She was in eighth grade. It was the first day of school after a long delightful summer vacation. She had gone to that school all eight years, and knew everyone in her class, and most of the kids a year or two behind her. That is why she was surprised to see a new face. He was a boy. Well, if you can call someone who is six and half feet tall, who has shoulders more than a yard wide, hands as big as shovel blades – a boy. He towered over everyone in the school. As big as he was, he was obviously shy, and trying not to be noticed. “Good luck with that!” She thought in her head.
Her name was Ragini. And she wasn’t popular for the normal reasons, oh she was pleasant enough to look at: long black hair in a ponytail, peaches and cream complexion, and a sprinkle of freckles covered her cheeks, and across the bridge of her almost -big enough to be noticed as big- nose. She had the bony knees, big feet, and large hands of a girl about to grow into a woman by the end of eighth grade, in a word- cute. It was her personality that made her popular. She just liked people, did not play games with their feelings, or worry about things like social standing, weight, or prettiness. The word petty, and Shreya were never used together. Everyone liked her, and she liked everyone. She never tattled, or gossiped. The things she knew about other girls and a few of the boys, could be used to manipulate, or control, but their secrets were safe with her.
That is why no one was surprised when she was the first one to approach the new kid. As she drew closer to him, she realized how tall he really was. She stood in front of him, and had to lean back a bit to see his face. “Hey there, my name is Ragini.” She stuck out her hand for him to shake. To her surprise he didn’t shake it. He just stared at her hand like it had no body attached to it, and it was just hanging in the air by magic. Without thinking about it, she reached over grabbed his arm, pulled his hand up to hers, then put her tiny (in comparison) hand in his: “You just shake it. Like this. “She wiggled his arm a bit, his hand barely moved. He still hadn’t said anything. She looked up into his eyes and quietly asked: “Are you shy or something?”
“I suppose so.” Came the reply. A man’s voice, not a kids. A deep baritone voice, one with solid, strong, capable, in every word. It thrilled her to no end.
Without letting go of his hand, she turned towards the School House: “Follow me then, I will do all the talking for you, and show you where your classes are. Okay?”
“I suppose so.” He smiled.
“By the way what’s your name?” She asked.
They dated all through High School. She loved his quiet strength, his soft smile, and when he spoke in that deep baritone voice of his, it thrilled her. The last day of her Senior year, she asked him if he was going to college. Funny, it had never come up in conversation. Well, he didn’t talk much, so most of the conversation was from her. She was going to college. She wanted to be the first one in her family to graduate from college. No marrying at 16, 17, or 18, like most of the girls in her family, heck in her school. Half because they got pregnant, half because, well, it was just what you did: graduate, get married, and raise babies. Not Ragini. She would finish college first, then…maybe, think about marriage.
They sat in their robes, with the tassels moved to the sides of their hats, Indian style on top of his truck. “Are you going to go to college? ” She didn’t look right at him, afraid that he might answer with a school a million miles from hers. “No. I suppose not.” She was quiet for a while. “Well, you have to have some plans. Are you going in the Army?” “No. I suppose not.” Ragini was getting a bit miffed. She knew he was taciturn, the very word was invented just for him. He could talk, but usually, he just went about his business without any fuss, fanfare, almost invisible, until you realized how much work he had done, or how good that work was. “Well, I am going to college. I leave in two weeks. If you aren’t going with me, well, I guess we need to break up. “It hurt her to say that. She knew it hurt him. Her mother told her that long distance relationships never work out. She also told Shreya that dating only one man was really a mistake. Ragini never thought about it. He seemed right for her, and her for him. But Ragini knew her Mom. She was a wise woman. It made sense – what she said. So she looked up at him, waiting to see what he would say.
“I suppose so.”
She couldn’t see his tears through her own tears. She jumped off the truck and ran over to her Mom’s car. When they drove away, he was still sitting on his truck. It was the last time she saw him for six years. Her Mom was right. She dated a bunch of men. It was easy to get dates, because, well, Ragini was still Ragini. She was fun, smart, and had grown into a pretty girl from a cute one. She lived with one guy for two years, and that was a mistake. She had a fling with a married professor, and that was a bigger mistake. She found herself thinking back to the tall lanky taciturn guy she dated in High School. She had tried to forget him, if she brought him up with her Mom, her Mom would just say: “I haven’t seen him around. I don’t know where he is, or what he is doing. ” Ragini figured he just moved on from her, and left town.
She was finishing her Master’s Degree when she decided to take her last Spring Break vacation in San Francisco. She wanted to see the piers where the sea lions were, walk the Golden Gate Bridge, bike ride the entire Embarcadero, and see Alcatraz, of course. She had only been in San Francisco a day or so and found it a lovely city to walk around in. She was walking to the pier to see the sea lions, when she saw a tall guy in front of her. He was not only tall, but strong looking – at least from the back. She thought to herself : “You know, if my old High School BF had put on about fifty pound of muscle, he would kind of look like that.” She didn’t think it was him, but what the heck, no harm in looking right?
Ragini picked up her pace, trying to catch up to the big man. Luck was on her side, for the red light held everyone up at the cross walk. He turned to look around for traffic, she felt a little quiver; “It is him!” He looked over the crowd without any concern…then he saw her. She will never forget that look. It was the look men crawling in the desert must have when they find water. Or how soldiers must look at their family when they return from war. Or how Astronauts must feel when they are safe back on earth. It stunned her into standing stationary for a minute. He walked slowly towards her. She held her ground, even though her heart was pounding, and watched him walk. He was more confident now. His smile was open, honest, and still had remnants of that finding water in the desert effect lingering on it. A part of her knew she did not deserve that smile, another part of her wanted to paint it, another part of her wanted to kiss that smile.
He stopped just short of her. She didn’t know what to say. She just stood there looking at him. Her only thought was: “My mom was wrong. Way wrong. I didn’t need to date lots of men, I got lucky right out of the gate. I blew it. He has to be married, or have a girlfriend, I mean, look at him
She hardly noticed when he reached down, gently taking her hand, slowly, but with purpose, and put it in his. “You just shake it. Like this.”
She did not let go of his hand. She did laugh. “That’s my line.”
“I suppose so.” The rich baritone velvet covered chocolate voice echoed in her heart.
“Will you marry me?” He was still holding her hand, he still had that desert smile hangover on his face, and his eyes bore into hers. He wasn’t kidding. He meant it. She remembered back to High School, he always meant what he said.
Her smile, if she could have seen it, matched his drink in the desert grin perfectly:
“I suppose so.”