The Sunflower Umbrella Girl

Sangeeta Das | Delhi

It was raining heavily in Guwahati. Tonmoy was waiting for the rain to stop, while standing on the verandah of the auditorium of the B Barooah College. But he was in no hurry to go back home. After a few months of a hectic schedule, he was finally relieved of the burden as it was his last day of the BA first year final examination. He lingered with his classmates – gossiping, smoking, relaxing, smiling and in between, looking at the sky and at the students entering and exiting the college.

They passed one or two hours like this. Seeing that the heavy rain had turned into drizzle, Tonmoy threw away the cigarette stub, stretched his hands and bidding his friends goodbye, slowly moved out of the verandah. Suddenly, he stood still for a moment. An attractive, big yellow umbrella, which looked like a sunflower, with multiple petals and brown coloured florets in the middle, caught his attention. He felt as if the sun had come down on the earth to erase the gloominess of the rainy evening. But the girl beneath the umbrella was even prettier. Attired in a floral pink churidaar salwar kameez, she was entering the college gate. He saw her shiny, straight, knee-length black hair. As she came nearer and crossed him, his eyes clearly spotted the droplets of rain slipping down her rosy cheeks, the little black mole near the upper lip adding to her beauty, the long nails painted in a light shade and the ornaments adorning her. For him, she seemed to be very delicate and innocent, as she clutched the handle of the umbrella to her bosom and cringed like a child under it as if she needed protection and care. In a fraction of a second, Tonmoy imagined her as his future wife, who would take care of him like his mother had been taking care of him for 18 years. Tonmoy left the place and followed her. She directly entered the girls’ common room. He stopped at the entrance. There he lost another hour but she didn’t come out. With a disappointed look, he headed for the bike stand. Suddenly, he remembered… He had to attend second year classes from the very next day.

For the next few days, he spotted the girl at the same time and like the first day, he would follow her to the entrance of the girls’ common room, wait there for hours and then would send his friend (a girl) inside to look for her. He would not know when she skipped his watchful eyes. It continued for a month. He couldn’t talk to her and extract any information. He had been constantly thinking of her. He was intrigued by some questions – in which year was she studying, to which stream did she belong — arts, commerce or science…?

Coincidentally, every time Tonmoy saw her inside the college premises, it was raining heavily and he would spot her easily due to her yellow sunflower umbrella. On the day he met her, again coincidentally, at a shopping mall with her three friends, it was raining too. That day again, inside the shopping mall, he followed her and watched as she picked up a packet of colourful, shiny rubber hairbands, paid the bills at the counter, exited the mall, discussing something with her friends and then again returning to pick up three Capri pants. The girls were still sitting outside the mall and relishing delicacies, oblivious of Tonmoy’s feelings and his presence.

As he approached the girls, he felt his heart beating fast. He nervously talked on his mobile phone for a few minutes and then bought a cold drink. With every sip his mind kept constructing the scene and the first sentence. Finally, he began, “Excuse me,” and paused to get a response. All the girls raised their heads to look at him, their faces bearing quizzical expressions, without uttering a single word. “I have seen you at the B Barooah College. Do you study there? Actually I am a first year student there with Political Science major,” he said in one breath. “All right, nice to meet you,” she flashed a cold smile. Before they could carry on, her friends, realising that an unknown boy was interested in initiating a conversation with their friend and being protective, interrupted him saying, “We are getting late, let’s go,” and they left hurriedly. Tonmoy continued his shopping at the mall and called back his friend, who had been calling him constantly but he disconnected it each time. The fact that he could approach the girl filled his heart with joy and he invited his friend for a treat.

Next morning, he couldn’t wait till 10 O’ clock when his class was to begin and reached the college at 8 O’ clock. In the classroom, he would request his classmates sitting near the window to shift to another place so that he could keep an eye out for her. But she didn’t come and it was only after a week that she suddenly appeared. It was the day when some organisations had held an awareness programme on AIDS in the college. Expecting to meet her there, Tonmoy entered the hall and searched for her. He found her sitting alone in the second row from the front, where the professors were sitting. At first he was hesitant, thinking she could create a scene in front of the professors if he tried to talk. But it was love, that could compel anyone to do anything. Ultimately, he sat behind her, expecting her to turn back so he could start a conversation. But no, she did not look behind. A few minutes passed. Again he felt his heart beating fast and an idea hit him. He took off his wrist watch and put it inside his jeans pocket.

“Excuse me,” he said. She looked back. “Oh you,” he exclaimed, pretending that he didn’t expect to see her. “I wanted to know the time.” She told him the time and looked at the dais. “Do you remember that day we met at the shopping mall,” he continued. “Yes, of course, I remember,” she replied. With all his nervousness gone, he asked again, “Don’t you have any friends or classmates? Why are you sitting alone?” “No, it’s fine with me. I like it this way,” she replied and appeared to be more attentive towards the speech rather than to him. But he too had made up his mind not to leave that place until the programme ended. He just said, “All right, I have some work, I need to go,” and moved to the back. As soon as the programme ended, he saw her talking to the professors and that kept him away.

That same evening, it rained heavily. Tonmoy saw her outside the college, waiting for an auto. He slowed down his bike and stopped near her. “Hi”, he said. She flashed a pretty smile. “The weather is bad. Where do you stay? I can give you lift,” he offered. “At Christian Basti, but it’s all right. I will manage an auto,” she replied. “Look, I am not a bad boy. Do trust me. I just want to help you as we study in the same college.” This explanation at last convinced her to accept the favour. While sitting on the bike, she kept her umbrella open, to protect both of them from the rain. Rain had chocked the nullahs causing flood-like situation, due to which the traffic got disrupted and took time. He didn’t mind it though. Rather, he was glad it provided him with extra time to talk to her. “Your umbrella is very attractive,” he started. “I know. In fact I have several of this kind at home. I have a craze for those. Every year I buy a few…” And she went on talking non-stop just about umbrellas, to which he could only keep nodding. On the way, he wanted to know about her department but she continued the same topic.

After dropping her, there was no limit to his joy. It had given soul and life to his dreams that seemed to be coming alive. For the first time, he appreciated the rain and jumped with joy and triumph.

Next morning, when Tonmoy, as usual, was pining for a glance of her, one of his classmates approached him. She talked about a long boring lecture. He felt disturbed as he was deeply immersed in the thoughts of his umbrella girl. In spite of that, he could hear her requesting, “Tonmoy, today we have evening classes and I will get late. So, I have already told my mother that you will drive me home. Please, you will, won’t you?” He agreed to drop her.

The evening classes ended late, after which he took a round of the college. He was passing near the classrooms. Suddenly, he was taken aback to see the professor in one classroom. She was the sunflower umbrella girl. “Oh my God! She is a professor,” he thought. A shiver ran down his spine. He was overcome by mixed feelings of shame and pain. After that, he never waited for her or followed her.

Two years passed by. It was the day of Tonmoy’s BA final year results. He was standing in the corridor when a familiar voice called out to him, “Tonmoy.” He looked back. It was Ria — the sunflower umbrella girl. Before he could say anything, she asked, “What happened? It’s been a long time. I have not seen you.” “M-m-ma’m. Sorry that I took you for a student. You looked so young… Later, I came to know…,” he stammered. “It’s all right. Don’t feel embarrassed about it. I knew that it was not intentional. I am a part time professor here. We can be friends,” she suggested. Tonmoy felt lost and nervous. His mind went blank. He did not know what to say. He could have asked for her contact number or email id, but forgot and instead, blurted out, “N-n-no ma’am, I can’t think of you as a friend. Anyway, I am going to Delhi for further studies.” And then he left the sunflower umbrella girl there, and moved away to nurture his future with the sweet memories of his first crush.

(This fiction by this author first appeared in Sunday Reading of The Assam Tribune).

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