Fiction | ‘The first time I met you’ by Sharjeel Ahmed | Creative Writing Workshop

Do you remember the first time I met you, my dear? It was at a dusty summer resort just outside the city, nine summers ago. We were there for our friends, who were celebrating a birthday or, maybe it was an anniversary. I had come with a date, the girl I was seeing then, and you seemed to have come without one.

I had agreed to be there for my friend because it would make for a fun getaway with my girl, and you had agreed to be there for your friend because she wanted the company of her boyfriend and all of her girl friends for that celebration. Neither of us had found ourselves in that old, resort looking for someone, but what did we know? You were wearing a red t-shirt, and I, black. Your pants were black, and mine were forest green. Both of us had some funny shoes on, the canvas kind. You hadn’t tied up your hair, and the first time I looked at you, it took me more than a few seconds to look away. Do you remember how you looked that day? Oh, you looked precious, a childish laughter danced on your face, and I thought, ‘Ah, cute!’

We had reached the resort just before noon. In a couple of hours our large group settled down at a sufficiently large table for lunch. I wonder what it was that made us sit diagonally opposite each other; with twenty other people there. It was so easy and natural to look at you. My ex, for some reason, sat two seats away from me then, with the host couple between us. At first it confused me, the infectious laughter in that place; maybe there was something funny in going out with a large group of new friends, half or more of whom we were meeting for the first time. 

But the experience was the same for me as well, so why was I not laughing? They’d break out in loud bouts of laughter over the smallest, silliest of jokes. It seemed like they were competing to make jokes, and I felt so lost, so out of place. You saved me at that table, or rather we saved each other. 

Looking around after one of their jokes. I chanced upon your face, also blank and really beautiful. I couldn’t look away. Your puzzled search for the meaning of the joke, ended on my face. A little taken aback, you laughed. We laughed like that, you and I, every time our friends cracked a joke, and we were glad they did not notice us laughing at them rather than with them. There was only us at that table; and we, as one unit, became the audience to a stage of 18 actors of a slapstick comedy. You may not have realised it at the time, but those moments, my eyes holding the attention of yours, became some of the most precious memories of my life. 

***

I made you laugh on the staircase. Having fun, I asked you, and you opened up in laughter, throwing your head back, making your hair waver. The sound of you laughing uninhibited; seemed to unlock something in me. 

The actors moved towards an upper floor, where they would dance in the dim light to jockeyed music. You and I, made some excuse, separately, to reach there late. I was so glad we had done that, although at the time we did not know that we would run into each other outside the hall, in the wide open land of the resort, even as our friends rioted inside its rooms. 

The staircase was small and squeaky, the iron rusted, and you were slow in your steps, so I held out my hand for you because I was already on the ground, and after blushing a little, you gave your left hand. A soft hand, like that of a child’s but not that small either; I wanted to run my thumb across it, but it would have been inappropriate. After you came down the stairs, you took a deep breath and pressed your lips together. You looked at me as if scanning my face, staring at me with your cheeks pulled back in a smile. Then you let go of my hand. 

We walked together, in large circles, in small and slow steps, breathing an air that felt fresher than before. You asked me about her, and I told you, and I asked you why you were there without him, and you said there was no him; that you were still looking. I guess I am just not lucky enough, you said, and then you might have seen the doubt in my eyes. We did not talk about the breeze or how fresh and soothing it felt even under the hot sun, and there was a dearth of cold water out there but we did not talk about that either. We watched in silence, the syncing of our lazy steps, movement that would have told any voyeur that we did not want to go back inside. 

I do not like dancing, I told you, and you nodded approvingly. You shared your fear of dancing in the presence of anybody except the closest of friends. I nodded. We assumed the others must all have been enjoying themselves on the dance floor; because nobody had bothered to check on us. But it had only been a short while, ten minutes or maybe twenty, and we had to walk back to our friends. I had to find my girl in the dark, and dance with her.

***

My girl did not tell me that she was waiting for me, but I found her dancing by herself, seemingly relaxed and happy. I danced with her, keeping an eye out for you. You danced with your girl friends only, and even though two guys asked you, you turned them away. You disappeared soon, and I kept dancing with my girl. It seemed like a long time because, with each step of our feet, I felt a need to see you again, to even dance with you, but maybe we were both afraid of that. 

Later, we moved to the poolside, and these children, taller than you and me, started pushing each other into the pool. Some girls objected to the pushing, and  were left by the poolside, still splashed with water, including my girl. She told them not to do that, but she couldn’t stop giggling. They kept throwing water on her until she was quite drenched. You kept a straight face and told them no, and threatened to leave from the poolside too, so they left you alone, and I did the same as you, but they were not as keen on drenching me anyway. We were glad to be left out of the water games.

When we had to leave I shook everybody’s hand and to some of them, as if courteously, I said this was fun, we should do it again, so that when you were near I could hold your hand and tell you goodbye too. It was raw, it felt like cheating, with my girl beside me telling her goodbyes, and me holding your hand and telling you it was nice meeting you. 

When you let go of my hand, you let go slowly. You looked sad. Did I look sad too? 

Do you remember any of this, my dear? 

You see, I remember all this, but I don’t remember your name.


Sharjeel writes short fiction and poetry, and may or may not complete his first novel. He has a background in print journalism, and he lives in Hyderabad, India. Three of his short stories have been published by digital magazines. His blog is here.

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