s fine, and all this while you were again, watching me like a cat, no wait, kitten. Sounds cuter.
And then your phone rang. You mouthed ‘sorry’ as you rummaged in your pocket again and I waited to catch another glimpse of that tattoo you had, but you got up so suddenly off that chair that it thumped in response. Obviously, it was an unwanted call. You picked it up and spoke in a hushed, hurried tone, “Yeah…. I’m fine… No, really, I’m okay…”
Were you not-okay? I was just standing there like an idiot, trying my best not to eavesdrop on your conversation but it was like my body was hyper-tuned to everything you did.
“Yesssss… I told you!…” You were making bored faces. You didn’t want the conversation. I prayed fervently for the call to end.
Then you became frantic, “No, no, no… Don’t go there. I’m coming…. No, wait. I don’t need to be picked up. I’ll come right away. See you in 15!” And you hung up, pocketed your phone and snatched your purse from the counter. I could see this was over. Oh no! I could see ‘we’ were not going to happen. Oh shit!
You looked at me in alarm,”I’m so sorry but something urgent has come up. I have to go immediately…”
I was baffled, crestfallen but I manged to say, “I could book another appointment for you? I just need your name and number…”, Oh yes, I needed it.
But you shook your head, “I don’t know if I’ll be back…”
If?! Not when?
You began to rummage in your purse and took out a 1000 and tried to hand it to me. You said, “I’m so sorry”, again.
I felt insulted, I’ll be frank. Because firstly, I wanted to spend more time with you and you seemed to as well. And secondly, because I hadn’t given you any kind of service. That was stupid of me, handing you over to someone else. Now I was kicking myself for squandering away that time.
All I could say at the time was, “You don’t have to pay me, but at the payment counter. And I didn’t give you any service. So please don’t…”, I pushed your hand holding the 1000 away, more as an excuse to touch you, possibly one last time. You understood and you walked away.
And there I was, staring at your retreating form…Prince Charming watching his Cinderella run away. Except, you’re no Cinderella and this is not a love story….
To be continued…
Pradita Kapahi, 2017.
Picture Credits: www.pixabay.com