To get over the crushing effects of her heartbreak, Pinky decided that it was time to “get out of all this shit” and have a makeover. Hair preferably. Clothes seemed too much effort. Malls did anyway. As did any kind of weight loss mechanism, which only added to her depression. While a haircut mostly involved walking up to her hairdresser, and getting your head massaged by a nice man who paid attention and seemed interested in her. It was almost like love.
Her hair had a separate life and personality of its own, and rarely tagged along with her umpteen moods. Still, a hair cut did for Pinky what meditation and yoga couldn’t. Bring her mind and body in complete sync with each other. And by body, she meant hair. The rest of her body was falling apart, her tummy was gaining weight, her face was clusted with as many pimples as a teenager, and her nails were weak and chippy. But her hair was fabulous. Total harmony.
Her hair had previously been straightened, and colored, and banged into many shapes on previous non-romantic, non-cosmetic, yet equally important heartbreaks (usually the total vacuum created by the end of a season of Korean Drama Descendants of the Sun). So this time, Pinky decided that she would return to her roots, her hair roots actually, in a fascinating new look that Pinky decided to call “Back to Square One”, reflecting not just the disastrous status of her life, but even making fun of it. Somehow that made it all a bit better, that she had still no candidate to fill in her wedding card for the August deadline that was looming. It was May already. Two months to find a man, fall in love, and arrange a wedding, and still make it all look as effortless, as it was all as was meant to be right from the day she was born.
Out from her salon, several selfies later, she searched immediately for the cab in an effort to save, from the disastrous effects of Bangalore traffic, her new-found attractivity. She hurried to her cab, when the cab driver, Raju, a familiar man, who was much attuned to her stormy moods as to her makeovers, stood flummoxed and trifle terrified at the fate that was about to befall him.
“Madam…car….work aagthayilla,” his words came haltingly, as if any delay was helpful. But there was only so much delay one can have before telling Pinky that her cab was going nowhere. An engine fault, he explained to her in Kannada.
“HAAAN?” Pinky’s mouth expanded in size equal to her consternation, as she imagined the state of her hair within few minutes in the traffic, “Nanna, electric shock kodu beka ninge?”
Now, Pinky’s Kannada was one that followed perfect grammar and semantic of an entirely unrelated language and Pinky’s mother tongue, Malayalam. Needless to say, Pinky’s words sounded to him like a cryptographic mystery, sentences that seemed to be familiar and nonsensical all at once.
This man stood in honest terror. He had just been asked if he wanted to give Pinky an electric shock. All he could say, if he dared to, was that it wasn’t part of the job description. Instead he stared in growing horror, as Madam’s hand began gesticulating around her hair, in what he could only deduce as exorcism of some hair-dwelling devil.
“Keli bega,” said Pinky. This was pushing too far, and the poor man was getting closer to tears. By a tiny replacement of letters, Pinky was screaming ‘Ask me’ instead of ‘Tell me’ , and the poor man wondered what to ask or who to ask or why he should ask anything at all.
She added, “Kannada Arthagalwa?” which translated loosely, meant that she not only believed that she was speaking pure unadulterated Kannada, she could not in the world understand why Raju was not following her, unless it was out of impropriety, and a tendency to get away with doing good honest work, deserving of punishment of the worst kind. This was an excellent attitude to take, as it most likely terrified even the toughest of people into doing exactly what Pinky wanted, as no one can really tackle logic-free wrath. The driver dived under the car hood, trying to fix a problem that he clearly did not know how to, but thought that the underside of a car hood was a good place to hide from all such accusations.
Pinky stood at the curb of the road, protecting her hair from the elements, swearing occasionally and loudly at Raju for landing her in this predicament. In the mental space that ensued, her thoughts meandered into everything that was wrong in her life, and a questionable mental trail that added Dhruv and her father into the list of offenders that were ruining her life. And perhaps the government for permitting pollution unchecked vehicles, and then the gods, for everything else.
Whoever was to blame, she was stranded without help. She imagined herself on an island, with buses and trucks ready to spout their sickening fumes like evil sharks and crocodiles around her.
The situation was getting quite tragic for Pinky. What good was pretty hair in this big bad world? Where was the knight to save her from the clutches of hair destruction?
A car stopped before her, rolling down the shaded glasses. Her breath clogged at her throat. She would know that face anywhere. But that face, tanned and round like the mid-day sun, etched like a sculpted masterpiece, looked back at her with a melodious grin, eyes leaping out at her like silver-brown fish, her very sight filling him with pleasant amusement. “Pinky, isn’t it? My, you’re so grown up….”
“Scotty…” the name she’d whispered so many times into her pillow, now voiced to his face. She felt an unbearable pull in her stomach that was telling her that this was a dream, and she’d wake up to find that she had somehow wet her bed. “What..are you doing here…How…you know me?” said Pinky, pushing her hair urgently behind her hair.
“I’d always recognize my little admirer….” said Scotty, smiling knowingly, “You did have the most adorable crush on me, didn’t you?” His grin bought a dimple in his cheek, and Pinky remembered his smell as he stood a few rungs away in the bus, completely ignoring the little school girl she was. And she had thought she was discreet.
“Oh come on…I was like…14 or something” said Pinky, laughing, wondering why her pitch was so strangely high. Did he still smell the same? Fresh Santoor and the earthy smell of unexplored wild forest. Or had he found some fancy American soap that wiped it all away?
“But look at you. You’ve grown so….pretty!” he said, and Pinky reddened, managing a happy smile.
“Thanks. I will convey that to my 14-year old self. She will be happy I’m sure.”
He was grinning,”You remember that little watch you gifted me? You wouldn’t even look at me. You looked at the floor the whole time, saying that I was all very inspiring and yo wanted to gift me….and then a lot of mumbling I couldn’t hear.”
“What? I don’t even remember that! Stop embarrassing me, now, please!” she said, watching him grin and enjoy her discomfort.
“Oh, come on” he said, “I always wondered why you never talked to me before that.”
“Well, that’s mostly because I was terrified,” she said.
“Really?” he said. “I was terrifying?”
“Well….more of you mom, actually.”
“Oh…my mom is a darling.”
Pinky decided not to disagree. Once, at the apartment supermarket, inky had gone to pick some stationary for school. There, she chanced upon Scotty’s back, broad even then, picking something from a high shelf. He was so tall, she remembered thinking even then.
In her fantasy, he turned and looked at her, and walked towards her in those long strides, asking if she was done with her shopping and if she was OK with Choco chips. She’d imagined saying ‘I’m Ok with it, but aren’t you watching your weight?’, and he’d frown, and she’d watch him go back and stack the packet back up. Then, in a delicious turn of events, they’d both go back to their apartment, the one they lived in….together.
In reality, Jalaja stepped before her, and said, “Done with your shopping?” The woman’s tone knifed through her spine. Pinky only stuttered and ran, and she could have sworn the woman whispered Back off from my son, you fly or I’ll set my damn dogs at you.
Or maybe her mind had imagined it too. But she remembered not daring to stare at Scotty ever again.
Scotty was going on about how her crush did wonders to his self esteem, “I was going through some pretty serious body issues at that time.”
He had body issues? “I thought, you were in Scotland or something? What are you doing here?”
“I should ask you the same?” he said, indicating her side curb, “What are you doing here, my little ex-admirer?”
“Oh…I’m just hanging around, you know.” she said, caressing the hood of her car as if the side curb was her favorite hangout destination.
“I can see the side walk is the just the right place for that.” he said. He pointed to Raju, “And if I may say, that doesn’t seem to be progressing well.”
She jerked towards Raju, who seemed to have been gobbled by the car, with only his legs hanging out, “Are you serious? How can you tell. You haven’t even looked under the hood no?” she said, as another truck took a fume dump on her. The sun above, seemed relentless in its bearing, and Pinky felt her legs weaken under its heat.
Scotty in the meanwhile, had parked his car, and gotten out, and was now standing beside her. Pinky looked up as if she surprised by his presence. “Well, I am a mechanical engineer, you know” he said. And of course she knew that. Her stalking skills were beyond compare.
And suddenly it came to her, “Oh I just remembered. You are here to get married right?” the words fell out before she could stop it.
Scotty’s eyes narrowed, “That has gotten out, I see.”
Did he think that she was stalking him. “Noo…Just that Julie…from the apartment…Im in the committee…and…She…just…I…know…I just remembered…”
Scotty’s eyes were shifting, as if the clear air had disappeared. She said, “Listen, I’m sorry. I’m just a big mouth.”
In fact, it was Julie who was the big mouth that insisted on boasting about it to everyone. How had Pinky forgotten Julie walking around, announcing her forthcoming marriage to this Scottish boy, with just a drum to complete the picture. It was like the girl’d achieved the highest accomplishment. And it was why Jalaja sided with the girl on everything at apartment meetings. How had Pinky not made the connection?
Scotty’s eyes were still too far away, and it seemed he wasn’t listening to her anymore. Was that trouble in his eyes? Had she caused it? This was not how she had imagined this meeting to be. And she had imagined it so many times. Where were those rehearsed lines. “Do you still play music?” she said, the words falling out of her mouth clumsily., “I learnt the guitar because of you, you know.”
Scotty’s eyes returned to her, the tightness in his lips loosening into a wet smile,”Yes, I still play the drums. Or try to, with some office buddies. Its not like the college days, but still, we put in some” His smile stayed, holding her. “Do you work somewhere?”
“Oh, yes. I do. I have been working for many years now.”
“So not just waiting to get married. That’s good, I guess.” he looked away, as if the news that she was working made him unhappy. He looked at her, “You know, you should let me drop you home. ”
“Its OK. I don’t want to trouble you.” she said quickly, her eyes returning to her feet. She driving in to the Apartment with Julie’s beau would be like setting fire to the apartment. Julie was a possessive girl, if there ever was one.
“Oh come one. You want to be stuck here forever?” said Scotty, opening the car door and shoving her into the car. She heard Scotty informing the very surprised yet relieved looking Raju that he could get the car to the apartment whenever he got it fixed, and even tipping him for it. Pinky felt warm, like someone had taken care of everything for her. Then she tried to focus on Julie.
“So, no plans to get married?” asked Scotty, as he drove into the main lane.
“Oh I have to,” said Pinky, “My parents have set me up to marry this guy Vishnu. I don’t know if you know him.”
“Oh, yes. The major’s son. Ya Ya. I mean…casual acquaintance. But, well, Ok…nice. Congratulations!” he said, cheerfully. “Little Pinky is getting married, I see.”
“I guess.” said Pinky, “You should stop calling me little, you know. And I don’t really want to get married. According to my parents, I don’t have a chocie.
“Why don’t you want to get married?” said Scotty.
“Well, I don’t see the point.”
“You shouldn’t get married, if you don’t!”
“Easy for you to say. Why are you getting married?”
“Well, it would be nice to have someone drive me home when I’m drunk. And clean the house, and do all the cooking.”
“What?’ she said, her mouth opened, “Are you serious.”
“I’m joking, my god, don’t look so scandalized, I’m not a sexist, OK!” he said, giving her a friendly punch. His hands grazing on her sending a sudden shiver. She’d have died from joy, had this been a younger version of herself. But now, this was just, well, the way friends talked. Yes, they could be friends.
He flicked his hair, which had fallen over his eyes, which stayed glued to the road, “I think I just am tired of living alone. It gets a bit sad, you know, going back to an empty apartment. I mean, here…you are living with your family, maybe you don’t feel it much. And i don’t want to live with a guy again. Things just get, too crazy. And girls…well, i don’t mean to be sexist, but they are just…clean.”
He seemed like a nice guy. And Julie…was ….well…nothing that she should be talking about. She’d said enough. “Well, Julie is a nice clean girl!’ said Pinky, and then wondered if that sounded weird. “You guys will be great together” she added hurriedly.
He turned and looked at her with a strange smile, like he wanted her to stop bullshitting him, before his eyes went back to the road. She felt like she was somehow cheating him, cheating the memory of him, by hiding the truth about Julie. Then the rationalist stepped in. Hey, what did she know? Maybe, Julie wasn’t so bad. Don’t sabotage a perfectly floating boat, she told herself.
“So how is Vishnu?” said Scotty.
And Pinky just took a long breath.
“That doesn’t sound good…” said Scotty.
“No, no…I am being mean. He’s a good person. And my father says its the best I can do….well….so…” she just felt the words going to a halt. “I just wish we had something in common. Or that he could hold a conversation.”
They were driving into the apartment, and Pinky hurriedly stopped him. “Could you just…stop here. I’ll…walk from here.” she said.
“I see.” he said, parking the car.
“I…I’m just worried. I mean…I don’t want people to talk.” said Pinky, feeling embarrassed by how weak she sounded, “I’m sorry.”
“Its alright. Feels kinda like school,” said Scotty, “All that sneaking around.”
That was not how Pinky remmebered school, but she smiled. “Thanks for the ride. It was nice to see you again.” she said, wondering what more she could say. She should say something more, “Well, I hope I see you around, then.” she said.
“How about tomorrow?” said Scotty.
“What?” she said, turning around.
“Have any plans?” he asked.
Her eyes seemed to be balling out, her tongue flopping uselessly.
“Come out with me.” he said, his eyes sparkling, as if just for her.
“Ok…” she mumbled.
His eyes flashed, his lips a wide grin, “Tomorrow then. I’ll pick you up at eleven?” He waited for her nod. “See ya then” he said, driving away.