There she was! I caught her eye again as our gazes met for a split second. Curly locks of jet black hair falling over her white school blouse, while her big beautiful eyes darted all around, occasionally in my direction; she was quite self-conscious that I was staring at her. I could not help, but stare. Those high-set cheek bones accentuated her inset eyes, while her giggly smiles gave her cheeks the prettiest dimples. “How come I’ve never seen her before in school? How do I find her name?”
Standing in the hot sun, in the school assembly that spring morning, I searched for answers, while my heart was feeling confident. Not that I had much experience in these matters; I had only turned 15 three months ago. Then I saw Zumi, my friend from KCSL, standing close to my mystery girl. “Hmm she’s in the 7th, so that would make her 13 or at least late 12”. Now Zumi was Melvin’s cousin and Melvin was amoung my closest buddies. I decided to direct my investigation via that channel, not realising that the more people I involved, the more widespread my secret enquiries would become public.
By break time, next day Melvin had her name “Vikki Ann Harris”. “Hmmm nice, rhymes with Vincent Naveen Morris”. I found out where she lives. Also that Teena was her first cousin. So more information flowed from Teena about her family, which church she attends, who her friends were etc. However before long, nearly the whole of the high school “knew” about the “relationship“ between Vikki and I. Except there was one problem – Vikki and I had not spoken to each other, let alone have a relationship.
However one thing was true. I could not get her pretty face and super cute smile out of my head. My interest in her grew into infatuation, which in turn became an obsession. Frequently, I found myself bicycling to her home at all hours (including wee hours of the morning), hoping to catch a glimpse of her. And in more than one occasion, I did. Back in those days, before internet and iPads, kids spent a lot of time outdoors. A favourite past-time was to stand by the gate and admire the passing traffic. On one such afternoon, she and her friends were camped outside her gate, as I rode on by on my usual crusades. As soon as she recognised me approaching she ran inside and hid behind the gate. Unknown to her , I saw her through a gap, hiding behind the gate giggling and shaking her hands. At that moment, I realised that my dear Vikki had feelings for me. Elated from my usual shy self, I made a loud announcement to her friends “Ask her not to hide from me…she’s not going to get away from me”. And one of her friends, Roseleen, enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. So now I have support from her closest friends as well. “Yay”. I couldn’t have been happier.
Teena, being a good sport, continued to be our messenger. I learnt that Vikki’s parents were super strict and hence was advised to wait until I was bigger and stronger!!! I agreed, partly due to the sound logic of that argument but largely due to my naivety. In the course of the next few weeks, Vikki’s grades started slipping. I held myself responsible and took up the job rectify the situation. I entrusted Teena to guide Vikki in her studies and to pacify her and convince her that I would wait for her. Wow, childhood naivety has its limits, but not in my case. These decisions just got in the way of me going ahead and just talking to the girl I loved.
The academic year was drawing to a close. As I was in the 10th Std, I was leaving school. It was autograph season, where in all outgoing pupils bought little decorated books and got their friends to pen down a personal message. I bought mine and I knew who I would ask to write on it. As discussed and conspired with me, Teena brought Vikki down to my classroom on some pretext. I did not lose a moment. Grabbing my autograph book, I cornered Vikki and asked her to write in it, and then I promptly disappeared. During the process, I spoke all of two words to her. I am sure the poor little thing was taken aback at the swiftness of all that transpired. So she jotted down something and handed it to Teena. After that, I have wished again and again that I had spoken to more…that I had made her talk to me…
I was out of school and the 2 month long summer holidays were becoming a drag. I was unable to see my beloved little girl. Even my frequent bicycle rides in front of her home failed to pull her out. And this was the time Mummy bought me a Walkman. The old Philips. I binged on romantic songs from the “Everlasting Love Songs” series by Magnasound. More and more I listened to those songs, the more I missed my girl. Something had to be done. I knew she went to church every day for the morning mass. I wasn’t much a church person. However I decided to brave the early morning cold, waking up at 5.30 am and reaching church at 6.30. I did not stop there. I spoke to my friend Rodney, who was an altar boy in church and expressed my desire to be an altar boy there. That would be ultimate, I told myself, to see her up close when she queued for communion. It barely mattered that I was from a different parish to her!!
Then started my one month adventure in church – learning the chores of assisting the priest, striking the perfect praying pose as I stood in front of the entire church congregation, balancing the communion plate just under the chins of the pious. And there she was…way back in the queue of communioners, inching her way towards me. I practiced my technique of holding the plate, as close to chins as possible without actually touching. Finally she was here, at the front of the queue, two feet from me, ready to accept communion. Those two seconds stretched out , as I intently studied her face. Her chin was upturned, face looking straight, angelic eyes acutely aware of my stare, heaving chest betraying her racing heart. My fingers were just inches from her flushed cheeks. I wanted to drop the plate and caress those rosy cheeks, run my fingers though her jet black locks. I had this overwhelming desire to take her in my arms and kiss her then and there…to hell with what the priest would think, to hell with what the congregation would do to me. That was my true cocaine moment – total Euphoria!
And so my early morning sojourn to her church continued unabated every day. Communion time was obviously my favourite. Often, I would catch her eyes, slyly looking at me while she was way behind in the queue! As soon as our eyes met, she’d panic and avert hers so suddenly that I struggled to supress my smile in front of the entire church audience. After mass, the priest and I had a duty of blessing graves in the church cemetery. Without fail, she would follow us making pretence of paying her respects to departed souls. I knew she was buying time so that we would leave church at the same time. But she couldn’t hang around for too long as she was accompanied by her teenage cousins, Roseleen and Norla who, to my irritation, were pestering her to leave. They always succeeded in dragging her out before I could leave the priest’s side. Winding up my duties at full speed, I mounted my faithful steed – the Atlas Blueflame bicycle and rode feverishly, to catch up with them. As I neared her and the protective entourage surrounding her, I could clearly see her sly eyes stealing a look at me while pretending to stare at the ground! Before I could even get a word out to her, the annoying cousins would start teasing me and passing comments. And I would ride on by, without saying all the words that I should have spoken to her. I never got my break that summer, or for that matter; ever. That was my last summer of innocence.
The summer drew to a close and the monsoon of 1992 arrived in full fury. I entered college. Stopped going to church. Avoided church even on Sundays. I let my heart dry up. Threw feelings to the wind. Learned to be foul mouthed, bunked classes, picked fights with gangs and nearly joined one myself. Even managed to get suspended from college. My personality had changed for worse. However, I never forgot my first love. Every time I had the chance, I took a de-tour via her street, and peek over her gate hoping to catch a glimpse of her. As years passed, the bicycle gave way to a Bajaj Scooter and then to a Suzuki Mobike. At that time we had moved house and I was staying 20 kms from her. At least on a dozen occasions I rode on my mobike, breezing past her house. This continued until 1998, when I migrated to a different state altogether and subsequently left India. Never saw her. I realised with finality that the summer of 1992 was the last glimpse ever.
A decade and a half passed. The social media revolution was in full swing. I got back in touch with a lot of school friends. But not Vikki. Her name drew a blank on all social media sites. Even my close friend Melvin had only sketchy information “She’s somewhere in the middle east, with her hubby and kiddo”. No more news. I wonder how she’s doing? I wonder if she’s happy, if she’s being loved? I wonder if she remembers that teenage boy on his blue bicycle? I wonder if she goes to church and reminisce about the altar boy who served her communion back in the summer of 92?