Written by Nandini Sethi
My foggy window faced the clear pane of another man. Through my oversized glasses, I could make out he was sitting by it, sipping on his morning tea, reading the paper like the quintessential old man he was.
I was nearing 67, but I didn’t look a day older than 60, so I was confident that if I combed my hair well and wore my green saree, he would have no choice but to fall for me. I don’t know what it is that I saw in him, but his graying hair and cricket vests had an old charm that worked on me like a spell.
Every day at 8:00 AM, I would make sure to swipe a cloth over the window and give him my customary coy wave. He would look up from the paper, squint his eyes over his glasses and give me a brisk nod. The same ritual followed in the evening, newspaper replaced by a novel, the intellectual man I assumed he was.
Winter was especially difficult since the fog would obscure my view into his house. All day, as I spritzed the flowers with water and swept the dusty tables, I wondered what he was upto, whether he could hear my melodious voice when I sang my bhajjans; I knew he was a religious man, I had done my research.
I always daydream about our similarities, things that can bring us closer, more opportunities where we could meet. From time to time, I would make excuses to go over to his house. I’d make a nice chicken broth and knock on his door, my grandkids insisted I must share some with our neighbour since they loved it so much! I would go over and ask the meaning of a word I read in a book, despite having a dictionary right next to my bed.
But it was always me. That was the problem. I would call my daughter in the US every once in a while, and explain to her my ordeal, and every single time without fail, she would tell me my infatuation would fizzle out. That he was not interested in me.
The last conversation gave me a reality check.
“Mom, you are old now, why focus on silly things like love when you can come live here and take care of your grandkids?”
“But he would get so lonely without a caring neighbour!” I insisted.
“Mom, if you didn’t clean the window every morning, he probably wouldn’t even know you exist. Just move on already, dad would be so disappointed.”
She was right. My husband was a resilient, over-independent man, and watching me from heaven right now, he would be sighing at my pining. He was never one for romance, so I never indulged. But deep in my heart, I always wanted to go on double dates with other older couples, go salsa dancing, heck, even watch a movie together for once! But I guess it wasn’t in my fate.
The conversation ended with me asking about the kids and sharing a few recipes, after which I cut the call. I hobbled my way to the kitchen, pretending to be older than I really was, and took to making chicken broth, to make myself feel better.
I fell asleep on the couch to the sound of Amitabh Bachan on KBC, drooling a bit on the pillows I wove myself.
The next morning, I started off my ritual as always, albeit a little earlier, getting to the window at 7:00 on the dot. I dusted the dustless tables, swept the spotless floors, waiting for the ding of the bell, signalling that the milkman was finally here.
The day felt gloomy, and without anyone to care for, I felt aimless; like my life didn’t have any meaning. Maybe my daughter was right, I should change my priorities, and stop looking for the bright side when there was none. Stop looking for love when it didn’t exist. I would call her back and let her know my decision.
The ring of the bell disrupted my train of thought. I was absolutely fuming! Every milkman on the block made sure to get the milk before sunrise, but I had to wait till noon every single day! I flung the door open, about to give him an earful, when I almost stumbled into him. Except it wasn’t the milkman. It was my neighbour, standing tall and awkward, pulling on a loose thread of his vest.
I didn’t dare say a word, knowing I would stutter. I was shocked to say the least, seeing him stand upright for the first time.
“Hello”, he said.
I smiled, maintaining a cool demeanour, “did you need something?”
He opened his mouth, then looked away. Finally, it seemed like he mustered enough courage to say just one word, “well…”
I nodded, silently motivating him to speak for the first time, to finally speak his mind.
“Well?” I prodded.
“Well, you left your window open last evening and I could smell the chicken broth all the way in there”, he pointed towards his house.
I stood amazed.
The look of nervousness on his face was as if he were running for President. “Would it be okay for me to come in and have some of my favourite broth?”
I wouldn’t have it any other way.