VAGRANT WORDS - Dhruba Hazarika
“I got into the car, every now and then looking at the rear-view mirror. Each time, the dark glasses stared back at me. Actor, I thought, I look like an actor. At the traffic point, the light hadn’t changed to green. Engine running, I sat back, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel the way Tom Cruise and Akshay Kumar sometimes do. I drew my lips tight, my jaws thrust out (you know, a bit like A Bachchan at his best). “Ha, ha,” I laughed out loud, “I look like an actor.” And then, I looked to my right. From the front seat of their car, a man and a woman stared at me. I thought I caught a smile on the lady’s face.”
When I stepped into the optician’s retail outlet, the man behind the counter was polishing a pair of dark glasses. Next to him stood a young girl dressed in soft blue jeans and a white long-sleeved blouse. She looked as pretty as a picture.
The boy said, “Your glasses are ready.” He looked at the girl, nodded his head. She walked daintily to a shelf nearby, reached out for a light green container.
“Expensive brand?” I said, looking at the shades in the boy’s hands.
“Yes,” he said. “Try putting these on. It’s good protection from the sun.” I had known him since long.
I said, “You know I do not wear dark glasses.” I had read somewhere that people wearing dark glasses usually carry dark secrets. Not that I did not have secrets. Everyone has one or the other. Even then, at its worst, I thought wearing dark glasses was a self-deceiving facade.
“Please try,” the boy insisted. “There’s no harm.” Behind him was a wall-to-wall mirror. The girl returned with the container.
I thought, what the heck, with all that dark matter and dark energy, the cosmos itself is a gigantic secret. I took the dark glasses, put them on.
“Oh, my! You look like a movie-actor, Uncle,” said the girl, her hand suppressing a giggle, bereft, I thought, of sarcasm.
I looked at the man in the mirror. I didn’t recognise him. “Yes, Sir,” said the boy, “You do look good,” and rubbed his hands happily.
The reflection wasn’t that of me at all. It was someone else’s. I looked at the girl. She was smiling as prettily as a Spring flower in bloom.
I walked out of the outlet with two pairs, one in my pocket, and the dark glasses on my face, and my wallet empty of enough money that could have seen us through the rest of the month without worrying too much. So what? I thought. I look like an actor. The girl said so.
I walked jauntily to the car. Instead of climbing in, I stood on the pavement, chin up, shoulders squared, Dirty Harry style, with my eyes sweeping the passersby. None bothered looking at me. I thought, disgusting city. Why does everybody have to be in such a hurry?
A fat, young man with a cheerful face sidled up to me, touched my arm, “Help you cross the road, khura?” he asked. He seemed as serious as an umpire in a cricket match with stakes as high as the Eiffel Tower.
I shoved his hand away. “No,” I said, angrily, “I am all right.”
I got into the car, every now and then looking at the rear-view mirror. Each time, the dark glasses stared back at me. Actor, I thought, I look like an actor. At the traffic point, the light hadn’t changed to green. Engine running, I sat back, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel the way Tom Cruise and Akshay Kumar sometimes do. I drew my lips tight, my jaws thrust out (you know, a bit like A Bachchan at his best). “Ha, ha,” I laughed out loud, “I look like an actor.”
And then, I looked to my right. From the front seat of their car, a man and a woman stared at me. I thought I caught a smile on the lady’s face. I smiled back. The man growled. Then the lights changed and they were away. I thought, oh, these poor jealous husbands.
Back home, I said to the better-half, “Let’s go out for lunch.”
She looked suspiciously at me. We hardly, if ever, went out for lunch. Dinner, yes. Lunch, no. But one didn’t wear dark glasses at night. I simply couldn’t wait.
When we got into the car, I put on the shades. “What’s that?” she asked sternly. “Don’t tell me you bought them. They look very expensive.”
Without so much as batting an eyelid, I said, “Naba recommended them.” I wanted the lunch to go all right. No arguments, no long faces. There would be people looking at us, especially at me. Naba is a close childhood friend, an ophthalmologist. He is more than reliable. “Protection from ultra-violet rays,” I said. “Ozone layer and stuff like that.” She was quiet after that.
When we got down at the hotel premises, the security man rushed over, opened the door. “See,” I whispered, as he took the keys from me, “See, he probably thinks I am an actor.”
Said my better-half, “But he does that to everybody.” She looked at me, “You are acting strange today.” I thought, Yes, acting. Like any good-looking actor.
By the time we were seated I still had the dark glasses on. The waiter came with the menu, handed it to me. I couldn’t make out the contents. “Your show,” I said, gallantly, sliding the card towards her. I sat back, one arm flung casually over the sofa. The way it is in the movies.
The lights had been dimmed. It did feel romantic. I looked around, my eyes on the other occupants. Darkish, indistinct shapes. I wondered how many were looking at me.
My wife suddenly said, “Isn’t that Naba sitting over there? Why aren’t you greeting him? He’s all alone. Do call him over.”