She smiled at him yet again, but as always she couldn’t evoke the slightest response from him.
“Once again I have failed to grab his attention“, she sighed.
Dismayed, she returned and looked back twice at him, but he was looking the other way.
Mahnoor had moved into this new colony a month ago with her family and since the first day she’d started noticing him… sitting aloof from the others, a silent and shy boy deep into books and sometimes busy jotting down and scribbling in his black dairy. He sat there at the Xerox shop. Maybe his father, the elderly man owned it. He sat in one corner of the small dimly lighted shop searching through the pages of books that had to be xeroxed. He ran his fingers across the papers and smiled subtly. He’d seldom speak a word. And when he did it was just “12, 40, 13…”, as he counted the number of the Xeroxed pages. It was his job on that shop and he enjoyed doing it. Touching those warm fresh papers, counting them, sitting near the window distant from main entrance and so from the street as well. It seemed as if he smelt the words and felt the meaning.
She was a student, and had joined college that year. The world had just opened its doors to her imagination and emotions. A dreamer she was, an idealistic and loving girl. She was in the process of becoming a charming young lady. Her brown hair that was long peeked out of her head scarf. Her eyes were hazel and her lashes were long and dark. She was fair with a subtle pink blush of innocence on her face. Her smile was joyous from the heart and her hands were fair, as if sun had never touched them. She smelt of rose. She was a dream on the inside and the outside. And the boy had never paid any attention to her, this fact made her anxious.
She had to visit the shop frequently to get her notes and books Xeroxed. And in between those visits she developed a strange interest towards the boy who sat there in one corner silent and aloof from the world. She wanted to speak to him but something stopped her every time. “What should I say?“, she thought. “How are you?” or “Why don’t you ever speak?”, she said to herself in her determination to talk every time she entered the shop, and after failing to start the conversation she murmured to herself, “Mahnoor, you are such a coward !” and left. It happened not only one but many times, and at the end she resorted to a subtle smile. This went on for almost a year and half. Mahnoor never got tired of smiling, though her visits were less frequent now. She never understood why this boy grabbed her interest and why of every other normally speaking person she liked this shy silent boy who found solace in the running through pages of books and a stiff backed black dairy who never cared to smile back at her.
But today he was disheartened. She thought this, whatever it was useless. She thought she had liked an arrogant person who likes just himself and no one else. She thought her instincts about him being different were false, he must be arrogant. That day while leaving the shop she looked back twice and tried to tell herself all this.
Next day she had to collect her notes for the last time as her degree was near completion. Her father was getting transferred and they were moving out of town. The last time she walked towards that shop in an unusual hour and sternly decided that she won’t care about that boy whoever he was.
She stepped into the shop with her head bowed down so that she doesn’t have to face the chair while she looks straight. The elderly man welcomed her and asked her to sit. She raised her head, it was the first time she was offered a seat as there were no extra seats in the shop except the chair on which that boy used to sit.
“Sit, but…” , she turned her head towards the chair and found it empty.
“Where is he…? I mean… the boy who sits here….”, she mumbled.
“Oh! He… he is Ihsan, my son. He has gone with his mother for his regular checkup, though will be back very soon” the elderly man said.
“Checkup?“, she asked curiously.
“Yes, for his eyes. The doctor has suggested that we should get him checked every six months. It’s been quite long since an accident took his vision. He can’t see you know”, the man sighed in his old grief.
Mahnoor was startled. Naturally, for her it was a great shock. Every moment of the past two years flashed before her eyes. Every unnoticed smile, every effort to talk and the things she was trying to make herself understand, the disheartened feeling that had made her indifferent today, everything was reflecting before her eyes.
“Wait a moment, I’ll be back with your notes”, the man said, and she snapped out of her melancholy.
For a moment she was alone sitting on Ihsan’s chair. Trying to relive whatever had passed. In front of her she found, that same stiff backed black dairy. She trembled, but picked it up and opened it. The dairy was a treasure of happenings. Things she never would have known. She kept on turning the pages,
It is a new fragrance, rose. No one has smelled so wonderful. But who is it?”
Again the same fragrance. I heard her voice too. I felt the compassion. She must be pretty.”
She came again today. I recognized her laugh. She passes the shop daily. I bet she has pretty eyes.”
She went on turning the pages
She smiles at me I know; she even thinks she is a coward. Wish she knew how big coward I am! I don’t want to spoil her dreams.”
I heard her bangles. Her friends called her Mahnoor. Beautiful name. I can sense it. She was giggling today. I love when she does that. Her scarf touched my hand. I can still feel it. I wish I could see her when she looks back at me and blushes.”
She is angry. I wish she knew, I wish I could tell her. I wish I could see her.”
Mahnoor read the unaligned lines on his dairy. Her eyes were flushed.
“I am back, Dad”, Ihsan was back and he stepped into the shop. Startled, Mahnoor got up and dairy fell from her hand. She held her breath.
“Mahnoor? Is that you?” Ihsan spoke, “is that the sound of my dairy? You… were… You read it?” he paused and sighed, “You shouldn’t have”…
Mahnoor for the first time was looking straight into his dark, devisioned eyes, as he spoke. She could not utter a word.
“Here are your notes”, Ihsan’s father was back with notes, “Oh ! Let me pick that up for you,” he picked up the dairy Mahnoor had dropped. “Ah! This is Ihsan’s, he loves books. He likes to write. And he writes just fine” he said.
He had broken the thread of silence between Ihsan and Mahnoor.
“Indeed”, Mahnoor cleared the blob in her throat.
Ihsan kept looking at Mahnoor; he might have felt the tears Mahnoor was holding. The blush her face would have.
She left, this time feeling different.
“I wish you come again, Mahnoor”, Ihsan thought to himself.
“I promise I will, Ihsan, I promise I’ll be back”, Mahnoor turned back and smiled.
This time Ihsan smiled back at her.
By Aiman Banday.