He led the way, walking slightly ahead of me. Turning back ever so often to see if I was following or more importantly listening. He was giving me some gyaan about St. Peter’s.
I pretended to listen intently. Nodding intelligently and laughing appropriately. I wondered how he could be so normal.
“You’re not listening Naina..” Dhruv had stopped, he was leaning against his cane observing me critically.
“Of course I am, I heard every single thing you said.” I defended myself vehemently.
“No.. ” he limped over to me, “You are more interested in the people around us. You’ve been looking at them forever. Why is that?”
I grimaced. I had been distracted by other people. Everybody was reacting to him, everybody in a different way. I was curious. How’d he handle all that staring? I didn’t know whether it was okay for me to ask such things. After all, I didn’t know him too well.
“Come on, out with it! What is it?” He cajoled.
“Its..” I hesitated, thinking of a polite way of putting it across, “nothing.” I decided to let it go. Shouldn’t start off with the heavy stuff, I reminded myself.
“Nothing?” He made a face at me. Then a little more gently, “What is it?”
I grimaced, “People. Do they always stare at you?”
“Oh, thaaat!” he laughed as though it was the most normal thing ever. “You see,” he continued, “There are three different groups. One, who openly sympathize. They give me way, offer to help or sometimes just stare at me with pity. Then there is the second group, people who for some reason don’t like people like me, they usually try their level best to avoid any interaction. And the third category, is what I like to call the confused category. They think they shouldn’t be giving me special treatment, so they pretend like they’re not, but secretly, in their own way, they do extra things for me. Claro?” He said throwing in a little bit of Spanish.
“Wow,” I exclaimed, “And you’re not bothered by it at all?” I was amazed.
“I have had some time to get used to it..” He said flagging down a passing bus. It stopped immediately. As I brushed past him to get inside, he murmured “The driver falls under the first category.”
I had to laugh. Here I was feeling sorry for him, maybe I fell in the 3rd category of people, the confused kind.
As he got in and chatted up to the driver, thanking him for stopping at an undesignated stop, I realized that my infatuation with him wasn’t mostly curiosity as I had earlier assumed. I couldn’t understand why he fascinated me so much by just being normal. Somewhere in my mind, I had taken it for granted that the calm exterior was just a façade and once I dug deeper, he would have insecurities that I knew someone like him should have.
So wrong. I was so wrong.