CHAPTER FOURTEEN: DAYS OF BLOOM
The bell rang, Jennifer turned around delightedly, leaving behind her conversation with Meg to await his arrival. The stolen exchanges, and the nervous hubbub that existed, after his absence went on for more than 5 minutes started to grow louder and yet more audacious. The conversations and excitement resumed but her face fell. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Oh well”.
Suddenly a scrap of paper hit her on her back and landed on the table behind. She turned and picked it up. Unfolding, she saw Rakesh’s scrawling hand.
“I love you” was written in a ridiculously juvenile fashion. The circle of faces that had gathered around curiously to read the message gave squeals of laughter. She gave him a wearied expression but could not help smiling at his sweetness. Her eyes shone so bright, jolted back to normalcy, she returned to continue her chat with Meghna.
But after a period of 20 minutes, by which most of the class had gotten convinced that that this was a free period, they anxiously cocked their ears at the sound of arrival of distant footsteps. The door opened and he came in. The class gave an unanimous sigh, but she brightened more than ever. She affixed her gaze on him with wondrous, admiring eyes. “What was the matter, isn’t he well?” she thought to herself. He had a bright, alarmingly brisk manner and constantly strode about the benches making instantaneous remarks and conversing freely with the students, but today he seemed glad to almost slump down on the chair.
His eyes had a feverish glow about them and his forehead seemed waxy as they were so pale. He was straining to even stay afoot. His clothes which he always took pains to appear immaculate had been obviously just thrown together on him today. He took a long time, taking out all his material. The class attained a sort of hush. Some were happy by thinking he wouldn’t take classes while he was in such a condition but the others were concerned. She was positively pained at seeing him like this.
His collar was untidy and unbuttoned at his neck which he never failed to do. His dark grey suit gaped ungraciously at the bottom as they were not buttoned in their usual manner. He looked far from his usual self. His lips were parched and dark. He tried standing up, but as if it was too strenuous quickly resumed his seat. The class was very silent by now.
“Sorry for being late. I would be much obliged if you go through your drama books and make as little noise as possible. Also, as you can see, I am quite unwell and would be very glad for some silence” he told them, heavily leaning his head on one hand. As he sorted the bundle of exam papers he had on his desk, he caught her staring at him with wide and worried eyes and gave her a gentle smile, as if to say, “I am all right”.
The students tried to heed to him but could not and after the fashion of the wayward class, the noise amounted to the maximum after a strained silence for two minutes. He said nothing but looked resigned. When the noise became a volley of indiscernible sounds, as if he could no longer bear it, he gave an exasperated sigh and put his hands to his face again. The bell finally rang and he gladly dismissed the class for the interval. He knew instinctively that she would approach him and ask him if he was okay, so he got up with effort and as she came near him, motioned her to go saying he was fine.
“Oh, don’t look so annoyed. Is it a fever?”
“Well, how else does it look?” he asked her, irritated.
“Why did you come, then? Can’t you take a leave?”
“I thought I would feel better after some time” he answered and feeling his knees feel weak, he quietly sat down.
“I am going to ask at the college clinic for some metacin, wait here” she told.
“Oh, good gracious, no! The best thing you can do right now for me would be to leave me be. I plan on visiting the doctor as soon as the day is over. I am touched by your concern but I am fine. Do leave now!” he pleaded.
“Are you sure?” she asked and he suddenly laughed.
“What?” she said, happy to see him happy.
“It’s as if you are singing, sometimes. Do you have an Irish descent?” he asked her, comically.
“Is it so? Yes, Meg tells me that, sometimes. And no I am not Irish, be you English?” she asked him coyly.
“If it will get you to leave, yes, I am, very much so”.
“Come on, you can’t be completely English”.
“Why not?” he asked her, not even looking up, knowing by ample experience that she would only end up doing what she wanted and would only leave him alone when she felt like doing so.
“You’re not that fair. And besides, there is something peculiarly Indian about you” she said, artfully.
She’d ended up intriguing him as usual.
He looked at her as if waiting for her to reply but seeing she was not responding, he arched an eyebrow.
“That, exactly” she said pointing at it.
“You are English in the way you are gentlemanly, poised and precise. Your speech, your keen sharp eyes that show your involvement and dedication and that resolute, clear cut chin, perhaps. But the charm, dear sire, the distinctly Indian charm that you have in your gestures and your warm, tender nature when you feel moved to exhibit it clearly shows you have Indian roots”.
He looked at her as if untouched, but she knew him by now, and did not mind much. And as if he couldn’t help it further, he burst out laughing.
“And you are certainly a mighty flatterer” he told her.
“Thank you” she told him playfully, with a curtsey.
“Listen Jennifer, take a seat” he told her, becoming grave.
“Now that serious and grave expression, that is certainly snobbish and English” she told him, making him smile.
She did as she was told.
He looked at her cautiously and said, “Are you angry with me?”
“What for?” she asked half heartedly, as if she did not want to speak about it, though she perfectly caught his meaning by his air and look.
“You know what” he said.
“No” she said untruthfully.
“I am truly glad for it, you know, even though I don’t believe it. You can’t help glaring me at times” he said, laughing.
But the sudden reserve that fell upon her face told him he was wrong to bring it up. After a genial chat, the bell rang, and she left him, looking away with sad eyes.