By: Shyama Laxman
Her parents had named her Ruksana which at some point got truncated to Roxy. Ruksana might bring to mind a shy, demure, ever blushing Muslim girl, peeping through her burqa and forbidden entry into the male inhabited part of the house. Roxy was not shy and most certainly not burqa clad. She was tall, toned and attractive. I loved her eyes. They were shaped like almonds and were of the darkest shade of brown. She loved applying a lot of kajal. They say eyes are the windows to the soul. I am not sure how much of her soul was reflected in her eyes, but they did reflect her emotions; her pupils dilated when she was angry and dilated a lot more when she was happy. On occasions when we had booze nights, her eyes also reflected hangover and sleep deprivation of the previous night which made her look sexier.
Roxy was popular in college due to her expertise in music. She could play guitar exceptionally well and sing even better. Her voice was silken. Music gave meaning and purpose to her life. Trinity College, London had to be her destination though she never expressed a desire to study there. She sang for pleasure. While we knew that her music could take her places, no one knew what she wanted to do with her skills in the long run.
There are some people who become emotionally attached to their craft and can never think of minting money out of it. A noticeable thing about Roxy was that she never took part in musical competitions that offered cash prizes. If at all she did, she did not accept the money.
The inter-college fest was about to happen in December and that meant extensive rehearsals. However, Roxy did not compromise on her studies and ensured even her team members didn’t. Being the head of the music society she was an able planner and organiser. She was humble, open to suggestions and criticisms, accepting both with grace. She ensured that there was no place for personal rivalry and acrimony within the group. Her talent had not made her conceited and thus people found it easy to approach her.
“Ok guys I have to leave now for a round of practice. This fest business is getting on my nerves”.
“Don’t over sing and give your vocal cords a tough time”, I said.
“Don’t worry”, she smiled and flung herself at me. I lost my balance due to the suddenness of the hug but managed to hug her back and prevented myself from falling.
“You do remember that we have a test on Friday don’t you?” I added as a last piece of advice.
“Yes I do.” She flung her gym bag onto her shoulder. Her shirt was wet with sweat but she smelled fresh and lemony.
January 31 was our batch’s farewell party. The college was done up beautifully with rangoli, flowers and lighted lamps. The smell of freshly fried hot samosas and kachoris was wafting in the air. In the main ground, the local DJ was setting up his console for the dance party later in the day. We could hear bits of Hindi and Punjabi songs interspersed with ‘mike testing.’
Roxy had not arrived. We were sure that she would not wear a sari. She practically lived in her jeans, vests and sneakers. She was too fidgety to manage so much drapery. A little later we spotted her sauntering into the hall draped in a plain red sari.
She came and hugged us. My hands were around her back. I was breathing in the heady fragrance of musk that surrounded her. Her eyes as always were filled with kajal; a delicate silver necklace rested on her collar bone. My hands moved slowly towards her bare skin to feel the contours of her narrow waist. She shuddered and flinched. I quickly mumbled a sorry and moved my hands away.
“Your hands are so cold” she said, her mouth breaking into a pearly smile.
“Hope you didn’t mind leaving the party and coming home with me”, she said tying her hair in a pony. We were sitting in her room.
“You looked sick while in college.” I felt her neck and forehead.
“I am. I was feeling woozy and all that noise was giving me a headache.”
“Lie down and stretch your feet” I said. I sat at the foot of her bed and took her feet in my lap and began massaging them. She shut her eyes and sighed deeply. The tension seemed to gradually dissipate from her body and she fell asleep. I sat gazing at her. I brushed away the strands of hair falling on her forehead. Other than the whirring of the fan overhead the only audible sound was my thumping heart. I leaned forward till I could feel her breath on my face. There was nothing stopping me from kissing her at that moment.
Nothing, but my conscience.
This was not how I had wanted her. I didn’t want to steal a kiss. I wanted her to be awake and aware, desiring and willing.
I moved away and got up. My movement woke her. She looked at me rubbing her eyes and yawning.
“I have to go now. You take care.” I said hurriedly.
“Why so soon? Let us eat something”
“No I don’t want to eat anything. I should be going.” Despite the seriousness of my tone she began laughing. But the solemn look on my face remained unchanged. She realised something was weighing on my mind.
“I don’t want to make this sound melodramatic. I love you. With each passing day I began knowing you better, admiring you, valuing your company and loving you more. I tried to get over it. I knew it was futile. I could imagine what your answer would be if I had proposed to you. But more importantly I didn’t want to ruin our friendship. I couldn’t cut off my ties with you either. That would have upset you. You might be thinking why am I telling you all this now when I know the whole thing is pointless? At this point I know I am being selfish and I have probably lost you and our friendship already. But I have no choice. I want to be at peace with myself. I am sorry for being selfish—I am sorry.” I paused for breath, fighting back my tears.
Now three sounds were audible- the ceiling fan and two wildly beating hearts. Finally, I looked up. Her face was a blurred mass. I waited for her to say something.
After a pregnant pause she spoke, “I respect your feelings—but I just don’t know what to say…I am sorry… I…I am not interested in women. You are a great girl I am sure you will find some….”
I smiled at her through my tears and left without waiting for her to finish her conciliatory speech.
(Shyama Laxman works as Assistant Copy Editor at Rupa Publications. Her previous works are ‘The Unsent Email’ (link to the story http://bit.ly/12FoH9G) a short story published in the Earthen Lamp Journal and ‘Mother’ (link to the story http://ultraviolet.in/2012/01/29/mother/) published on Ultra Violet, a feminist blog.)