“The shower is leaking, the faucet is leaking, the ceiling is leaking, and the entire bathroom is leaking. Only the floor isn’t, but it is flooded,” her squealing halted me in my tracks. A lanky, young lady of pale, wide eyes was talking to her mirror-self in one of the many rooms in the wedding hall.
It was still early, the first rays of the sun having just made their way in, transforming the room and everything in it into a dusky yellow canvas waiting to be painted on. And there she stood, draped in a dark red sari with hands on her waist and chin up painting the picture of a solitary rose in a sun kissed wheat field.
The ceiling is leaking? If not for the early morning setting and her enchanting presence, I would’ve concluded without a moment’s hesitation that a lunatic had accidentally checked into a wedding hall instead of a lunatic asylum – not that a wedding hall is any less frenzied. I was curious if she was simply over reacting, was naturally finicky or just plain mad.
“Can I help you ma’am?” is all I managed to ask in the end, after knocking at the door.
“Can you?” came a blunt question.
“Yes, ma’am. Only if you tell me what is bothering you in the first place,” I said, although I knew what was.
“The entire room is flooded,” she said pointing to the room, which was, but for a small patch, dry as a bone.
“What? The room is dry,” saying so, I walked in and found water standing in the bathroom, half an inch of it – and the faucet leaking.
“It is only the bathroom that is flooded,” I blurted out.
“Oh! And where do you expect me to have a bath and get ready for the wedding, sir? Do you think I am here to join you in running errands?” she flushed.
Run errands? I was taken aback. She doesn’t have a clue who I am. Hmm. So be it. It will be fun while it lasts, I decided to put her on.
“Sorry. I am indeed the errand boy around here, ma’am. I will find you another room and have someone fix this, ma’am,” I said and tugged her luggage along as she followed me, her nose and cheeks still glowing red. In a minute, I had found her an alternate room that thankfully had a dry, working bathroom that calmed her down a little.
“Give me your number,” she demanded as I turned to leave, as though it was her undeniable prerogative. That I didn’t mind, or rather, was immensely pleased that she asked for my number is an entirely different matter.
“For what ma’am?” I asked, trying to appear puzzled so she doesn’t know I was desperate for her to have it.
“For what? If I need something, I will call you. I can’t go around looking for people to help me. I am the groom’s friend. So, you better take good care of me,” she said, before taking down my number.
It was strange that she did not ask me who I was or what my name was. What name would she have given me? Helper? I wondered, before dropping the matter as I was called to take care of something else.
I had a busy couple of days picking people up from the station, putting them in their rooms, going out on several trips to buy everything from newspapers to betel nuts; everything that stood to justify the moniker I had earned that morning –Errand Boy.
Maybe that’s the name she has given me. Just then, the phone rang.
“Where are you?” she asked gruffly.
“Ma’am? I am in the dining hall,” I said.
“OK. Can you quickly bring me a bottle of water?” And with that bottle of water, I was flooded with requests. Every errand I ran for all the other guests put together, I ran exclusively for her.
A day and a half flew by and it was just an hour before the wedding, when the phone rang again.
“Hey! I need your help big time. Can you please run to some store and get me some kohl?” she asked, seemingly pleading for the first time.
“Ma’am, I need to get ready for the wedding too. Can you please manage without my help? I need to be here,” I said, trying to sneak away from another errand.
“Hey! Please. I am a guest here. And you know what? I’ve got everything in place – the dresses, the accessories and all. But I left my kohl at home. It will look awful if I don’t have streaks…” she cut off abruptly before continuing, “why am I explaining all this to you? Can you get me the kohl or not?”
I closed my eyes and thought for a moment. What a picture it would be of her with those wide eyes flanked by kohl streaks? She would look very pretty. “I am on my way, ma’am,” I said and shot off to the nearest shop and returned with an eyeliner within five minutes.
“Thank you so much,” she said, showing some respect for the first time. I could only nod in acknowledgement before heading off to get ready for the wedding.
Just as I had thought, she was a picture of grace in a dark brown dress with well-matched bangles and earrings. Amusingly, she seemed to be going around trying to look pretty, tucking strands of her hair behind her ears and seeing if someone noticed every time she did it. I checked if someone else took notice too, and was relieved that none did.
The wedding was over and it was once again errand time. People were leaving, hastily stepping into taxis parked in a neat row outside the hall. Happy eyes, warm hugs, tears and every emotion that plays out at the end of every wedding played out in front me that day.
As I stood soaking in the post wedding atmosphere and was enjoying a well-deserved break from running errands, the familiar shrill voice came back to pull me into one more errand.
“Someone else has taken the taxi I had booked. Now there are no taxis and I don’t know how to get to the station,” she was livid and on the verge of tears. I couldn’t imagine tears making a mess of her eyeliner streaks and ran to her, offering to help even before being asked. Just as I got close to her, the groom walked in.
“Hey! Is everything alright?” he asked, worried.
“How will it be? Someone else has taken my cab. I don’t know if there is enough time to get another taxi. I will not reach the station in time. I won’t get home on time,” she went on and on, just as she had done many times in the past two days.
“Oh! Is that all? Don’t worry. My cousin will take you to the station,” he said, pointing in my direction. She turned to look at me and seemed more shocked than surprised. Her face had grown paler than her mesmerising, pale eyes.
“Cousin?” she asked, turning towards my cousin, also the groom.
“Yeah! He is my cousin. Anyway, you can find out more on your way to the station. Now get going,” he said before heading off for another set of rituals.
“Let’s go,” I said, even as she stood transfixed.
“Yes,” she said mechanically, her face now a stage for expressions to come to life in a play of the many myriad emotions that must swept over her.
Half an hour later, we were at the station, waiting for her train. She seemed to wait for it to arrive, while I waited for it to be delayed.
“I am sorry,” she broke the silence that had engulfed us in a setting of incessant cacophony all around.
“For what?” I asked, truly surprised.
“For a lot, but most of all, for thinking you were a helper and for not asking who you were in the first place,” she said. Just then, much to my angst, the rain chugged in.
Good thing you didn’t ask me, I mumbled.
“Sorry, what did you say?” she asked.
“Nothing. I only said it doesn’t matter. Now get in. The train stops only for a minute here,” I said and helped her with the luggage. Even as she settled down and I returned to the platform, the guard blew his whistle and I realised there was only enough time left for me a goodbye.
As the train left the station and moved its serpentine form out lazily, I could see a pair of eyes glued to me as mine were on her, the eyes and then her form pressed against the window rails growing smaller and smaller, and eventually disappearing with the train.
Ten minutes later, I was sitting in my car thinking of the memorable two days and wondering whether I would get to see her again, when a message came in.
“I said sorry.”
“Don’t be. It happens all the time and I am happy you picked me over many other potential errand runners,” I replied.
“Hmm. I know. I wouldn’t have asked you to do so much for me if I knew you were his cousin,” her next message read.
“I would’ve done all of it even if you had,” I replied.
“Yeah Right. By the way, my name is Maithreyi. Save my number. You will be needing it a lot,” her message read.
I was overcome with joy. I thanked God, my cousin, the wedding and the leaky faucet. And, I was naturally, very tempted to tell her my name right away. What is the fun in giving it all away so easily? Let her wait to know as much as I did, an alter ego that was hitherto non-existent manifested to tell me. And so “Sure,” was my one-worded response.
“By the way, don’t worry about sending me your name. Errand Boy will do,” her next message read.
Errand boy once again? “Don’t you want to know my name?” I asked, unable to restrain myself any further.
“It is Anand, I know. I found out. And by the way, I prefer Errand Boy,” she replied. I could imagine her sitting and smiling wide, her eyes joining in on the fun that she must have been having had at my expense.
“And what if I had told you that I was the groom’s cousin?” I asked.
“You would’ve been errand boy even if you had,” she responded.