DISCLAIMER– This is a piece of fiction; not a fragment of my real-life experiences.
As Joseph and Lisa crossed the bridge, people around heaved a sigh of relief. Now, why is that?
Let’s rewind a bit to this couple’s journey on that bridge. With hand-in-hand, fingers entwined, and smiles on their lips, Lisa and Joseph had taken their first step on that creaking, dangling, old bridge in a small town of Himachal Pradesh (in India).
When everyone else around was walking with their guts on sleeves, and hands gripping the rope-like-banisters of the bridge, the couple in the spotlight was walking with hand-in-hand. Now, that (probably) shouldn’t have bothered the people around much if it were a normal bridge with no warning board imploring the people to be careful, but such was not the case. Seeing Lisa and Joseph not being careful, the way they should have been according to the people around, worried them.
“Couldn’t they be bit careful here, and hold their hands at home? Don’t know how to adapt to a different country’s culture.” One, walking behind them, murmured, unaware of the fact that Lisa and Joseph could now speak Hindi, that they had gone to a temple more than they had to church, that they greet everybody not with a ‘Hello’, but with ‘Namaste’, palms joined.
If the hand-in-hand wasn’t enough, Joseph’s glasses, which had been gleaming even under that day’s cloudy sky, made him a more questionable outsider.
“All these foreigners are the same. Who needs huge glasses in no sun!” The other added.
These were few of the overheard public musings that Joseph kept to himself. Lisa, with one hand holding the rope, and the other holding Joseph’s, was too much into the clear sky, and cool, soothing breeze, to bother about anything else.
“One slip here and we all go down there. ‘Oh God! Save us today.’” Another one whispered when the bridge swung even a little.
As if on the cue, God listened to the third one; partially though. It was Lisa; she swayed the whole creaky thing a little more than usual when her foot fell over a banana’s skin thrown on the bridge by some thoughtful person.
“Hey! You foreigner. Be careful. We don’t want to die.” Somebody shouted. But it fell on the couple’s deaf ears.
“Wasn’t it beautiful, Lisa?” Joseph asked Lisa, the moment he realizes that they’re off the bridge.
Though the question was for Lisa, people around took it upon themselves to pose the question with their kind of vile answers among each other-
“Next time, I hope they dare not to hold hands on such a risky bridge next time. We all could have died.”
“It could have been beautiful to us too if we were not to be this worried about them making a slip.”
Some preferred to keep their mouth shut, and do their glares the talking. The glares and any comments, though, failed to have any impact the people had wanted to have on them. This, the people around couldn’t really gather, but, they had failed.
The town, Kullu, this couple was in, was their last station, and last day of their 20-days long trip in Himachal. India, long back in 2010, that is 8 years back, became their home, when its culture and rituals and colors and festivities and people had taken them by surprise, when they had realized that what they were missing in Connecticut (in USA) was way too much to miss out on.
Off the bridge, they headed to a huge market, spanning 3 kilometers, without leaving the hands, and this, for some incomprehensible reason, still bothered the people around; the same not-so-old people who were there on the bridge- some of them were locals, but most, like the couple, were tourists, with the DSLRs hanging on to their neck and backpacks hugging on to their backs.
Glances were exchanged, gestures were made, judgements were passed, but the couple headed on with the smiles. Passing judgements, on people known to us or unknown, is a human’s fundamental right; only forgotten to be added into the list.
Just so you know, readers, I was on the bridge too, I was behind this couple; and, of what appeared to me, I was the only one who tried to look through them, but all I succeeded in doing was to look across them. They didn’t seem to me what others around had nicknamed them- The Cheesy Couple; they, in fact, seemed to me like any other couple in love, happily in love, the notion that clearly overpassed the people, as hate is what is contagious, not love. It was their love in holding hands, I made a silent declaration; as I said I looked across them, not through them.
All Joseph and Lisa cared about was to enjoy, and they sure were doing that.
Lisa asked Joseph if he would want to eat siddu, the indigenous dish of the place; to which Joseph agreed. Mind you, hands were still entwined, people around were still bothered about the holding hands. And as for myself, I, without even my own knowledge, had turned into their stalker. It’s creepy, I know, but I realized this only after a couple of minutes, when the couple sat on a wooden bench, outside the siddu stall, and I sat on the one opposite theirs.
They started savoring the dish, and I kept looking at them with the curiosity of a child. Staring at them like a stalker would seem inappropriate to say, so childlike curiosity seemed better to describe the situation. There was something I needed to know; what it was, was a puzzle even to me back then.
After Lisa tore a piece of siddu, her hand started moving to the lips of Joseph. “It smells delicious”, Joseph said, and after eating, added, “And tastes even better.”
Lisa ate her own bite with the little oil smeared over it, and agreed with him. “It’s bit spicy though. Do you need water, Joseph?”
“Some would be good”, Joseph said.
Lisa got up to get a tumbler from the stall, and forgot to put the plate aside, which by one light sway of Joseph’s hand fell from the bench. Joseph, though, kept on looking where he was, as if he didn’t even realize about the fallen paper plate. And it turned out he really had not realized, because he could not see it falling off the bench, he could not see the plate, he could not see at all. It took me just that one incident to realize on what I had missed, what I had failed to notice. The hand-holding, the glasses, the closeness, I failed to notice it through it all.
Seeing this, Lisa rushed back to Joseph, and said “I’m sorry! I forgot to keep it aside.”
Joseph smiled, sipped some water, whispered something to which her eyes struggled to hold back in tears. The next minute, she took his hand, both clutched them as tight as ever, and walked on to explore the market. And I? Well, I stayed on the bench, wondering about that last whisper.