Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Story of a Trivial Encounter

The look is so mundane, so integral to our day to day existence that it almost always escapes our notice. Everyday hundreds of people look at us and we look at hundreds more, and our looks and theirs pass through our pale bodies, slowly drifting away like white diaphanous ghosts of the interactions that will never happen, talks that we will never have, things that we will never indulge in together, places that we will never go together, all of that which was curtailed by the look that didn't go according to plan, the looks that shot out of us and passed through each other without meeting, without our eyes locking and hence lost.

Uxfxmo and Mfgxg passed each other in front of the old bakery that sold the best jam rolls in the city. Both were seeing, or may be noticing, each other for the first time. And so they looked at each other, being as clandestine as they could. Uxfxmo noticed that Mfgxg was wearing a red shirt and that his face was slightly asymmetrical. Mfgxg looked at Uxfxmo and thought, falsely, that he resembled someone he knew from school and also that his shoe laces were about to come undone. After this brief period of scrutiny, purely by chance, their looks met, Mxgfg saw Uxfxmo looking at him looking at him looking at him looking at him... back and forth, ad infinitum. And the universe, being the gentle creature that she is, hates infinities. So both men were gripped by a great sense of shame and they looked away. Uxmtxo looked down as if the cobblestones had suddenly caught his attention, and Mxgfg faked a coughing fit, their gazes diverged from each other and the universe was once again finite and well,and the men went their separate ways.

After that day, these men who had never seen each other before, kept popping up in each other's field of vision. It became evident to them that they lived in the same neighborhood. And within a short time (in the scale that measures the time required for two men to forge a bond between them) they became familiar to each other. They slowly became comfortable with each others faces, as if they had known each other for many years and now when their paths crossed they carelessly nodded like long lost friends between whom words were no longer necessary.

They could have left it at that, but they were curious to know about the other. It bothered them that they could be so comfortable and friendly(atleast on the outside) to a person about whom they knew nothing. In a fit of curiosity, that they didn't bother hiding, they asked around, their friends, their family, the bartenders, the shopkeepers were all faced with the same set of questions 'You know that guy?' 'Who is that?' 'Kind of short, bald' 'Has a beard' 'He comes in here sometimes, you must have seen him' 'What's his name, where does he live?' eventually they found out enough about each other to satisfy their curiosity.

And one day they talked. It was Mxfgxg who started with a 'Hi", Uxmtxo said 'Hello' back as if he was expecting it all along, as if by the predetermined workings of the cosmos it was inevitable that they talk that day. They talked of the most uninteresting things, the weather, the street, the price of vegetables, and before they parted they asked each others name and other things that they already knew, a necessary charade. After the small talk was over they went their separate ways and realized that they would never be great friends, they would never go drinking together, nor would they have long conversations about things that interested them. They were simply incompatible. They would always be strangers on the street who knew each others name.

But in their failed attempt to extrapolate their acquaintance to friendship they had dragged their relationship into the murky middle ground in between. This gave rise to some practical difficulties. Mxgfg was blessed with a good eye sight( unlike Uxmtxo who wore glasses that had lenses thicker than the underside of soda bottles), and when ever he saw Uxmtxo approach from a distance he couldn't figure out what to do. Should he wave or nod or do something else to acknowledge Uxmtxo's presence? Had they been good friends Mxgfg could have shouted as soon as he saw Uxmtxo 'Hey Uxmtxo! Over here!' and then he could have quickened his pace to reach his friend. But they were not thick friends and Mxgfg didn't want Uxmtxo to think he was some overbearing lunatic. On the other hand, Mxgfg could wait till he was really close to Uxmtxo and then just nod. But that would mean that he would have to act like he didn't see Uxmtxo till the very last minute and Mxgfg found that very hard to fake.

So whenever he saw Uxmtxo coming towards him, Mxgfg was seized by this great quandry which made him uneasy. He usually ended up doing a combination of a wave, a nod and a cry of joy, like an actor seized by a fit of epilepsy on stage. He then walked the rest of the distance between them feeling incomplete. He would think about the encounter all day, plagued by the question 'Did I do it right?'. He would go home and draw schematics of their encounter, marking with a big 'X' where he waved at Uxmtxo, which he would then show to his worried wife and amused childern asking again and again the same question, 'Did I do it right?'. 

Uxmtxo had no troubles with the 'when?', due to his poor eye sight he only saw Mxgfg when they were really close ( Only if Mxgfg knew this). Uxmtxo was more worried and confused by the 'what?', he could never decide what to say when he saw Mxgfg. Before they knew each others name Uxmtxo never bothered about it. But now that they had made conversation, exchanged names and talked about meterology, Uxmtxo felt that their relationship was elevated to the level that included verbal greetings. But what greeting conveys 'I-know-your-name-but-that's- as -far-as-this-is-gonna-go in a succinct way? A simple 'Hi' or 'Hello' was too distant, too cold or worse, Mxgfg would see it as a pretense for a conversation and start chatting. Uxmtxo didn't want that. 'How are you?' or 'How was your day?' was too friendly and moreover Uxmtxo couldn't figure out whether he should walk away after asking such a question or should he wait for an answer. Suppose he found the perfect greeting, what then? He couldn't go on saying it everytime they meet. That would be dull and repetitive and it could be perceived by Mxgfg as an insincere greeting. Not that Uxmtxo was being sincere. He could care less how Mxgfg's day went or how he was feeling. But Uxmtxo lived in a civilized society and in civilized societies sounding insincere was a greater crime than being so. Whenever Mxgfg approached Uxmtxo would try to say something appropriate which usually came out as some incomprehensible mumble, as he was consumed by doubt(Mxgfg hardly took notice of this as he was lost in his own apprehensions).

So they kept meeting each other, as if pulled by an all permeating force field, two men trying to feign sincerity and camaraderie where there was none, failing to realize, or may be realizing but not willing to acknowledge that they were nothing more than two strangers and the universe wouldn't explode if they walked past each other without saying anything or doing anything.

Weeks and months went by and the matter became worse and worse. They hesitated even to step out of their houses in the fear of running into the other. Soon Mxgfg stopped going out all together and sent out his wife and kids outside to run errands for him. When it became absolutely necessary to step out he covered his face with scarves and sunglasses so that Uxmtxo wouldn't recognize him even if they met. Uxmtxo also considered the drastic step of not going out all together but he couldn't go through with it as he knew he would lose his job as a salesman if he did that. Instead he resorted to the tactic of following the most convoluted and deserted route possible when he had to travel between two points. He had to travel many more miles than necessary, get out of his house two hours early to go to the grocery store around the corner, he got mugged a few times and was almost stabbed once, but it was worth it. He never saw Mxgfg again.

You must be distressed dear Reader, you must be! How can our protagonists get away with this? Is it not seen in literature ( and to some extend outside of it) that the most complex and carefully laid out plans often fail spectacularly? How is it that the universe, with her insatiable urge for chaos and mischief, let these two gentlemen get away with their plans? How did she not make them meet?

Maybe after many years they do meet but it wouldn't matter for they would have forgotten each others names and faces, they would have also forgotten why they dislike going out so much and yet they will carry out their charades almost like a ritual. Mxgfg would see from afar a man approaching him, tired from walking all those extra miles, and Uxmtxo would see a human scarf exhibit with no trace of a face walking past him when they are close enough, and they would walk away like strangers, and then things would be almost that same as before, before the day their paths crossed in front of the bakery.


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