“All of us ate mud as kids,” she declared with gusto, while narrating a story from her mud-loving childhood. He stared at her incredulously as if she had landed from outer space. Without batting an eyelid, she said, “You must have been a boring grown-up even as a kid”.
It was difficult to ignore her – the constant chattering, the confident laughter, the electrifying presence.
While he feigned annoyance at her occasional juvenility, it took all his self-control to not reach across and pull her close to him with a tight embrace and a long and deep kiss on her lips, especially when she was giving one of her “I-will-convince-you-to-look-at-this-situation-positively” speeches.
“This is an office”, he reminded himself to control his emotions.
Passion, just like curiosity, works in strange ways though. It is most active when you try to suppress it.
And so it did with him. Some days, sitting next to her for lunch was torture. The occasional brush of the hand as food exchanged places, the nudges she gave him when she wanted him to concentrate on something she was saying, the glint in her eyes when she thought they were sharing a private joke, all seemed to be a sign from the Universe. On such days, every moment in office was like walking on a bed of nettles.
But, she was not just all chirpiness and innocence. She seemed to him that quintessential “woman of substance” he had read about in novels by Pulitzer Prize winning feminist authors. She could wax eloquent on existential dilemmas and women’s liberation, while standing up and fighting for what she believed was right, no matter the age or position of the person she was pitted against. And, she had strong opinions on love and marriage, and men’s advances towards women, which stopped him from any overture. He was happier with the occasional brushes of today than with not even a glimpse of her from tomorrow.
However, this evening was turning out to be particularly difficult. They were traveling on work and had to work from a hotel room late into the night. Nothing else could have been more conducive, or perhaps, more heart-wrenching, than this.
The night rushed past, as the deadline loomed over them. There wasn’t time to stand and stare or sit and think, perhaps.
At 11.45 pm, she excused herself to the bathroom, while he sat there, lost in thought. And then some fantasies. He was wondering whether she had just hinted subtly to him to follow her into the room. He wasn’t able to make up his mind. The clock ticked 11.55 pm and there was still no sign of her. Maybe she was waiting for him, while he was making a fool of himself sitting here like the gentleman he wasn’t.
At 11.59 pm, he made up his mind. Come what may, this was the night. He got up. Just then, the lights went off, and the room plunged in darkness.
As the clock struck twelve, he heard her familiar voice singing “Happy birthday”. His heart brimmed with happiness, as he searched for her. So, she was his special girl after all and this was going to be his most special birthday thus far.
And, then he heard another, more familiar voice, singing “Happy birthday”. The lights turned on, and his wife hugged him.