It started on a warm summer afternoon. Like most things do.
He was sitting on a park bench, his head leaned back, his eyes closed, with an almost non-existent smile on his face.
As I jogged by, my hair tied up in a ponytail, my face sticky with sweat, I realized that the sight of his perfectly chiselled face and his gym trained body would stay fresh on my mind for quite a while to come.
Ok, so maybe it didn’t start on that warm sunny afternoon. It started on the next one.
Because the very next day, I went jogging by the same spot and there he was, as perfect as a picture postcard.
This time, I turned around and on impulse, decided to sit on that bench, next to him.
I was hoping for him to turn to me and be mesmerized by my beauty.
Before we continue, let me tell you that I’m not really good looking. My hair is frizzy and my face is round. I don’t have a perfect body like the girls on those beauty magazines have. I’m not exactly fat but I’m definitely a bit lumpy in a few places. Probably the only noticeable feature about me is my big brown eyes.
Anyway, I was really hoping he would turn and smile at me. We’d then introduce ourselves and a long conversation would turn into a cup of coffee which would then develop into a proper dinner date. We’d meet every day and discuss every tiny detail of our lives and would never get bored of looking into each other’s eyes. Eventually, we’d celebrate our first anniversary and then our second till we got married. Sigh.
Yes, I admit it. I’m a love-sick fool.
But no, I haven’t fantasized like this before.
This is my first. I promise.
The first time was a mistake.
But hey, hopefully, the second one wouldn’t be!
Though much to my disappointment, he didn’t even look at me. I sat there for a while, feeling stupid, not knowing what to do. Then, I just got up and left.
That evening at home was worse.
I had just sat down to watch some TV, to drown the miseries of my budding love life (Did I tell you I’m delusional too?), when my mother walked into the living room and started off with her daily dose of ranting.
“Young lady, take those shoes off this instant! Oh my God, look what you’ve done to my beautiful carpet. This was given to me by my great grandmother. Where have you been jogging? In a mud pit? You need to learn some discipline. Wait till dad…”
And then she stopped. Abruptly. Suddenly.
I turned the TV off, knowing that this was the second time this week that she was making this mistake.
Getting up, I walked over to her now crouched figure, hugging her as tightly as I could as she let the tears roll down her cheeks.
I wanted to cry too but then I knew that it would be of no help, the two of us sobbing like fools over a man who was never going to come back.
This is the part where I tell you what happened to my dad.
I know, I know. I’m not that great a story teller but then, I am filling in the bits, aren’t I?
Anyway, he didn’t die, like you must be thinking right now. Though, I wish he did.
He left the house.
With another woman.
Let me make one thing clear. That other woman is nowhere as beautiful as my mother. She’s old and ugly. But she’s rich. And we’re not.
That must be why he left us.
But, I’m not upset at all. I’m glad he’s gone.
Now, it’s just the two of us and we can be happy together.
No more long nights of waiting for him to come home. No more loud arguments that the neighbours can hear.
Most importantly, no more having to see that drunk old fool who was not only a poor excuse of a father but also a pathetic, blind ex-husband.
But obviously, my mom couldn’t bear it.
Obviously, she still cries every night.
But it will pass. And once it does, she will realize that she has a daughter who needs her very much right now.
The next day, I went jogging again.
Just to look at him.
But he wasn’t on the park bench.
My heart attempted a somersault and landed on its butt.
But then it got up again, when at a distance, I saw a boy lying on the sand, shades on and a hat on his face.
Instantly, I knew it was him.
Knowing I had to make a move, and fast, I gathered all the courage I could and sat next to him, pretending to tie my shoe laces.
“Hey there! Nice day, isn’t it?”
At first he didn’t respond.
Then, he slowly took his hat off his face and turned to look at me.
“It’s amazing” He said. “I’m Jack. You are?”
“Buzz” I said, embarrassed. “Ok, ok! Don’t laugh. I know it’s a weird name. But I like it!”
“I like it too” And he smiled.
This time, my heart was performing all sorts of gymnastics.
Adjusting the shades to his eyes, he sighed peacefully and lay back.
“Um,” I said, fidgeting. “I’d better go.”
“Then lie next to me for a while” And he patted the soft sand next to him.
This was going better than I expected.
I lay for a while, my feet crossed as we began to talk about our lives.
“I live with my mom!” I exclaimed. “She’s perfect. My dad’s a jerk. Thank god I don’t live with him anymore!”
“I live in the big beach house by the sea.” He said. “I live alone but I love it there.”
“I came here for the summer”
My mind started telling me this wouldn’t work. He lived here. I was only going to be here a few more weeks.
But I couldn’t walk away.
Not when his voice sounded like heaven and his face looked like a dream.
We spent the next hour talking and then I said I had to leave, that my mom would get worried. But I didn’t want to go.
“I’ve never felt like I have known someone my whole life in such a short time” He grinned.
“I’ve never told someone this much before. Ever”
“Why don’t you come over to my beach house sometime?”
He sensed my hesitation and laughed.
“Ok, then. Why don’t we meet at the beach again? Same time?”
“Yes” I squealed.
He waved as I walked off and I ran home, elated.
The next day was even better. We seemed to have hit it off really well and over the next week, we became very close. I loved every little thing about him. The way his shades complimented his complexion, the way he crinkled his nose whenever he didn’t like something, the sound of his laughter and the way he sat close to me when we were on the park bench. I found out that his parents had died when he was a child and that he had been living alone for a long time now.
“I’m falling for you” I blurted out one day.
He smiled at me, a sad smile, and touched my cheek.
“I’m not right for you”
I took that to mean that he thought I looked hideous and tears sprung to my eyes.
“I need to tell you something” He said.
He took his shades off and stared at his hands on his lap.
“What happened?” I asked, my voice revealing the intensity of my worry.
He looked straight at me, his eyes boring into mine when he said the words that sent me into a state of shock.
After that admission, we sat there, not saying a single word.
I recalled how I’d never seen him walking on the beach. Never saw him without his shades. He either had them on or had his eyes closed. He had always been sitting on the park bench or lying on the sand by the time I had arrived.
“I understand if you want to leave now” He said, in a whisper.
I got up, thought for a second, and on impulse, kissed him on his cheek.
“I don’t care” I said.
He smiled, then, a slow, doubtful smile.
Holding my face in his hands, he said the three words that no one except my mom had ever said to me.
“You are beautiful”
I knew then that nothing would mean more to me than those words.
Because he didn’t see my hair or my face or my body.
He saw my heart.
I realized then that, that was the only thing that mattered.
“I want to see your beach house” I said, wiping a tear from my eye, resisting the urge to hug him.
He got up and unfolded the walking stick that was in his pocket.
Holding hands, we walked to the place he’d been talking about all week, his magnificent house.
“Here we are!”
What stood in front of me was not a marvellous palace. It was an old dilapidated building.
“We’ll take the stairs! A bit of exercise always helps. Besides, I’m only on the second floor!”
I didn’t even see a lift anywhere.
One would have to take the stairs whether he wanted to or not.
Rummaging in his pocket for a key, he opened the semi-cracked door to his place, revealing a sight so pathetic, it made me want to cry.
There was a plastic chair in the living room and a mattress on the floor.
The kitchen contained a wooden slab made in the corner of the living room and a provision for a stove.
A glass and a plate lay on one side of the slab and next to it were unopened packets of bread.
“Come, you can hear the sea from outside” He said, as excited as a small child and took me to the open balcony.
Standing behind me, he sighed peacefully.
I didn’t see the sea. I didn’t see anything except a woman washing clothes under the tap water.
“Close your eyes” He whispered in my ear.
The sound of his voice inches away from me sent shivers up my spine.
“Now listen close. Don’t say a word. Just listen.”
I did as he said, till eventually, the rhythmic noises of the washing almost turned into the music of the sea.
We stood there like that, skin touching skin, silent for almost 15 minutes.
“How do you like it?”
I turned, determined not to let the tears in my eyes reflect in my voice.
“I love it.” I said, wrapping my arms around him.
“And I love you”
I knew then what a relationship was all about.
Jack made me feel secure.
He made me feel protected.
He made me understand that life wasn’t about the obstacles.
It was about the way we saw them.
In the short while that I knew him, he had managed to become my life.
I introduced him to my mom a day before my summer had ended.
I was scared she would make comments about him, but the exact opposite happened.
They hit it off quite well and eventually, their conversation turned serious.
“She… misses her dad. She never got to see much of him. You have to understand, that’s why she’s the way she is.” My mother explained, as if I was some trouble child.
I cringed. I hadn’t told Jack about my dad yet.
“Well, if her dad was never around, then that explains where she’s gotten all her amazing traits from.”
I squeezed Jack’s hand.
The next day, after a teary goodbye, Jack and I promised to wait for each other till next summer.
All my friends shrugged it off as a summer fling.
“This is teenage love” They said. “It’ll pass when you find someone hotter.”
“Besides, he’s disabled. You’re just mistaking pity for love.”
But I knew that it was more than that.
Our bond was beyond what the eyes could see.
It was all about what the heart could feel.
And my heart was brimming with love.
We called each other up almost every day.
The next year, I spent summer at Jack’s ‘beach house’.
The year after that, Jack moved to my city.
On our third anniversary, mom and I moved to his street.
On our next, I moved into his house.
Now, after five amazing years, I’m standing in my white gown, my hair tied up over my head, my face still as round as ever, my body still podgy, my confidence still battered.
But as the doors of the aisle open, and I see the man of my dreams stand at the other end, an impish grin on his face, I have to stop myself from throwing the bouquet and running to him.
My friends sit in the front row with my mother as I begin to walk down the carpeted floor.
They will now take all their judgements back, I’m sure.
Jack is above all their boyfriends and husbands.
He sees me as me and not as the round faced, chubby girl that I’ve always been.
They’ll always be surrounded by petty insecurities that revolve around the beauty that will eventually fade away.
But mine will be blissful, as long as my heart is pure.
Like I said, it all started on a warm summer afternoon. Like most things do.
Only, I found my life that day.