Guwahati. There was freedom of movement. Any given day you could catch the bus to some unknown corner of the city. And it was a thrill to see all those strangers, especially those beautiful girls whose lives you did not know about but shared for a magical moment, played by the same mysterious force of attraction which biochemists would simply called ‘hormones’ but was more than that and might even need an umbrella term like culture, or youth or collective sexual desire, a benign plague of the heart or sexual praxis, or…, a mysterious force of attraction that unfolds in the form of stolen glimpses, eye-freezes and smiles. There was this particular girl I met on the bus—she came with her friends in the next bus-stop from where I boarded and I took notice of her just as any other person sitting in a bus would. She was a jolt of a beauty, had a mole on her face, just beneath her nose and she had straight long hair that went down the side of her face, she was bursting with beauty, her mole and her hair and her eyes and her soft-dusky skin, and sitting one row behind me, on the left. I surrendered myself to her beauty and lost contact with the real world, and when she saw me looking past her to the billboard above, she asked me “Is six-mile the next bus stop?” with a twinkle in her eye. I smiled like a hypnotized person and shook my head, but she stood up in the next bus-stop and got down. I had forgotten the real world so I mumbled a feeble “sorry”. And like her the countless other girls in the city, those beautiful girls you did not know about, walking past you on the streets, never to meet again. And the city gave you anonymity, you could do whatever you want, there were too many people in the city…you could easily forget your work in the crowd. The city was also a world of the fresh and new, every two years most of the higher-secondary students moved on to a different place, and the undergraduates in three years. And the student-population that left the city was quickly replaced by hungrier and more ambitious students from all the neighboring states of Northeast India.
October came and Lovyo was brought to awareness of the passing of time due to the drop in temperature that he felt in his body. Early in the morning he woke up ready to do his push-ups and pull-ups. His roommate Joon with his long muscular limbs was up too. He sat erect on his chair in a momentary pause before he embraced the day. Having done the teeth-brushing and face-washing in the washroom he wore his work-out t-shirt and headed to the empty gym-room. There was a tingling, itchy, sensation on the skin of his hands, legs, and thighs—those parts that were exposed to the elements. This early morning sensation of itchiness was unique to winter—this realization of time-passing reinforced an inner alacrity for life. It felt that life was heading somewhere instead of staying still. Being sixteen years old, everyday he felt that there were things he needed to do personally. In person because these things he did had significance not to his parents or family or anybody in this world, it had direct bearing on him, his character. Currently he had the personal obligation to visit AEC and meet Krishna. It was a matter of the heart.
While doing the reps of his pull-ups he felt a general good feeling about himself and the world, he counted the pull-ups, one, two, three… When he lowered his body back to the floor after six he smiled at himself: the general good feeling about himself and the world was nothing but the prospect of meeting Krishna in AEC. Next set of pull-ups now.
Throughout his workout Lovyo could feel himself seeping into an alternate timeline of the future, especially during those tiny pauses during the contraction and expansion of the muscles. He was just awake and his biceps had gotten bigger under his inspecting fingers, and he remembers the deed that he was going to do, he feels boundless and happy. That afternoon at 2 p.m. he boards the bus from near Dighalipukhuri. He then catches another vehicle, a share-taxi, from Jalukbari till AEC. In the next vision he climbs up the hillock to the gate of Hostel Eight, the Girl’s hostel. He knew he was not kidding with himself; he had earned this adventure and he would see it through to its conclusion.
Lovyo completed his squats, five reps of twenty each, and headed back to his room. He took off his shirt and sat on the chair, admiring his chest. Joon was gone with his sword and spear (he had Wushu practice daily). Lovyo now gave his mind free sway to think about the thing he was going to do that day.
What would I say when I meet Krishna? How are you? I came to get my mobile phone back. Would you like to go for a walk? If she agrees to go on a walk with me than I would have the chance to show how cool I am. But what about the missed calls and text messages she never replies to. Today I will meet her and it will not matter anymore.
Maybe she has forgotten my number or maybe she has read my text messages but is not interested in replying.
And there’s a chance that she will not come out. Then I will feel sad but so what the main thing is I will have visited her hostel and tried to meet her, the rest is up to her. I will come back with the satisfaction of having done my job.
What if she does not recognize me? What if she lost the mobile phone?
At two p.m. Lovyo boarded the bus, just as he had visualized. The bus took its time getting to Jalukbari. The bus was filled to the brim and Lovyo was attacked by bouts of drowsiness. The heat generated by the people all around him turned the brain dead and opened up a hypnotic space of somnolence which extended its hand to let you in. Lovyo went in for a moment but shook himself up from the intoxication, and waking up he came face to face with the preposterousness of the situation. Krishna was three years older than him. She came from a rich family compared to his and knew that she was going out with a guy from AEC. What chance had he in life to marry her. Marrying Krishna meant having her beside him for the rest of his life. It meant that he could see her on his way to the bathroom, eat meals together, do nothing together. Lovyo wanted Krishna that way, he also felt that she was somebody marrying whom would mean that he had moved up in the social ladder—this last of course was never explicitly acknowledged in his mind.
The bus finally reached Jalukbari Bus-Stop, which was the end of its itinerary. Lovyo got down, a little anxious about what was going to happen next. But the thought of seeing Krishna again dispelled all anxiety. He walked ahead, crossing the railway over-bridge from underneath and stopped at the four-way junction. Straight ahead was the Gauhati Univerity, to the left was the road that led to AEC, and to the right was the Saraighat bridge that led to IIT Guwahati. People were in some sort of a hurry as usual, they carried luggage and bags with them. It was hard to move through the crowd which seemed to have lost its orientation. People were sprawled on the side of the road, and in the middle, crossing from one side to the other side, asking directions and looking for the right share-taxis. Lovyo managed to locate the bus to AEC just before it sped away. He dashed after it and catching the railing made a jump and missed, and running again still clutching the railing, made another leap and safely boarded it. He was lucky he did not break his jaw or elbow. He found a seat by the window, he was really doing it. He really was going to knock on the gate of Krishna’s Girl’s Hostel.
The bus stopped beside a tall Gulmohar tree, on the right the white Victorian styled building of AEC with its clock tower stood portentously. This was a much-loved and dignified Engineering College. It was eerily quiet in the campus. He could act as one of the students here, but he was not. He was more like a spy trying to plant a bomb in an enemy territory. He walked awkwardly towards the hillock where Hostel Eight stood. There were workers and gardeners tending to their work with their tools. He walked past them as casually as possible and stopped a few paces from the hostel gate. He sat in a boulder and tried to calm himself. From uphill a girl in Salwar Kameez and holding her textbooks came towards him. He stood up and gathering some courage confronted her.
“Excuse me, are you from the Hostel?”
“Yes,” the girl replied.
“I need your help.”
“Yes,” the girl said, “How can I help you?”
“Could you please call out Krishna Doley for me?”
“Ok,” the girl said,
“I will be waiting here. Tell her that it’s Lovyo Pegu.”
The girl said okay and went past the gatekeeper and disappeared from view. Lovyo swelled inside with happiness, imagining Krishna’s face. What would she be wearing when she comes out? How should I greet her? And again just as suddenly his optimism flattened out and a fear shook his innards. What if she never came out to meet him? He fished out his black and white Nokia mobile phone. It said 3.15 p.m.; he decided not to think too much and be patient till 3. 30 p.m. Every minute was like an hour. His eyes darted towards the hostel gate every few second with hope and optimism.
3. 30 p.m. No Krishna.
3. 45 p.m. Some other girl came out of the gate.
4. 15 p.m. Two girls lost in conversation.
Lovyo was now in some sort of a cardiac arrest. He feared meeting Krishna now. He had lost all his composure and his confidence was down in the gutter. He knew that there was no point waiting now. The naked truth was evident: Krishna did not want to meet a psycho. Even the most delusional and romantic version of him could not hide the whole him from the truth. But he could not move, a dark power had rendered him immobile.
5. 00 p.m. He was still rooted to the spot, his body had turned cold and cold sweat poured out of his skin.
‘No boy comes to meet a girl like this out of the blue,’ he managed to articulate a thought inside his head.
‘It’s alright, just get up, I am with you,’ Lovyo told himself, ‘It’s okay, man.’
He got up jerkily shaking from head to toe, trying to breathe in and breathe out oxygen. With a devastated heart he got down the hillock, with every step leading away from Hostel Eight, his feet gained more speed. Down below on the road he hailed a share-taxi and made his way back to the place where he came from.