He was on his way back from work, and had taken a different route that day. That’s when he passed it, the International School, where he used to have music classes. Every Sunday afternoon, for two hours-that’s where he gave wings to his passion. He came alive in those two hours, transforming all his emotions into notes. His keyboard was his friend, lover, companion, everything.
“What’re you smiling at?” His wife’s words broke into his thoughts.
“Nothing.” He continued smiling.
“What?? Tell me...” She gently prodded.
He’d never told it to anyone, not even to his wife, who was his best friend and confidante. He felt that it was somehow too special to be shared, as though the beauty of it would get spoilt by just a narration. But, looking at his wife, he knew that no one else would understand it as well either. As he started talking, his mind flashed back to all those years.
Hunk, daredevil, hero, singer, rockstar- he had had a lot of tags attached to him during his youth. The star of his college, the heartthrob of girls, he was used to reducing girls to a simpering pile of mush with just a look. Passionate about music, he used to go for keyboard classes at the International School, certified by the Trinity College of Music, London.
It was the day of his final recital, and he had overslept. He woke up to his friend’s call, and rushed to the school, not bothering about the prescribed dress code. As he entered the recital hall, a shiver of excitement went through him. “This is it”, he thought to himself. “This is where years of my learning will be tested, and I will finally be certified.”
The hall was filled with nervous, hopeful musicians, waiting for their turn up on the stage. Some of them were familiar, some new. That’s when his eyes fell on her. He’d never seen her there before, so he assumed that she was probably among those NRI’s who’d come from the U.S to give their recital. She looked up at him, just a glance, and looked back down at the notes in her hand.
Now this was new. He was not used to this. Girls always gave him a second glance, and then a third, fourth, fifth glance.
But then, this girl, there was something different about her. She was totally unlike the usual bimbos he had met till now. Everything about her was delicate, feminine, beautiful. Her flawless complexion, pink lips, warm brown eyes, light brown silky hair pulled back from her angelic face in a ponytail- and no trace of make-up. She looked like Cindrella, he thought, and for the first time in his sixteen years, he had fallen for a girl.
The performances got over one by one, and then it was his turn. For the next fifteen minutes, he was lost- lost in the world of music. As the crescendo descended, he became aware of the sound of thunderous applause. He got down from the stage and wound his way through the rows of chairs to the only empty chair he could find. As he sat down and glanced at his neighbour, a jolt of excitement shot through him. It was her! His mind went blank. And then he heard a soft voice calling out to him.
“Hi, I’m Anamika. What you did up there, that was awesome.”
“Oh, thank you.” His senses seemed to have taken leave of him.
“Big fan...” She kept her hand over her heart as she said it.
“Thanks..” He gave a dimpled smile.
“Next performance is by Anamika”, came the announcement.
As she left her seat to go up on stage, Nikhil thought he heard her murmur something; something that sounded like “This one’s for you.”
“Did you hear something?” he asked his friend seated next to him, who said that he hadn’t. “I guess I must’ve imagined it”, he said to himself. There she was up on the stage, on the piano, and she was singing. He couldn’t recognize the song, but the lyrics went “I think of you...” And all throughout the performance, she didn’t take her eyes off him, and he didn’t attempt to look away either. It was as though someone had pressed the ‘Pause’ button on the rest of the world. There was magic in the air.
As she came down the stage, cheeks flushed a lovely red with excitement and joy, and resumed her seat next to him, he kept his hand over his heart and said, “You know what? Big fan..” The most innocent smile he’d ever seen lit up her face.
“Did you say something just before you went up on stage?”
The show was over. Everyone had had their fifteen seconds of fame. As she got up to leave, she glanced back at him, and with the slightest hint of a smile, said “You heard right, you dumbo.” And then she was gone, just like that. He felt as though he was flying.
He eagerly waited for her the next Sunday, and yes, there she was. He experienced the same buoyant feeling in his heart that he’d felt when he first saw her. It was like his heart was a red balloon, floating up, up and away, sky the limit. Her smile seemed to light up the room.
“Hi, how’re you?” Her accented English blew him away more.
“I’m doing good.” He’d managed to untie his tongue.
“Ok...Umm..I’m just here for a few days actually. I live in the U.S, came down here just for my performance...”
“Oh...ok...” Somewhere up there, God was laughing at him.
They chatted for a while, two shy teenagers, blushing each time their eyes met. It was time for her to leave, she said. As she went down the stairs, she kept looking back at him, and he couldn’t move from where he stood.
“Nikhil, would you mind walking me till the gate?”
“Sure.” He had to be careful not to run too fast.
As they went down the driveway, neither of them spoke a word. And yet, there was something comfortable about that silence, as though neither wanted to spoil the beauty of that moment with meaningless chatter. The silence spoke volumes. They reached her car, and they looked at each other, warm brown eyes softening the intense black ones.
“So, bye then..I guess...” Maybe the soft voice lessened the blow the words had.
“Ya...bye. I’ll see you again soon, I hope.”
“Ya, hopefully.” She smiled.
And then she was gone.
“I never saw her again, you know. I searched for her the next Sunday, but she wasn’t there. And then my course got over, so I didn’t go back there.” He could sense that he had turned nostalgic. The boy who had yearned to see his angel for just one more time so that he could just sit with her, looking at her- the boy he’d hidden away somewhere, had resurfaced.
“You didn’t take her number, email id, anything?”
“Nope. Nothing. I tried searching for her on some sites, chat rooms, even Google-searched her name”. He laughed at the memory. “But I never found her. Maybe that’s why I still remember her. She came into my life like an angel, like a gentle breeze on a hot summer’s day, gave a little joy, made me aware of a side of me that I never knew existed, and then she vanished. I won’t call it love. No. It wasn’t even a crush. But whatever it was, it was beautiful. She touched my life like no one ever has.”
“Hey!!” His wife swatted him playfully on his head.
They were back home. He felt lighter, happier, that he’d shared it with his wife. Maybe the reason he’d never shared it was that it was inexplicable. He had gently packed it away in his heart, like he’d seen his mother pack away her silver, so that it remained pure, untarnished, without so much as a blemish. He went to his keyboard, and as he started playing his favourite composition, he said to himself, and to his Cinderella, “This one’s for you...”
I wanted to write something special for my 100th post, but couldn't figure out what. So I decided to post the first ever short story I ever wrote, over a year back. So this is an amateur's attempt. Pardon me if it's not good enough. :)
Dedicated to the person whose true-life experience inspired this story...
All you need to do is look around you, and you'll find a story in every person, in every smile, behind every drop of tear, in every song, around every corner...