This hype about Valentine’s Day reminds me of an English young woman who had curly hair.
Not that she was my Valentine ever. It is just that we had worked together in an anti child labour organization in Delhi years ago. I was a man in Administration and twice as old as her. I thought the organisation had hired me to run the organisation. She thought I had been recruited to assist her in programmes and campaigns against child labour.
We were fighting over implementation of her programmes
I called her my Warrior Princess.
She had one strong point in her favour.
If she thought she was in the wrong, she would come back, a little later, and apologise to me.
“Are we friends still,” she would ask with her right hand extended towards me. In nervousness, she twirled the strands of her silken hair around the fingers of her left hand. She was never too sure if I would grasp it.
When that happened, I usually shook hands with her no matter, how angry I was.
I may have even hugged her neck a couple of times to reassure her.
When she was about to go back to the UK for Christmas, I thought of giving her a gift. I had wanted to make up for all my screaming and shouting at her in the office.
I sneaked up from behind and placed my hands on her shoulders. She had been sitting at her work station, pounding on the keyboard.
“What’re you doing?’ she asked.
“Measuring the width of your shoulders,” I replied.
I’d this childish belief that she could accuse me of anything. It could be from incompetence to mismanagement. Even of being a stooge of the organisation. But it could never be of taking advantage of her in any way. I had always maintained a distance from her.
“But why,” she countered.
“You’ll know soon,” I said.
After measuring the width of her shoulders, I requested my sister to buy a ‘kurta and pajama’ white suit for her. She bought one that had hand embroidered floral patterns around the cleavage buttons. She had it delivered to me in office.
When the English woman came to my cabin to say goodbye, I asked her if she would let me walk her home.
After obtaining her consent, I picked up her gift.
“What’s inside it?” she asked.
Not wanting to tell her before becoming sure that she would accept the gift, I avoided answering her. I had feared she might snatch the parcel from my hand and drop it in the dust bin to get back at me.
“It’s very expensive,” I replied. “I can’t risk leaving it behind.”
“A Christmas gift for me?” she asked looking at me from the corner of her eyes.
I avoided telling her again.
In her intern house, we talked about office politics. There was an opposition building up against us. I even advised her to look for a job in England, as she didn’t look happy working in India. But if she did come back, I would give my word not to shout at her again.
She thought I was short tempered and would never be able rise above it.
When we were both comfortable in each other’s company, I handed her the gift.
“Do you want me to open the gift now,” she asked. “Usually, we open it at Christmas.”
“Open it at Christmas, then,” I said trying to hide my disappointment.
I had wanted to see for myself what my sister had bought for her.
Soon it was time to take leave of her.
She came to see me off at the door.
As I turned to leave, she held out her hand.
I stretched out my left hand, which was closest to her. I thought I had done my bit to assuage her feelings.
“No, not this hand, your right hand,” she said, Warrior Princess to boot. “It’s your warring hand.”
As I turned to shake hands with her, she looked like a ‘true blue blood princess’ in my warped imagination.
The bright light behind her had created a halo around her head in the dimly lit stair case. It had added a softness to her face, as she looked picturesque framed by the doorway. The only thing missing was a sword dangling from her waist.
I realised that she wouldn’t be going home with bad feelings against me at least. I was not too sure of this against the organization.
Despite my well intended advice, she returned.
I don’t know if I kept my word of not losing my temper. In the six-month period thereafter, we had crossed swords a number of times with one another.
I didn’t also get to hear from her what she had thought of my gift. She never told me. I too never asked. I was too proud to ask. All I remember of the white suit is that I never saw her wearing it.
I, sometimes, wonder if she would have looked as white as driven Snow in it?
Happy Valentine’s Day, girl!