Chopping onions had always been a tearful experience for her. As she was nursing her red, swollen eyes that night, all she could think of was the infinitesimal moment when their eyes had met, as he repositioned his book. She had hurriedly broken the glance to stare shamelessly at a poster that claimed to have found the cure for AIDS. That was about as eventful as it had gotten that day, although she had wanted to hold on to the glance a bit longer, probably segueing into a smile. She had wanted to squeeze out a moment of impulse out of her utterly mundane life. But it was too late for any change. It was ironic that she answered phones in a publishing house bustling with creativity, when she should have been filling up galleries with her art. Capability was never the issue; it was the crippling fear of failure. At 27, she lived the life of a 35 year old in a city where it was usually the other way around. Her sole source of comfort—life in Mumbai—seemed less consequential by the day.
The smell of onions burnt beyond repair shook her off what was going to be a long bout of self-pity. She was in no mood to start over and ate some leftover pizza. Mildly pleased by the mollifying effect of food, she hit the pillow, looking forward to dream that night. It was the only place the colors and shapes flitted around, free to morph into imagery impossible for her awake mind encumbered with despair to think of. It wasn’t surprising that she dreamt about ‘video-coach’ guy that night; what was surprising was that there was no physicality involved. It was not his eyes, his face or even a human figure she saw. She was alone in the ladies’ compartment of a train, dangerously gasping for breath, apparently suffocated by the invisible crowd around. Dripping in sweat, she was trying to fill her lungs with the last whiff of oxygen she could scrounge, when she saw a painting of a book—the book that he was reading. It looked bizarre with just the image of a book on canvas floating in mid air, and even more absurd as it felt like the only thing that could salvage her from her deeply agonized state. How could a book save her, let alone a painting of one? Upset that her own mortal peril killed her creativity that night, she shrugged it off trying to think of how to make ‘video-coach‘ guy notice her.
She wore a scorching red salwar kameez and more than a hint of makeup that day. This extra attention to detail being off her daily schedule, she ended up late for the bus to the station. Luckily, the rickshaws weren’t on one of their strikes. She used the ride to rehearse some conversation starters, just in case they happened to be within the talking radius. Discussing literary interests with him would be suicide as her trove began and ended with the likes of Sidney Sheldon. Politics didn’t interest her at all, or sports. She wasn’t much of a weather talker either. In fact, all she ever cared about was her textures on canvas and the crisp sound of pencil sketching on paper. It would seem a tad weird if she began talking to a stranger about whether he liked flowing strokes or semi-circular ones.
She knew she was going to miss the train as soon as she heard the familiar announcement at the station—something that always coincided with her train leaving. Nevertheless, she made a painful run for it, her legs clearly not used to the discomfort of high heels. In the end, she was left with two sore legs and the swiftly receding tail of the 933 local. Terribly disappointed and bruised, she barely managed to get to her office. The work had always felt like a nail being hammered at an excruciatingly slow pace; she looked forward to it that day.