based on true incidents. written about a year or so back for a short story competition.
in two days, i was to leave for America. it is the dream of a good number of people i know, and i was poised to achieve it. i just didn't have the clothes for the mission. a couple of friends came down and decided to help rectify that, and they were more than welcome since i was rubbish at shopping. i roamed the streets of the city's shopping district, full of apprehension. not just about what clothes to buy, but more about what awaited me in three days time. i considered myself quite the traveller and wanderer, but this was far beyond what i'd traversed so far. our efforts stretched from afternoon to evening, and we were now at that twilight phase where the sky seemed undecided about where to go, stay with the day or give in to the night. my thoughts were on similar grounds, since i was headed someplace i was not too keen on, yet was thrilled for the experience of travelling into the unknown. i was confused.
we had come to a popular bookstore, near which there exists a clothes shop specializing in export rejects. by this point i had pretty much all i needed, and my friends were tired of picking stuff out for me so they headed into the bookstore to do some browsing and shopping of their own and left me alone to fend with the choices of t-shirts before me. t-shirts were all i had left to buy. in keeping with my 'hate-shopping' policy, i was done in five minutes, and all my t-shirt needs were addressed. unfortunately, it wasn't the same for my friends who decided to take their own sweet time browsing through books they were unlikely to read anytime soon. i wasn't left with much option but to sit outside on the stairs leading to the street from the building that contained both these shops.
as i sat there pondering over things i should probably not have been pondering about, a girl appeared. she was the sort of girl you couldn't help but notice in an instant. pretty in every sense of the word, commanding the attention of everyone who passed around her on the sidewalk yet seemingly unaware of it. yet she seemed unsure of what she was doing there, and merely stood in the middle of the sidewalk while people milled around her. i kept stealing glances at her while i waited for my friends, and she was facing away from me. i wondered what she was doing here, in the middle of this crowd. perhaps she was waiting for someone? for lack of better things to do, i kept looking and wondering. until she turned around. at which point, the decent thing to do was to look away and pretend i wasn't looking in the first place. which is what i did.
but then i was put into an unfamiliar situation. the girl looked straight at me, into my eyes. i tried looking away, but i was transfixed, to put it mildly. she started walking over towards where i was sitting, and i automatically started going through the usual checklists. i looked around to see if there was anyone behind me, and there wasnt. i looked back to see if she was still looking at me, and i was pretty sure that she was. maybe she suddenly decided to buy a book, or perhaps cheap export rejected designer clothing.. yeah, that had to be it. all these evaporated the moment she stood right in front of me, and said 'hi'. a simple, sweet 'hi'. were i my usual self, i would probably have said 'bond. james bond'. but what came out was a 'bwuuhh?' from my mouth.
she extended her hand, and i timidly shook it. soft hands, yet a firm handshake. it almost seemed like i met her at work and was concluding a business deal. i looked up at her face, and she was smiling. i continued with the checklist. do i know her? have we met at some party where i got drunk and did something so stupid that she remembers me? the latter seemed plausible, but somehow i was inclined to rule it out. i had the good sense to let go of her hand when the handshake concluded, but my senses were thrown off gear again when she said 'd'you mind if i sit down here?' another 'bwuuhh..' gave her the go ahead and she sat next to me. a few moments passed in silence, while i figured out what to say. predictably, i couldnt form a single sentence. anything i attempted to say would surely come out as the now familiar 'bwuuhh.. '.
she put me out of my misery by saying 'how are you'. which still had me wondering whether i have met her before. i wracked my brain in a vain attempt to remember, and despite priding myself on my memory, i couldnt imagine where i possibly could've met her. but on the positive side, i seemed to be regaining my ability to speak, and said 'fine. how have you been?'. this, in the remote possibility that we do know each other. she made small talk with me initially, while the processing abilities of my brain were almost equally divided between responding to her conversation and figuring out plausible reasons for how a girl at least three leagues above me was talking to me out of the blue.
small talk soon developed into a full-blown conversation, which may have lasted all of five minutes maybe, but applying relativity, it seemed like an eternity in my head. i was just as confused as i was at the start regarding why this was happening at all, but was more than happy to just play along. it was a random, free flowing conversation, neither of us knowing the other presumably, until the moment she said 'you looked worried earlier. what's the matter?' since i had been thinking of my upcoming journey until i saw her, i told her i'd been thinking about it and was apprehensive about heading there alone. she asked me if i had any friends here, and i said i had quite a few, mentioning that i was waiting for a couple of them with dubious reliability while shopping for things i needed on the trip. she asked me what i'd bought, and i showed her the shirts, sweater and t-shirts i had accumulated as part of the afternoon expedition. she said she was new in the city and had no friends.
i was disinclined to believe that somehow, perhaps it was her demeanour, but she insisted that was the case. at this point, any red blooded guy would offer to be her friend, but i was more inclined towards saying 'bwuuhh..' again so i kept shut. i wanted to tell her i could be her friend, and show her around town, but i was battling the now all-pervasive bwuuhh. which is when she said, 'would you like to pray with me?' i mustve made an expression of incredulity, because she immediately launched into an explanation. 'well you are worried about your trip, and i am part of the church of so and so (i forget the name).. so i thought prayer would help you'. she took my hand in hers and asked me to close my eyes before i could form a coherent response. once she held my hand, a coherent response was pretty unlikely, in any case.
so we sat there, on the stairs leading to the bookstore and the shop with cheap export rejected designer clothing, while the rest of the shopping public moved along on the sidewalk in front of us, while my friends looked at books they were gonna buy but weren't going to read, holding our hands, closing our eyes, one of us reciting a prayer while the other pretended to pray while wondering how a borderline atheist like him got into a situation like this in the first place. after another eternity, the prayer was over, we opened our eyes and she smiled at me. i smiled back, she let go of my hand, and,still looking at me, pulled out a brochure from her backpack. a fucking brochure, for her church. which was followed by a notebook where she wanted me to write how i found the prayer experience with her, and sign my name. i was too stunned for an indignant expression. i could shoot down pyramid marketing guys before they even took off, yet i'd been had this time. i accepted defeat and signed the notebook, and walked home with one less reason to believe in god.