The Seventh Date
Representational Image. Courtesy: Tiny Tribes @Unsplash

The Seventh Date

June 25, 2022

JUN’S ABSENCE

itches my eardrums more than the shrill, ear-piercing cacophony of the traffic underneath the flyover.

 A HALO

it’s a halo of deafening silence around me. I have known this halo for some time now. Some time? No, I mean quite some time. One year and twelve hours. Maybe a few minutes longer too. This halo is hell-bent on dismantling the ritual I’m trying to immerse myself into: gorging on Jun’s freshly baked, dream-filled, sweet and pungent, crispy crepes of chatter.

For long and never-ending quarter of an hour.

Leaning against the rusted railing of this flyover with a u-turn.

Three days a week.

Every week.

Unfailingly.

UP THERE

the sky is a pale gray umbrella of slow-moving cloud bubbles. Dusk. Just as usual.  It’s going to rain. Perhaps. It always rains on the first day of Bohag. Down there, at Maniram Dewan Road traffic is slow. People jostling against each other on the narrow pavements, hurrying home from work, buying vegetables and fish at the makeshift market. The constellation of street lights, lit up a while ago look like an array of dazzling oranges hung from posts that resemble giant forks. On the other side, the wide expanse of the Assam Engineering playground is prepping up for the first-day-first-show of our festival of love. Of The New. Bohag Bihu. I’m feeding my eyes with these sights. At the flyover with a u-turn. Just as usual.

HOLDING JUN’S HANDS,

is what I miss the most now. And why won’t I? Since the afternoon I had handed over the love-letter to Jun, I longed for a YES from her. Her acceptance was my galaxy. Every afternoon, for a week I hurried back from college, often skipping the Logic and Philosophy lectures and waited for her at Chandmari bus-stop, where she usually got down and walked up to her tuition centre behind the Assam Engineering Institute. A week after when I had given her the note, her acceptance – the invaluable YES – did come, but not as the cliché verbatim: Yes, I love you too.

She asked me to meet her at Chandmari bus stop, by the spiralling staircase which leads to this flyover. It was an uncanny place for a date. It is so, even now. Things, anyways, don’t change much in two years and four months, do they? In front of us was one of the most crowded bus-stops in the city, to our left, a long queue of cycle-rickshaws, to our right, a temple under construction. Behind us was a stinking open drain carrying the garbage of the vicinity. We took slow, quiet steps through the pavement towards her tuition centre. We just walked by each other, hardly speaking a word. There was a strange unease of silence between us.  So strange that it overwhelmed the cacophony of the street. But it wasn’t like the halo of silence I am in now. It was pleasant. I could lose a fortnight’s sleep on it. This one is scary. I may die, if I don’t hear her voice soon.

That evening, we had stopped at the entrance of the by-lane facing each other and had smiled. She said that she had just about two minutes for her science tuitions to start, but that she wished to meet me soon again. I said that I would wait for her the next day as well.

“No, not tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll have to go to Ganeshguri for my Math class,” she said.

“Then when?”

“I’ll tell you.”

“How?”

“You’ll come in the morning, right?”

“Yes.”

“The days when you see me holding the school tie in my hands, meet me at Guwahati Club bus stop. Not here. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Okay was just the calibrated outpour of a whirlwind of emotions I was feeling inside. It was my Pehla Nasha moment.

Before leaving for her science tutorial home she waved me bye and smiled. Full and wide. All welcoming.

That was my first date with Jun.

Following the tie-in-hand gesture, Jun and I have met five times so far. Rather, we have escaped to places we had imagined together. Those meets, however, have been like the stars in the Milky Way, each one celestially distanced from the other by a zillion waiting moments. Days, weeks and months. Until last April, we used to get to see each other almost every day, when her family had moved into a one-bedroom dingy railway-quarter like ours at Bamunimaidam, selling off their magnificent Assam-type bungalow at Mother Teresa Road, following the drastic financial downfall of their family. In the colony, almost everyone knew each other, at least, by face. Jun’s was a face seldom missed by passers-by. Her hazel-eyes, nobody missed those. It was that pair of mesmerizing hazel eyes that drew me to her initially. Falling in love at first sight – the cliché from our favourite Bollywood flicks.  I can never fall in Jun’s love. I can just rise. And although she hasn’t yet used the verbatim of acceptance – the three golden words – ILU from that not-so-old smash-hit from Saudagar, I can feel that she too wants to rise. Rise in love.

Falling, rising or being in love, by the way, is strangely different from going-on-a-date. I can comfortably be in love with Jun as long as I want to. Perhaps until eternity ends. It’s just a matter of one tiny part of the body – the craving heart. But going on a date involves an entire existence, physicality being of prime importance. To arrive at the blessed moments of blended physicality with the loved one, like sitting beside each other in a park, or walking hand-in-hand in the streets, or to eat at a food-joint, needs something more than a just a craving heart – unwavering guts. Who wants to become the reason of ire and censure of all onlookers? Just as water-logging, agitation, floods, secret killings, bomb-blasts, shoot-outs and dysfunctional governance has become off late?

The point is, I think, Jun and I, despite our cravings for each other’s hearts, lack the other thing –unwavering guts to make our togetherness public. And that’s why our meets were so distanced from one another. And that was why we used steal out moments for each other, quite unexpectedly, at weird places and time of the day. But today, it’s going to be different. I believe so.

She talks about her realities: pangs of teachers, the mosquitoes hovering over our heads, the crowded city buses, the food in her school canteen, her ailing father and her ever-vigilant mother, her siblings and how she wished they too, could go to an English medium school. I talk about mine: my mother’s erratic work schedule, our house in Tezpur, my elder brother’s academic achievements and how mine are in sharp contrast to his, Zubeen’s latest songs, and my new friends in this city. That’s what we do when we meet at this flyover.

Bisarisu kaxorote, by the way, has become our latest common favourite. We hum it together here, leaning against the rusted railings of the flyover, whenever the music cassette shop down there at Maniram Dewan Road plays it loud enough.

Sometimes we leap at distant realities – dreams. She talks about hers: about bird-watching, going abroad for higher studies, buying back the Assam-type bungalow she was born in, travelling to distant places – Paris, Edinburgh, London – and then coming back here to the city she loved more than any other place, coming back to me, becoming complete.

OUR MEETS,

she says, make her days complete. And this is one thing that used to surprise me in the first couple of times she had said it.  Back then, I had no inkling how one complete day would look like for me. In fact, I’d never asked myself what would make me complete. Perhaps, a half-century at the night cricket match. Perhaps, a poem written for her. Perhaps, smoking a king-size cigarette – head to the edge of the filter alone. Perhaps being with Jun longer than a quarter of an hour.

But between the gaps of a zillion waiting moments that separated our meets from one another over the last two years and four months, I have formed how completeness will look like for me every time she comes back to me after her travels to distant places. For now, it’s still a blurred image of blended physicality: Jun and I sharing the same home, same room, same bed, same set of night-lamps to read our books, same dimness to make love, same darkness of remaining curled up in each other as we sleep through our nights, same bright sun rays, as we wake up in the morning, same pans to cook our favourite meals, same car (some sort of a sedan, like Honda City) to commute to work and back home. Mundane blended physicality. But this mundane reality – this is the yolk of all my yearnings. It wards off worries like the ducks I scored in the last two matches, the gradually reducing percentage in every exam, the chances of landing a decent job in the city once my studies are over. This mundane reality instils the courage to day-dream and reinforces the idea of making it big. For her. For my Jun.

Among other things that Jun and I talk about, the most common is her yearning to learn languages. Sometimes, without any pretext, she would ask about a thing or two about Bangla, my mother’s mother-tongue. It has taken a while for her to get the pronunciation of Aami tomaakey bhalobashi right. But since the last time we met, these three words have become the anchor of my being, just as my unsaid promise to make it big for us has. Us – Jun and I.

“How do you say forever in Bangla?” she had asked, while fiddling a white Pilot pen between her fingers. On our second date. In a chilled December morning. At quarter past seven. In one of the narrow alleys by Anuradha bus stop. Just about eight minutes before she boarded the school bus. Bangla was just as much new to her then, as were our meets.

“Chirodin,” I’d replied, and felt a quiver within when she placed her fingers upon mine. Soft, cold, unadulterated. I reckoned how since the first day I’d seen her, I had craved for holding her hands.

“Wow! Just one word. Chirodin,” she had said and had paused for a moment, looking up in the blue sky, biting the corner of the cap of the pen.

“Aami tomakey bhalobashi…chirodin.” She had said then, while softly placing her palm upon mine. That was the physical proximity I was subtly, in a simple, undiluted way, allowed on our first official date.

I didn’t correct her that bhalobashi becomes bhalobashbo when chirodin is added to it; that it transcends immediate present into an infinite future.

Yearnings are treacherous lycanthropes – I don’t even recall how or when my yearning transformed from a mediaeval hope of keep-looking-into-her-eyes to a post-modern put-your-hand-around-her-waist.

Holding her by the waist and drawing her closer became, well, kind of, a new habit by the time we came out of Sukreswar Park from our third date, at an unworldly tropical summer noon. Jun, bunking her post-lunch classes at school, with a feigned urgency to go back home, and I, skipping another sleep-enticing, incomprehensible hour of philosophy lecture in college. Sukreswar Park was a unanimous choice, unfaltering like the moment when our eyes had met for the first time. The habit formed as we sat in the park for about two hours on a bench with an over-head shed that resembled the roof of a thatched house. Between sips of machine-made coffee served in paper-cups and sharing potato crisps, she talked about her two younger brothers, who couldn’t go to a convent school like she did; about her dying father who hid his habit of gambling from their family for almost a decade and about her indefatigably strict mother, who monitored every move she made to and fro home. She was concerned for her family. She said that she was studying hard to do well in the board exams, so that she could pursue her dream.

“I have to become one, come what may. I need to get my family out of all the loans. He lost most of what he had earned from the bus business to gambling. And now we are losing the rest to his cancer.” She had said it in one breath.

I looked into her eyes. Moist welling up in the corners. Soon to become droplets of tears.

“Become what?” I had asked.

“Ornithologist,” she had said.

“Orni…what?”

“Bird-watcher.”

I slid my arm off her waist softly. I wanted to. But then she rested her head on my shoulders. In a moment, while tightening my grip around her waist, almost involuntarily, I closed my eyes. I know, she also did.

Later, when we opened our eyes, I talked about poems, stories and cricket matches.

DEEPOR BEEL,

is the only freshwater lake in the city. Sitting in a canoe that wavered on every stroke of the oar in the mild waves of the water, I had my first insightful, all-important treatise on avifauna, given Jun’s overwhelming interest in birds and birdwatching. That was when I realized she didn’t mind me calling her Jun. Jun – the moon – light of night. Perhaps, never in my life will I be able to call her by her full name – Junali. We had almost made our elopement plan in that third date, as we gazed at the charismatic view of the lake, the hillocks far beyond and the countless variety of birds, while living the tenets of love in that morning. All through the ride, I held her hand and sat close to her, putting my left arm around her shoulder. The softness of her torso felt like a more delightful treatise on my sensory and motor organs than those on avifauna. She didn’t mind me giving a parting peck on her dimpled cheek as well. Back home, in the evening, my elder brother got curious about the fragrance of a feminine deodorant emitting from my t-shirt. To cover things up, I had to cook up a long, logically progressing, believable tale of an after-college revelry with classmates (which included an anecdote on female classmates wearing gaudy, nauseated perfumes and shamelessly tripping over us, boys).

A MISTIMED FEBRUARY RAIN,

in the following year, made our fourth date a bit unusual. As we stood under the road-side tea-stall, on our way up the Sarania Hills to Gandhi Mandap, shivering deep down our spines, with our cold and greasy, skin-drenched bodies, Jun was scared. Scared to think of an explanation to feed her mother’s curious ears with, for the mistimed wetness she had subjected herself to! Completely soaked to the skin, and perhaps mildly titillated from the casual, seemingly unreasonable, infallibly innocent touches that we exchanged in those moments – nudges, shoulder-rubs, warmth of breath on each other’s bodies, etcetera – obvious ramifications of a consciousness inspired by lust-dipped Bollywood songs, (something like a Tip, tip barsa pani) the lining of her white inner, the floral embroidery of her white bra and the edges of her nipples showed up their impressionable existence underneath her white shirt (the pocket of which proudly proclaimed St. Mary’s Convent). I had to cup her cheeks on my palms, look into her hazel eyes with a long, intense gaze, like our Salmans and Shahrukhs, defeat the dehydrating urge of kissing her baby pink lips, and assure her that I wouldn’t leave her in that embarrassing state.

‘Even if it wasn’t an embarrassing state…I wouldn’t leave you,’ had whizzed past my mind, as she rested her head on my chest and gave me a hug. The mistimed February afternoon rain cemented the longing for each other simmering in our hearts, just three days before Archies Gallery placed their Season of Love hoardings in front of their Silpukhuri outlet, the first one in the city. Saint Valentine was also on his way for his annual visit to the city since he was inducted into the bandwagon of love-deities three years ago. Ma Saraswati alone, was no longer burdened with the pangs of heart on her day – Baxanta Panchami, which preceded the Saint’s illustrated birthday by a week or two. So, when the rain stopped and the sun was gleaming again, we roamed around the streets of Lachit Nagar, until we dried ourselves up considerably to head homewards. The following morning, I woke up to a familiar, uncomfortable wetness inside my underwear. When you shape up to be an adult, yearnings too, shape up in strange ways. Sometimes unawares.

AT THIS FLYOVER,

we met for the first time on our fifth date. She was late by two or three minutes, and her absence itched my eardrums, more than the shrill, piercing cacophony of the traffic underneath the flyover. The halo of a deafening silence. A sort of silence, which only Jun’s freshly baked, dream-filled, sweet and pungent, crispy crepes of chatter could break.

“We will now meet here, after my science tuitions are over,” she had said, while together we watched the sun set behind the Sarania Hills.

Short, sweet, regular meets. Guaranteed meets! Three days a week! Every week! Better than those school-bunking, guilt-ridden dates at weird hours. I agreed.

She then recited, in an impeccably good English pronunciation, four lines from half a poem I had written for us. I shuddered to think for a moment how strenuously I needed to work to change my Eenglees to English and my sooz to shoes, to match up with her English. She said she would record her recitation in an audio cassette for me. So that I could listen to my words in her voice whenever I wished. She had perhaps meant chirodin.

ON 15th APRIL LAST YEAR,

we met at this flyover again for our sixth date. We had Uncle Chips and Thums up, cut a pastry with a transparent plastic fifteen-centimetre ruler, blew sixteen match-sticks to celebrate her seventeenth birthday. The first day of Bohag is Jun’s birthday.

The flyover was unusually crowded that day, as Zubeen was to perform at the Assam Engineering Institute grounds in a few hours. This year, I think Zubeen is the main attraction again. But not today. He is going to perform on the third day.

Last year, around this time, people had started gathering well-ahead of time, to secure a clear view of the star singer. The effulgence of the surroundings offered no solitude and so we chose to take a walk towards the adjacent hillside. On the way, I bought Gold Flake Lights stick and lit it up. Between sharing puffs from the same stick, she opened up her mind.

She wanted to go to Jatinga for honeymoon, when we grew up and got married.

‘Nobody goes to Jatinga for their honeymoon! We can go to Shillong or Cherrapunji instead!’ had crossed my mind. But because she loved bird-watching, I had agreed. Perhaps bird watchers liked going to Jatinga for their honeymoons. Anything for our first cigarette-kissery moment. She was at her flirting best that evening. She also taunted me that I might want to grow a stubble, so that I looked a little matured. Grown-up, she meant. She reasoned, nobody would sell condoms to a clean-shaven, eighteen-year old. And if we didn’t have protection, we might end up having kids at a time when we didn’t want to. But then, we weren’t going to Jatinga any time soon, I kind of, thought. Who knows, we might as well, crossed a counter-thought.

Later in that evening, after Jun had left for home, I boarded a bus to Ganeshguri. With an immaculate imitation of the confident swag and the uncanny emulation of the baritone voice of the man in the TV ad, I said “Moods please” to one of the salesmen in a pharmacy. The packet of ten cost me sixty rupees.

With all the exciting conversation we had on our sixth date, I was gradually imbibing another ritual, albeit, with a terrible self-censure: watching television soaps like Baywatch, The Bold and the Beautiful and Sex and the City. Late night movies in English language channels soon got added to the list. And then, porn video tapes. But I didn’t quite like the oral stuff that they showed in porn. The unusually long making-out sessions, in different inhuman, insane, ridiculously painstaking positions appeared to me utterly unrealistic. But I did watch them as a studious mind does. All in anticipation of an if-we-needed-to-do-this moment. When you shape up to be an adult, yearnings too, shape up in strange ways.

Wait! I hear her voice!

THE ITCHING

on my eardrums is gone. We are meeting exactly after a year. 15th April. Her birthday. Now that she is still riding the phenomenal success, she achieved in the board exams last year, this meet, I’m sure is going to be special. This flyover with a u-turn is going to be the witness to this special meet.

She’s calling me from the other side, that faces the Assam Engineering playground.

“Come this side,” she’s waving her hand.

I don’t know why she’s not coming over to this side. Our favourite side. But the way she’s waving her hand, she seems to be in an imperceptible hurry.

I’ve got to cross the road.

HOLDING MY HAND…

well, clasping it, kind of piercingly, she is leading me down the spiral staircase to the Maniram Dewan Road exit.

A few minutes of brisk walk through the crowded pavement by the Assam Engineering ground and we are now at the gate of an Assam Type house behind the Assam Engineering Institute.

ON OUR SEVENTH DATE,

in this dimly lit, aesthetically quiet, thickly curtained, tastefully decorated room of the vacant Assam Type house we are alone. Together. Craving.

Here in this room, our kisses have all the fierce, passionate, unquenchable thirst that the best Hollywood flicks offer…the closest parallel, I can think of, is the deck scene from Titanic. The latest one I have watched. Our osculatory moves have transpired all national boundaries – French, German, English, American, Indian! In our first rendezvous with love-making, we have out-moaned, out-paced and out-timed the actors in the porn video-tapes I have watched so far! The unobtrusive perspiration that has drenched our naked bodies during the act, is testimony to our feat. Now while we are curled up into each other and taking long breaths of relief and contentment, I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s like a trance. It’s real. Come what may, I’ll never leave her. Doesn’t matter how long it takes. To rise in love.

FIFTEEN MINUTES

feels like infinity as we lie on the bed, Jun resting her head on my chest and running her fingers through my hair. Affection. Undiluted.

“Time to leave,” she says, gently pushing herself away from my hold. I nod in agreement. My eyes are still closed. I want them remain so. I want her to remain curled up in me. Until eternity ends.

But then, we rise up. Put our dresses back on. Slowly, gently, smilingly watching each other cover our nude blended physicality with ill-fitting garbs. Clothes.

I feel thirsty. She knows. Pours water into a glass from a plastic jug on the table and gives it to me. Smiles again and says, “Six hundred and fifty bucks,” and then, gives a break-up of the amount:

“One hundred for the room rent, one hundred for commuting. The rest is mine. As the pimp won’t hang out for his cut, you may pay up next time as well. But if you pay now and I give you a discount of fifty bucks. On your way home, you can take a cycle-rickshaw and also stop by Classic to have pork momos.”

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