I called my high school friend Giri late that night. Giri was majoring in arts and I thought he might know her. I'd known Giri since grade 9. We studied together in high school and were roommates in first year at the university.
There was something that made me envy Giri. He had been closer to more girls than any guy I'd befriended. There was a rumour that he was living with his fourth girlfriend now. But Giri had not been much help. All he knew was that her name was Priya.
I was determined to talk to Priya, to convey my interest in her. I was not sure how I would approach and talk to her. Should I introduce myself and pick up a conversation? No, that would not work. She looked like a traditional Tamil girl and the last thing she would do was shake hands with a stranger. Should I say hi and try talking to her? Would she be interested in going out with me? Or would she prefer an arranged marriage? I went to bed that night with a thousand and one questions in my mind.
The next Wednesday, I left class a little early and waited for her in the hallway. I waited there with anxiety to see her. With each moment, my heart pounded at double the normal rate. I saw her coming and when she neared me, I said "Hi". She smiled with her head down and continued on.
There was a little progress the next time I met her. This time she said "Hi" in her sweet melodious voice that kept ringing in my ears for the rest of the week. Later in the weeks, I ran into Priya a number of times, most of the time exchanging smiles. Once I saw her in the library waiting in the line to check out books. Seeing her, I grabbed a magazine lying near me and joined her in line.
"Hi," I said with my heart pounding and my romantic blood simmering. "Are you Tamil?" She hesitated without knowing what to say. She had no choice. She nodded her head like a typical South Asian. "I'm Ranjith. I'm Tamil too." I trembled, with my right hand coming out of my pocket to shake hands. I put it back knowing well she would not shake hands lest she spoil her reputation and make herself unsuitable for arranged marriage. "I'm Priya," she said with nervousness, her voice sounding more melodious than the last time I heard it. I did not know what to say next. But I noticed our nervousness gradually disappearing.
"May I help the next person," the librarian called. Priya left and I joined the next librarian. He was puzzled as to why I would borrow a magazine in the Russian language. I was looking around the circulation desk turning my head occasionally to see Priya. Would she say bye to me before she left the counter? I was wondering. Yes, she did and I was happy about it for the rest of the day.
For the next two months, I met Priya infrequently. Most of the time we would be involved in short conversations. I would ask her about the exams or complain about the weather. She would respond and leave. I did not notice any enthusiasm in her when we met; no emotion to convey her reciprocal interest in me. Meanwhile I was thinking of her everyday, each time building up emotions within myself. All the while I was ignoring my course work which was very heavy in my final year.
My lab partner once complained that I was slacking in my group project. Once when I was having lunch with a group of my friends, one guy whispered. "Have you noticed? Ranj is behaving strangely these days" There was a silence and everyone looked at me with pity. "Yeah, he's gone crazy. He doesn't talk to us anymore," another quipped. I realized that what they said was true. I had not been talking with them lately. The only thing I was interested in was meeting Priya. I'd been thinking of her each day, cherishing our every brief encounter.
It was time that I convey my interest in her, I thought. The semester was coming to an end. And I had to catch up with the courses that I'd not been studying. I thought of next week to be the appropriate time to convey my love. I would meet her after my elective class and pour my heart out.
That Friday I decided to go to Toronto to visit my parents. I wanted to tell them all about my newly found love. I was fortunate to have parents who would accept my decisions. They would not be like my cousin's parents who stopped all contact with him for eloping with a girl. My mother would be relieved that I was in love with a Tamil girl. She would be more relieved if I told her that the girl appreciates our culture and can understand and speak Tamil.
I packed my bag and went to the bus station with these thoughts. I bought my ticket from the counter and turned to go to the bus. That's when I saw Priya waiting in line to board the bus. A guy was standing next to her with his hands around her waist.
I stopped. I did not feel like taking my next step. I stood there like a statue. A cold discomfort invaded my blood and I sensed the feel of icy air in every pore of my skin. I felt my heart missing beats. Priya was smiling and laughing with the guy. The same smile I'd adored each day for the past two months. I looked down in melancholy, not wanting to look at Priya.
When I looked back at her, she had boarded the bus and was sitting next to the guy. The driver closed the door and started the bus. The bus was leaving slowly. I saw my hands unconsciously coming up to my chest and waving her goodbye.
I left the bus station with my thoughts accompanying me and feeling sore about everything. It was snowing lightly and the street was quiet. The breeze was balmy like the day I first saw Priya. And the pavement was covered lightly with snow. I walked slowly. But this time I was careful with my steps. I did not want to fall down.
- R. Nada
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