She was sitting and typing on her PC in the pool of secretaries in the company. 

She was young and slight and was wearing faded jeans and a silk slack. 

It was one of those dumb letters that the CEO of the company wrote to the clients and prospects on the eve of New Year. Everyone in every company knew that such letters, though individually signed with the "my dear" being written in pen to prove otherwise, were mass produced with addresses picked up by the computers from the account ledgers and the business-card-holders of various sales guys. At the recipients' end too it is not mistaken for anything else. The secretaries always open these and letters of thanks produced identically and similarly signed and addressed were mailed back in return. The real gainers were the stationery shops and the courier companies. It was a part of a large-scale habit. Yet it went on meticulously year after year as though it were a sacred ritual to be performed lest the gods got angry and brought in retribution. 

In between typing, she would pick up the telephone when it rang and said, "Good morning, Mr. Ram's office", and passed on the line to the CEO saying, "Sir, Mr. Y is on line, please."

At frequent intervals she turned back and looked at the door. It was already past ten thirty. He must have been in his desk by eight. All the calls on the in-house lines were from others. Not from him. She was angry and violently pulled out the paper. She tore it into bits and threw into the waste paper basket. She brought herself to pick up the in-house phone to dial his extension; but withdrew her hand at the last moment. She did not want to look up the next time when anyone opened the door of the secretariat.

Someone entered the office. She did not look up. She knew it was man. She was going mad with her fingers furiously typing some rubbish as though she was deeply engrossed in her work. He came closer to her.

"Hi Good Morning. Is the boss in, please?" he asked her as if she was one of the many secretaries you found in offices. 

When she looked up at him, she noticed that he was not even looking at her. She was angry at the display of the indifference. She found herself hardening.

"Do you want to see him?" she asked him with a tone exhibiting a deliberate and unfriendly tone.

"Yes, of course. Providing he has no visitor with him. Would you let him know, please?" There was an accent in the "please" as though echoing the tone of formality and expressing his wish for a formality to be a part of their relationship.

"Take your seat please. I'll let him know".

She went into the office of the CEO. As she came out she saw him standing near the cabinets looking at the painting on the wall. He had perhaps shampooed his hair today. He was wearing the roomy type of pants and a white striped shirt, which he always preferred. He looked a bit taller than usual. 

"He says he would himself come over to your office in a short while," she told him coming over to his side. He looked up at her suddenly, saw the papers she had brought out and then looked away. It looked as though he hesitated for a moment. 

She did not know what to do. She walked across to her seat unable to handle this artificial air of formality and the impersonality. She felt that it was all pain that people choose to inflict on each other and on themselves too. 

She suddenly threw the formality away and asked him, " How are you Ram?" 

He did not answer. Silence hung heavily as he was looking out through the window panes across the Ocean tower building which had come up to the 58th level above the ground floor with gigantic cranes dotting the skyscraper.

" I will buzz you know when he leaves his office", she told him with a tilt to her head on to her left which is quite typical of her. 

"Don't trouble yourself, I'll speak to him on the intercom from my office," he said walking away and towards the door of the secretariat.

He paused near the door with his right hand on the knob, turned his face towards her and asked, " Can I pick up the latest issue of Infrastructure Financing from the library, please?"

The library was housed in the secretariat; the key and the register were with her. She walked up to the library corner and gave him the key. He unlocked and stepped in. He did not let the door close as he held on to it preventing it from sliding into closing. He was not looking at her.

She did not walk back to her seat. She stood unmoving just outside the door he was holding. The moments were not slipping by, hanging by in stupid hesitation as though there was a metaphysical question to be answered.

"Hi," it was she with a smile in her voice and him in her eyes.

"Hi," it was he as though he was mumbling to himself. He only continued, " so stupid of me. I don't know why I came at all!"

Quick came out from her, "I know."

The reply and the quickness of it all made him look at her in a bit of surprise. He became silent again.

"Want me to come into the library? We can't be standing like this here, I mean neither in nor out. It is a very inconvenient place and there may be visitors for the boss," she said.

"Up to you'. Come in or not to come in," he said.

"Do you want me to?"

"Why should have come up three floors. To see him? I could have easily called him on the in-house line, hmm," he said.

"How would I know?"

"That's the problem. That very accurately describes the problem. You never know' anything' It's okay' I am going back to my office." He was taking a step out of the library.

" Ram, try and understand. Do you want me was what I meant'. Perhaps I don't know how to speak. That doesn't mean ' you know what. Can' you have said a simple yeah or nay? She persisted.

She had to run to pick the telephone, which was ringing. She passed the line on to her boss. She came back into the library. He was sitting there leafing through an issue of the magazine Pin & Needles, a favorite of his. He lifted his head, looked at her and did not say anything when she looked at him.

He got from the chair, threw the magazine on to the table, went near her and stood close to her and could feel the gentle perfume she was wearing.

Neither spoke. There seemed a change in the air. Comforting and soothing. Both needed it. Silence did not seem to matter any more. They were there. That was about all.

"So you came up to see the boss without having anything to discuss with him?" she asked.

"Yes, I confessed to you already and if you want put it on the notice board that I am a stupid goose," he turned bitter and the air was getting heavy again.

She could see he was upset. Though he clearly knew what he had in mind, he didn't know why he had spoken the way he did. He knew he had hurt her the moment the words were out of his lips. He expected her to know and understand. He could never bring himself to words. He hated himself for it.

She wanted them both to be speaking about everything. Everything under the sun. " That's proof of our intimacy... nothing is too important nor too silly" That is what she always said. Even moods such as this she wanted to discuss threadbare, to the point of reaching absolutely deadened sort of situations. She wanted to go on and on though it would seem taunting or downright boring- he sometimes realized that he wanted her that way.

"Ram, have it out. Let the venom be out," she said.

He did not say anything.

"Is it going to be like this?" she persisted.

"I don't know," was all that he could say.

"You mean what- you don't know if it is going to be like this or whether...." she asked him with her face itself becoming a question mark and a puckish smile. He always liked this, he knew.

He fell into the abyss of silence.

She was getting edgy.

"I want to know, Ram. Do you want us to continue or not?" She was sharp. She knew it and he too did.

"You are very selfish," said Ram.

She was taken aback. "What am I asking and what was he talking about!" she thought.

"Me selfish, what are you talking about now?" she was obviously angry.

"What about last evening at the..." he asked.

She flew into a rage. "You are mean. Sly. Keeping score. Simply because... no I don't want to go back there." she did not complete.

"It was very painful, anyway," he said.

Now it was her turn to fall into wordlessness. There were tears in her eyes. She was crying. She turned her head away. He proffered his handkerchief to her. 

"Come on please, you don't seem to understand. Don't you know my feelings for you?" he asked.

"I do. I definitely do. You know too well that I do. But, for heaven's sake, Ram, we can't go on like this," she paused for a few moments.

You must speak. It is a definite must, Ram. Share your thoughts, feelings.... Words, words. Even empties ones... do you know what the hell they do. Give comfort. Give support, give concrete shape which many times we need in order to see, feel its contours, hug and ... Why do you think they said Shruti before Smriti... Please, ram don't you realize how much they mean, to me at least." she went over to him; he hugged her and kissed her.

"I must go. The boss may be coming out of his office looking for me," she went out of the library.

He followed her with some magazine and went to the lobby to take an elevator.

She occupied her chair. She was not sure if forcing him to speak was okay, if it would make any impact on him this time, was it a sign of her own weakness. Torn between doubt and love, she felt a numb and inexpressible pain.


More by :  A. Thiagarajan

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