Those harsh words coming out of that beautiful mouth startled me for a moment, and then I laughed. I slapped my hand against my thigh and laughed and laughed, as she glared and me.
My laughter incensed her and she stamped her foot and walked away. I stood there, a big smile on my face watching her back. Of course, she thought I was a worthless jerk, I thought as I looked down at myself. I unraveled the cloth I had roughly tied around my head and looked down to see my clothes covered in dust. Patches of sweat added to my disheveled appearance. She must have thought I am a menial worker like I once was, I thought bitterly, even as the smile didn’t leave my face.
I walked back to the Gurudwara with a spring in my step. I finished placing all the sacks of wheat into the storeroom and as I washed my hands and feet I casually inquired about Soni. I learned that she lived with her widowed mother and 3 sisters. She came twice a week to do her Sewa, sweeping and swabbing the steps of the Gurudwara and helping with the Langar in the evening. She would be here this evening, I was informed.
I left with a smile on my face and made my way home. I knew what to do. I reached home and took a long bath, scrubbing off the dirt and dust of the day. Clean and fresh, I wondered what to wear. I had never given a thought to clothes, they had always been something functional, to cover my body with. Which is why I had just 4 pairs. I picked out the best of the lot and was ready. As I slipped my feet into my Juttis I saw how worn out they were and made a mental note to buy a new pair.
Walking towards the Gurudwara I felt different. I began noticing things around me. This street leading to my house, had it always been so beautiful? The moonlight, why hadn’t I ever noticed its serenity before? The usually long walk to the Gurudwara seemed shorter this time too.
I reached the Gurudwara to find it teeming with people. The evening prayers has just ended and almost everyone was making their way to the Langar. The Langar is a communal meal, served free to whoever wishes to partake it. My mother and I had filled our empty stomachs here many a time. Volunteers help cook and serve meals for the Langar and doing so is considered a service to the big man up there.
I looked around for Soni but couldn’t spot her. All the women had covered their heads and no faces were directly visible. I headed straight for the kitchen to see how I could help and before I knew it I was lifting heavy vessels, serving water, and stirring enormous vats filled with fragrant food. It was a lot of work but it bought peace to the soul.
Suddenly I felt her presence and when I turned to look around sure enough there she was. Carrying a big platter of Roti’s (flatbreads) and making her way through the crowd. My eyes followed her as she served the people seated in a row, smiling at some, exchanging a word or two with others. As she made her way back to the kitchen with her empty plate, she caught me looking at her. There was no sign of recognition in her eyes, in fact, I thought I spotted a glint of interest before she quickly looked away.
After everyone was fed and left, and the volunteers had finished eating we began cleaning up. Post washing up the vessels and stacking them away, I was sweeping the massive Langar hall when Soni and her friends, armed with buckets and mops, came in to swab it. As I and other men swept they swabbed, their chatter punctuated with giggles and laughter. I tried to catch what they were talking about but the distance between us was too much for me to hear.
I had decided that I would follow her to her house, then changed my mind as it would not be the right thing to do. I knew I could see her at the Gurudwara and that was good enough for me.
Done with my Langar duties I stood outside the gate of the Gurudwara, waiting for Soni to come out too. In a few minutes, she walked out with her friends.
‘Vyahkar le mere naal!’ (Marry me) I asked again.
‘Tu!’ (you!) she exclaimed, looking at me, but the disgust from the tone was diluted. She looked at me with new eyes, from top to toe probably measuring me against the ruffian I looked like earlier in the day. Her eyes told me she approved what she saw, even though her expression stated otherwise. Her friends stood mute and confused, looking at both of us.
‘Dur fitteh muh tera!’ (get lost!) she spat out and walked away. Was that a smile I heard in her voice though, I couldn’t help but wonder.
The laughter that rang in my ears was an alien sound to me. I told myself I liked hearing it though. Laughing made me feel lighter, it made me feel that the burdens I was carrying weren’t so heavy after all.
This is how it began, our story. My visits to the Gurudwara had become a regular affair. I had figured out the days Soni would be there and made it a point to be there too. We never spoke, I didn’t even know her name, but each time I saw her I asked her to marry me. Her rebukes were losing their power and, and I guessed she looked forward to seeing me too.
This post is a part of the Blogchatter Half Marathon.
I am writing A Fictional Short story – A River Runs Through It – for this theme.
Read Part 1 of the story here
Read Part 2 of the story here
Read Part 3 of the story here
Read Part 4 of the story here