Sunita bent forward and kept walking. This had become her habit since the past two years-she did not like to look at anyone. She wanted to remain obscure in the background. She was middle aged, plump, and with two tiers around her waist. Her curly hair was tied in an unmanageable knot. She wore a pale pink lipstick and all this conveyed one thing - do not notice me!
Sunita had lost her husband recently, in a sudden heart attack. Her world had come shattering down. Now her life revolved around the children-they too had just joined college. If she craved for closeness, or emotional satisfaction, she ignored it. She was a widow now.
She looked after her children`s needs and went to the temple regularly. She had several female friends. The only males she knew were her relatives and that included her brother, brother-in-law and a couple of male friends but beyond that she really did not know anyone.
Sunita had strong views on morals and an unflinching faith in God. She had started going for walks in the park. It gave her some peace and a little exercise. Slowly she became familiar with most of the people who came there in the evenings.
She would gingerly smile and soon she made some new friends. This was her only outing, and she looked forward to it. She used to walk with a group of people, far moved from her social circle. One day, Pradeep joined the group. Sunita was frightened and in a dilemma, should she walk or not, with this man, Pradeep?
Sunita tried to keep far away from Pradeep. He put her mind to rest by asking her to walk with him. Sunita turned red in the face and thought it would be surly to refuse. He was balding and middle aged but was comfortable to be with.
She enjoyed the walk. Pradeep asked her gentle prying questions and surprisingly the walk became easier and time flew by. It was now getting very late and Sunita softly blurted that it was better for her to go home. Pradeep looked at her softly and gently touched her cheek. Sunita shrank back in horror. If Pradeep noticed, he did not comment.
The walks continued. Pradeep was the solitary male in their group. There was a good deal of ribbing, which Pradeep enjoyed.
There was little walking and more talking. Sunita started participating, she avoided the jokes but spoke more openly. She laughed; she appreciated the changing weather. The rains gave her as much delight as it had done earlier when her husband had been alive.
She had also started dressing up for the walk. Gone was the curly haired untidy bun, in its place was a smart short haircut. Now she always came for her walk with a little lipstick and kohl. She started wearing all kinds of different clothes and finally settled for track pants and long t-shirts.
It was Sunita`s birthday. Her children were away at camps with their friends. Her `walking` friends refused to leave her alone. They all came to wish her and Pradeep too came along. They had a lovely time. They kept laughing, chatting and cracking jokes.
After a long time Sunita felt alive and really happy. The house reverberated with the sounds of laughter in the evening, except sitting next to her was Pradeep, not her husband. She cared yet she felt carefree!
She wanted Pradeep to be with her. Sunita felt a kind of electricity in the air-some dormant desires, which she had forgotten, came to the surface. She felt the tingling in her body or did she imagine it? Was the hair on her arm standing or was it her imagination working overtime?
She knew nothing much about Pradeep, only that he was separated from his wife. Did he feel the same desire for her? She was ashamed of herself. Pradeep seemed unaware of the currents he had caused. Every one had left. Pradeep lingered on for a few more minutes. Sunita had forgotten her age, she felt she was floating, she just wanted to reach out and touch him.
Sunita laughed embarrassed. Pradeep left but before that he gave her a soft peck on the cheek. Sunita could not sleep the whole night. She wondered what was happening to her, she wondered if she should go to the park again. She could not manage her feelings.
Pradeep was there the next day in the evening. He looked at her and smiled- it was the same warm guileless smile. They walked together. They walked alone. At the end of their walk, Pradeep walked up to the car with her. He smiled his sweet smile and said, "We had fun last evening, you have a lovely house and you are really warm and caring!"
Sunita smiled and did not utter a word. How would he know that she could not sleep at all? That careless peck on the cheek had aroused emotions for which she had no explanation.
Pradeep smiled again and said, "Sunita I too am human but at my age I could do with a friend rather than a lover. Lovers are transitory, friends are permanent and they are forever!" So saying, he shook her hands.
Sunita smiled. She chose to ignore the many sensations the handshake had aroused. Que. Sera. Sera. What ever will be will be! But I will continue to walk with Pradeep, smiled, Sunita to herself.