The soft silk of her skin touched the rough brash of his hardened skin and her whole life realigned for her.
Don’t touch people like him, her mother had told her. You’d have to have a bath again, honey. She hated baths, so she went out of her way to avoid him. She tried not to catch him while playing run and catch, and tried not to find him while playing hide and seek. She would see the smile on his face falter everytime she did that.
The next summer she’d forgotten all about him, till he peeped into her window and called her ‘Miss’ and bowed, grinning. She looked at him awkwardly, but grinned back nonetheless. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t touch him- he looked like her, only a shade or two darker. This summer, he climbed trees and plucked out flowers for her.
The summer after that, she went away to a hill station, and the next summer, she went off to a camp, and after that she had broken her leg, so she couldn’t go back to her parent’s native.
When she went three summers later, she was sixteen and he was eighteen, and she had a vague memory of a boy who plucked out flowers for her and whom she wasn’t allowed to touch, and whose smile faltered every time she’d go out of her way to not touch.
She sat in her room with her cousins when he entered and bowed. One of her cousins asked him to join them and he drew out a mat and sat separately. They played cards and carrom, and Atlas and charades. Every time they locked eyes, he grinned at her and she looked away in embarrassment. Later, it was just her, him, and one of her cousins whom he was close friends with. Her cousin teased her relentlessly and he laughed at her with him.
The next day he came back and when he sat down, she scowled at him, unforgiving of yesterday’s jokes. Your best friend isn’t here, she said in mock-bitterness. You’re enough, he said as he winked at her. Her other cousins didn’t treat him with much respect. He got up and left before lunch.
The next day Arjun sat next to him, and he was at ease once again. This time he sat till late at night and the three of them laughed till they clutched their stomachs.
This time she knew she wouldn’t forget him.
The next summer, when she came back, he was away in college the first two weeks. She couldn’t wait, and bothered Arjun more than it was acceptable. And when he was back, there was a bounce to her gait, and her smile was broader, and her laugh more livelier. Now every night the three of them sat up till later than it was acceptable and she returned his every bow with a curtsey of her own. Every night she’d want to ask him to stay over, but she knew it wasn’t her place. So every night, as the clock struck 10, he’d walk through the dark streets and begin his hike towards his house a kilometer away. A couple of days later, when she asked him to give Arjun a missed call, as soon as he reached home, she earned a guffaw from Arjun, and a grin from him. How about giving you a missed call, Miss? he asked her with a wink. And that’s how they exchanged numbers.
The next Summer, she went on a tour up to Kashmir with her friends, but they continued texting each other, especially during the weeks she was supposed to be with them. Your cousins are humorless, Miss, he said.
Stop calling me Miss, sir, she replied.
No, Miss 😉 was his text.
Don’t be a tosser, sir.
Whatever you say, Miss.
Stop calling me Miss is what I say, sir!
The summer after that, when her mum wanted her to go to Europe to explore colleges for post grad, she requested her to let her go back. There’s a year left to think about that mum, she’d said.
This time was his last Summer, and when he’d told her he was planning to move to the States, she’d almost called him and yelled at him. I’ve won a scholarship to North Carolina, he’d said.
This time the two of them sat up later than Arjun did, earning scowls from her other relatives. He told her about his dreams of entrepreneurship, and she hers of spending a summer as a street poet. He laughed at her anecdotes and she at his stupid jokes. And as the summer drew to an end, they’d promised to meet each other at the other end of the world- vastly different from this small village, where the streets, like the practices and dreams of its villagers, are dark, ancient, and nameless.
So when five Summers later, she was in New York, for her PhD in Comparative Literature, he was there to welcome her to his world. And when they shook hands for the very first time, in a little awkward gesture, she welcomed him to her world, with a little street poem in his memory. And when he asked her to come over to his house every weekend for lunch, she made it. And when she spent a summer in the streets of New York, he was her last customer every day, at exact 10 PM. And when he had his first baby, she was there to help him and his wife. And when she thought she had everything in life, he called her out with Whatever you think is right, Miss.