California Dreamin’ (PART 2)
by Tariq Iqbal
PART 2 OF 2
- Do You Get What You’re Hoping For
- When You Look Behind You There’s No Open Door
Things changed the third time she spoke to him.
“Good morrrning,” she said, rolling her ‘r’. “I was wondering if, perhaps, if it would not be too much of a bother, maybe you could teach me some profitability analysis principles, please?” she enquired meekly.
This time he noticed her eyes. They were large. He remembered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘great, handsome eyes which he would grow up to in time’ and felt that that must have been exactly true of her. He noticed her smile. It was wide and infectious. It curled up her upper lip, baring her gums, which lit up her face in a joyful radiance that was both ingenuous and genuine. He noticed her face. Usually hemmed in by her ‘abaya’, the Arab woman’s traditional black covering from head to feet, that day it was covered in a ‘hijab’, a headscarf that gave just enough room for her face to shine through, room enough to show that it was the face of natural Arab grace. The slight upturn of nostril at the back, the beauty mark between nose and cheek, when she looked at him, made it beautiful.
He could also tell, somehow, that behind that pretty face was a sober intellect, a maturity far beyond her years, a sound head on pretty shoulders. And behind that bosom was a soul that was caring and empathetic to a fault.
Somehow, he could tell all that.
He was not going to say no. “Yes, of course,” he said.
“But could we do this outside of office hours please if it’s okay with you? I hardly get enough time to finish what work I have in the office.”
“By all means.”
“Could you give me your phone number so I can call you up and arrange to meet?”
He looked it up because he could never remember what his phone number was. She dialled it, his phone rang, and her number showed up. He saved it.
That was when things began to get complicated.
He found himself thinking of her when normally he would be concentrating on his work or on the television program he was watching or the book he was reading.
It had been many, many years since anyone had been in his thoughts. It pleased him, it titillated him, it bothered him, but in a pleasant sort of way. He could not shake it off.
He thought about her some more.
She was driven, that was evident. She would come to the office early in the morning and work till late. She wanted to make a big impression in her first job, but was trying a little too hard. He felt for her.
But he was also aware that it was but a small tiny step between the edge of the cliff and the abyss. He had fallen off it before.
“Crazy old man,” he admonished himself, “Going soft in the head in your old age.”
“But … but … but …” he stuttered.
“Forgotten what it was like? You’re not so young anymore.”
“I know, I know,” he replied to himself, “Wish I was thirty years younger.”
“And you have promises to keep.”
He was silent.
“Promise me you will not do anything stupid.”
“You think I’m crazy?”
He looked himself in the eye. “Yeah, I know … Okay, I promise,” he sighed.
The next day he found himself observing her every gesture.
“You stupid, stupid girl. What were you thinking?” she berated herself over and over in bed that night.
“But … but I don’t get time, and I wanted to avoid people seeing me being coached,” she told herself.
“Yes, Really … Well okay, talking to him also does take me back to California. It was the happiest time of my life. Why would you deny me that? I came back, didn’t I? Isn’t that enough?” She was angry.
“Did it never occur to you that things could be misunderstood? You really don’t want to go down that path, do you?”
“But … but I never thought he would react this way.”
“Well, you had better sort out this mess.”
She calmed herself down and tried to think the whole thing through. She knew what was right. Perhaps it was best.
Don’t talk to him for a few days, she thought, and things will be back to normal.
She did that.
It hurt him.
Perceptive as she was, she had seen instantly that it hurt him. It made her uncomfortable, even a trifle despondent. This is not me, dammit, she cursed herself.
She went up to him to ask how his work was progressing, mending fences.
He had a hold of himself. He would not go where he shouldn’t. After all, he had made himself a promise.
Slowly, they began to feel more comfortable around each other. She would ask him for help, and he would go out of his way to make sure that she got his best answer. It made him feel good. He would send her stuff to read, trying to make up for what he considered had been his faux pas. His note would say something like, “This will appear daunting and gibberish and Greek (in that order), but not to worry. Will walk you through it.” And she would respond with, “It looks interesting and important and new (in that order). I will look up the concepts and get ready before you walk me through it.” He would chuckle at her growing self-confidence.
Things had been sorted out.
But without her knowing, he would notice things like the imperceptible small scar at the back of her hand and wonder how she got it. He could discern the sound of her footsteps walking by. And he could smile at her going about her work without giving himself away.
And then, as if the gods were in a race, his project was complete and it was time for him to leave.
He came up to her to say goodbye. Their gaze met for a brief moment. Her eyes said take me with you to my beloved California. His eyes said come with me, I will hold your hand, lean your head on my shoulder, and I will walk with you through all the gardens and all the tree-lined backstreets of California.
“Take care of yourself,” she said.
“And you look after yourself,” he said.
As he turned to walk away, he knew he would not see her again. But in that moment, he could not bring himself to believe that.