Higher Secondary was the final examination that we took at my school. Those were the last few days when we were required to wear the uniform. We also had to attend extra classes during those days. Naturally, I would be late catching the tram home. That is when I saw her for the first time.
She would come to the same tram stop and would get down at the stop where I would. Then she would walk away in another direction towards her home. I never followed her to find out where she stayed, in spite of my curiosity to do so. I saw her everyday and it soon became a habit.
She wore a headscarf and I would wonder why. Was she bald? Or did she fear losing her hair? It was only later, when I was able to peek at her notebooks and saw her name, that I realised she was a Muslim. I used to daydream and would try to visualise the kind of hair she was hiding under that scarf. Black, curly, long or straight: what would it be? She never had any tresses escaping her scarf. Other than the headscarf, her uniform consisted of the skirt and blouse that every girl in our school had to wear. Her face reflected innocence and her beauty was heightened by the mysterious scarf she wore.
We saw each other every day. We often exchanged glances but never spoke to each other. At times, when I would reach early at the tram stop, I would intentionally skip a couple of trams and wait for her to come and then ride the same car with her. Those days when I would reach later than usual, I would look out for her, but in vain. One such day, as I was about to cross the road, a tram left the stop and I saw her, not on the leaving tram but at the stop. Maybe she had seen me coming. I acknowledged her that day with a smile and she smiled back.
It was late in April. Our school days were coming to end, with us counting the days before our forthcoming examinations. That day, no sooner than I left the school, the Nor’wester struck. It not being the rainy season, I was not prepared for the lashing rain. When I reached the stop I could not see her. Drenched and miserable, I sought shelter under a tree, and waited for her.
She came after a while, drenched, walking briskly. I smiled at her, brushing off the water from my hair – indicating that I was wet too. She smiled back. As soon as the tram came, I let her climb the car first like I always did and got up after her. She sat down on a long bench. As I looked around for an empty seat she tapped on the bench. As if inviting me to sit next to her. I hesitantly did. We both kept our bags between us. She then opened the knot of her wet scarf and untied the bun that held her hair. I fell into a dazed state when I saw her long, beautiful hair for the first time.
As she bent her head, the long strands fell over her face. She shook her head vigorously to shake off the excess water. Her silky hair flicked across my cheeks with a sweet whiff of Jabakusum hair oil. Reflexively I caressed my cheek with my palm, brushing away the water droplets. She realised what had happened and her hand now flew to my cheek and stayed there a while.
“Sorry,” she said, before removing her hand. I mumbled something, perhaps saying it was all right. She quietly tied her hair, covered it with a fresh scarf from her bag. It was time for us to get off the tram.
That was the last I saw of her. I was only seventeen then. I did not know what love or romance meant. I was busy with my physics and chemistry, but even now, whenever I remember that day, I get goosebumps. Every year, when the Nor’westers strike in April, I hold my cheeks and feel her fingers on me.
This was the most romantic moment I have experienced. And shall remain so forever.