She hadn’t met someone like him. So wholesome, so American. He reminded her of absolutely nothing and no one from her past or her present. There was no common ground between them, other than that they hung out with the same people occasionally. And that fascinated her, made her more curious of him.
He was hard to read, and sometimes awkward. Hot and cold, was how others described him. She never befriended him and was just as awkward around him. Sometimes, caught in the confidence of the moment, she would say hello to him or utter a feeble line that hardly inspired a conversation. But she avoided friendship. Out of awkwardness. Out of fear. Her tongue became rubbery and heavy every time he sparked a conversation, which was just as rare as her hellos to him. They both sensed trepidation and resorted to giving benign smiles to each other when their paths crossed or eyes met.
When he suddenly began losing weight and looking pale as a ghost, she ached to reach out to him. But she had no idea what she would say to him. She pieced together from the loud whispers of common friends the story of his suffering. And she kept him in his thoughts. A few months later, when color began to return to his cheeks, she felt happy for him. And weird. She knew more about him now than he thought she did. And it confused her. She slowly, electronically extended the her hand at friendship. He mindlessly accepted, oblivious to the deliberation and torture in her own head.
Neither of them figured prominently in each others firmaments, but he began to occupy more time in her thoughts. Her curiosity of him, was now tinged with warmth and compassion that she had begun to feel for him. She couldn’t understand what it was but she felt, as though she understood the essence of him. She understood that he was a responsible man who took his word, his actions and his commitment seriously. She understood that he had a strong conscience. That he was a good soul. She became familiar with him. She could sense his presence. And knew what his gait sounded like. She felt as though she had tapped into a frequency that radiated him and was now attuned to his comings and goings. Twice, her heart jumped out when he showed up just as she had wished he would. It freaked her out and she had no interest in finding out what it meant.
Eventually, their paths drifted. She began hanging out less and less with their common friends. Her life began taking a different shape than his and their paths hardly ever crossed again. She mourned the loss briefly. It baffled her. She missed him and at times, it made her sad. But she got on and with time, he no longer occupied her thoughts. She thought of that strangeness with fondness.
Years later though, they met again. Age had caught up to him. But he was still lean, and his eyes still held that blue light. Her face had lost its fat and one could see the hard lines on her face. But she exuded certainty.
Their eyes caught each other first. Recognition flickered in his eyes. They made their way to each other across the expanse of the room. When they stood facing each other, they fumbled. Smiled. And shook hands.
They were grown ups now. They had wives and husbands and children and mortgages. They had fame and honors.
They talked. About their present. And when the conversation dipped and an awkward silence threatened to ruin their second chance at friendship, she spoke up.
“I am sorry I never made an effort to be friends with you all those years ago.”
If he was surprised, he didn’t show. Instead he joked, “I thought it was because I was a dick”
She smiled. “Quite the contrary.”
“Then you are the dick!”
She laughed. He laughed.
They talked. And talked. They found a table and sat next to each other.
“It was weird not having you around..” He said.
She was surprised. “You missed me?”
“Maybe. I don’t remember now. It was a long time ago. It was a little empty once you left. “
“It used to make me happy to see you everyday.”
“It’s a pity we never told each other that.”
“We are, now.”
She was quiet. A million thunderbolts racing through her head. She opened her mouth to say something, and closed it again. He reached for her hand under the table and held it in both his hands.
A single tear rolled down her cheek.
“You were never good with words,” he said.
“No, I wasn’t.”