Short Story: Nudge

I

7:47 AM: When he woke up, the sun was streaming through the gaps in the curtains. It was late. He knew that immediately. In a swift sweep, he threw the sheets off him, swung his legs down to the floor. What was wrong with the alarm? Or did he miss it completely? Then it struck him. It was Saturday. He was getting worked up for nothing. A soft sigh escaped him. But the first rush of panic meant he was no longer sleepy.
As he brushed his teeth, he could hear a love song waft in from somewhere. The way these apartments were designed, your music or voice had only to be slightly loud to make it to your neighbours’. Either the flat above or the one below, most likely. A peppy number from a hit flick that released a few years back. It had been some time, but love songs like this one still made him want to wail out loud. He finished brushing, splashed cold water over his face and walked back into the room.

Yet, a few months back, it seemed to be receding. The waves of pain. Or painful memories, to be more accurate. He seemed to be finding it easier to laugh at silly jokes once again.
Someone told him, facing the truth sets you free. But protective custody is so much safer, he had found. Freedom’s overrated. No doubt those with breezy truths loved to face theirs. It feels beautiful on the face. But when it’s all stormy and dusty, how many of these ultra-positive folks would want to face up to the dust and mud blowing in their faces and eyes? He would love to see them then!

The milk was boiling now. He turned off the gas, removed the saucepan from the stove carefully. Usually he had his morning tea without milk. But he had put the milk on the stove absentmindedly today. He washed the cup in the sink and finished preparing the tea. He had stopped buying the newspaper since last month. The morning dose of negative news was something best avoided, he had decided. He put the bread in the toaster while he sipped his tea.

 

II

Saturday, 7:30 AM: She woke up early, right by the alarm. Over the past couple of weeks, she was beginning to get into a good rhythm, early to bed and early to rise. Today, though, her head was still a bit heavy from the hangover of the dream she had last night. She saw a woman in a long, flowing dress walking across what seemed a deserted town. Her dress was flowing behind her, her dupatta gathering dust as it trailed her. She did not remember getting a look at the woman’s face though. Ha!, she thought, very filmi! So much for dreams.

She had planned on finishing up on some ironing over the weekend and decided to get right down to it, before she could convince herself otherwise. The other day, she was reading a self-help sort of article that said, if you want to make a chore pleasurable, mix something you like with it. So there she went – spraying about some room freshener. She also put on some music and turned the volume up. Humming, she took out the iron and poured water in it. Gathering the clothes took her a few minutes. As she was about to put the iron to the dress, she realized she had forgotten to plug it in. Ugh!! She plugged it in now and decided to finish brushing while it got warm.

 

III

Saturday, 8:50 AM: He needed to finish his grocery shopping early today as the cook had requested to come in early and take the evening off. Such requests had been coming thick and fast off late. A firmer man might have objected but he seemed to be exhausting all his energies at work off late and found little enthusiasm in getting into quibbles with the cook of all people. He turned the key on his door and walked to the elevator. Luckily, it was waiting at his floor. He got in and pressed down on G.

The lift stopped at the eighth floor. As he bowed to look at his watch, he was hit by a waft of perfume. He looked up to find her entering the lift. She was tucking in her hair over her right ear. He knew her, of course. They were on the same team at work. And now in the same apartment too. A fancier person might have read something into the coincidence, but he knew the answer lay mostly in logistics and traffic.

He nodded and smiled curtly. Damn, she was gorgeous. He had to admit that despite himself. If someone could look as angelic this early on a weekend, at least he did not know how they managed it! He clenched his teeth a bit as he wondered how he smelled. Should have put on some deo at least. Still three floors to go to till Ground. Maybe he should be making some small talk. Between the second and first floors, he almost said something. But his lips did not part in the end. As the lift doors opened and she walked out, his jaws clenched for a second. Did he sigh? He couldn’t be too sure. Not the first time, after all.

 

IV

Saturday, 8: 53 AM: As soon as the lift doors parted, her heart skipped a bit. Without realizing, she had dropped her eyes. Why did she choose to wear this terrible T-shirt today of all days! Must be looking so odd this early in the day. She hoped to God she wasn’t turning all red. Somehow she cast a glance and said, “Hi!”
His expression was midway between a grimace and a nod. Oh, come on! Surely, a “Hello!” could not be beyond him. And to see the same person taking his boss on in his pristine whites on Mondays! At least she knew he wasn’t one at loss for words! He was wearing a grey-blue turtleneck now though. As the lift hit ground, she wondered if she should turn and smile. But that would be too much. So she decided to walk out and leave him to his airs.

 

V

Sunday, 7:00 am: He woke up feeling fresher than today than he could remember in a long. long time. There was something else too. After a long time, today he remembered his dream too from last night. He had dreamt of her. He knew fully well that dreams counted for little. They meant absolutely nought. Only, today, he wanted it to mean something. He wanted it to mean something more dearly than he had dared to care for in years. He wouldn’t die wondering. He wouldn’t live wondering, he decided. He knew she went for walks early in the morning. He realized he knew more about her routine than he had cared to admit himself till today. A smile lit up his face. Oh, he didn’t care today!

 

VI

Sunday, 7:30 am: She turned her wrist and pressed on the button on her band. Ah, a few second less. Perfect! She hummed to herself and summoned the lift. “Good Morning!”, said the voice from behind her. She turned and she saw him. She was all sweaty. He looked like a breeze of salty sea air. My God, she thought, this can’t be happening. She could hardly hear what he said. She only hoped she didn’t faint in his arms. That would be too cheesy.

 

Epilogue

The cabbie got up a bit later than usual. On Sunday mornings, there wouldn’t be many people on the roads anyway. So, he loved taking his time on this day of the week. As he was having his breakfast, memories of the last trip last night came floating back to him. When the young man and his girlfriend got into the cab, he remembered somehow getting the feeling of a “made-for-each-other” couple. Perhaps because he is growing used to his middle-aged skin since a couple of years now, the radiant youthfulness of the couple struck him. She was beautiful in the most classical of ways. Her violet dress brought out her eyes ever so well. Her partner was a handsome young fellow too. Sharp jawlines with a hint of stubble, his slick hair hair brushed back. He had caught all of this in his rear-view mirror in the matter of a couple of seconds.

But very soon, he understood the tense air in his vehicle. What begun in hushed tones very soon found its way to steely accusations and denials. He knew this would be their last cab ride together for some time. Most likely, ever! He sighed to himself even now. How sad! A case of what could have been. His cousins were always pulling his leg, but then he always had been a sucker for the romantic stuff. He knew what he would do.

He turned on the console, logged into his account and checked how many Nudge points he had. He hadn’t used any for months now. Yeah, he had enough for this. He dragged some into the guy’s profile. Now, he was being asked how he wished to spend these. Life Decisions.. Relationships.. yeah, that’s it! Now for the girl on the floor below him. Nah, they have waited for too long. He had had a tough time, and she wanted this more than anything. They sure deserved a good stroke of luck now. And most of his Nudge points would anyway have expired in four days as the new season kicked in. Better now than never.
He smiled to himself, sipping on his sugarless coffee. Ah, sweet!