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 and attend extra classes. 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 burgeoning curiosity to do so. But I saw her everyday and soon it became a ritual.
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 into her notebooks and saw her name, that I realized she was a Muslim. I used to daydream and visualize the kind of hair she might be hiding under that scarf. Black, curly, long or straight-what would it be? I never saw any tresses escape her scarf and that fueled my curiosity even more. Other than the headscarf, her uniform consisted of the skirt and blouse that was mandatory for every girl in our school 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 earlier than usual at the tram stop, I would intentionally skip a couple of trams and wait for her to arrive in order to ride in the same car with her. The 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, I saw her- not on the leaving tram but at the stop. Maybe she had seen me coming, I assumed. I acknowledged her presence that day with a smile and she smiled back.
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It was late in April. Our school session was coming to end and we were counting days before our forthcoming examinations. That day, no sooner than I left the school, the Nor’wester struck. Since it was not the rainy season, I was caught unawares and 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 and walking briskly. I smiled at her, brushing off the water from my hair – indicating (like a fool) that I was drenched too. She smiled back. As soon as the tram came, I let her climb the car first like I always did. As I looked around for an empty seat she tapped on the long bench she had just sat down on – inviting me to sit next to her. I hesitantly, did. We both kept our bags between us. And then, almost like magic, she opened the knot of her wet scarf and untied the bun that held her hair. I fell into a daze as I saw her long, beautiful hair cascade out of her scarf.
As she bent her head, the long strands fell all over her face. She shook her head vigorously to shake off the excess water and her silky hair flicked across my cheeks with a sweet whiff of Jabakusum hair oil. Instinctively, I caressed my cheek with my palm, brushing away the water droplets. She realized what had happened and her hand flew to my cheek and rested there a while.
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“Sorry,” she said, before removing her hand. I mumbled something, perhaps saying it was all right. She quickly tied her hair, covered it with a fresh scarf from her bag and there was nothing more said between us. Soon, 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 lessons, 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.