Kani thinks Amyra is beautiful.
She, on the other hand, thinks he is honest. She admires his honesty in his unkempt beard and broad shoulders. He is not ashamed of them. She watches intently as he picks up his cigarette and puts it between his lips. He dips his feet leisurely into the flowing water of the Ganga and keeps probing until he lands on one of those shiny moss coated rocks. The river keeps flowing unaffected, and a puff of smoke rises from his mouth.
She tries to deduce his job, his nature, and his disposition just by his appearance. However hard she may try, she cannot help but notice his broad shoulders, and hairy arms. Kani is a wanderer, she thinks. She notices his flat belly and concludes that he is a fitness freak. She notices his thick specks and deduces that he had perhaps been a scholar too. No rings. Bachelor. No phone. Detached. Vagabond.
Kani turns his head to his left and startles Amyra. They smile at each other.
Two days of togetherness and all they shared was the marital status of Amyra. He was surely single, and had perhaps given up everything that can be a cause of troubles in this world. Gadgets, relationships and a job.
Job reminded her of her husband who was a bore. Her husband would work day and night, trying to make a living, ignoring Amyra. She was taken for granted. Always. She would wait for him at home, she would make him dinner and like most of husbands in a private job, he would be least interested. How can men turn into such imbeciles! They are not meant for marriage. Marriage should be a reward for men who demonstrate effective commitment towards the girl they want to marry. These men — these slaves, losers, delinquents — these men don’t deserve us. They are such jerks, always dirty, always unkempt, always so so… hairy!
Kani is unkempt. Yet different. What did Amyra like about him? Perhaps it is his personality, she thinks. He is not like her husband. He looks like a free bird, unaware, unaffected. It is just him and the river. She notices how relaxed he looks. White shorts, perhaps without any money. Bright fluorescent blue semi transparent vest with a black graffiti printed on it. Hair flying carelessly in the wind.
She adjusts her hair, smiles, and gets up. She does not plan her next steps but they take her to Kani. She sits down on the rock next to him.
“You didn’t tell me about yourself Kani” she says “It has been two days”
“In another two you will go back, will it matter?” he responds in a blunt, bass tone.
“I want to remember this trip, Kani. In don’t know when I’ll be traveling like this; alone”
“Then don’t be attached to people. People die. If they don’t, they just live as memories.”
“I want memories”
“Memories are momentary”
“Let me have them, Kani. You are the only person I know here. There is no one else staying in the camp. Just the two of us. That too as a pleasant coincidence. Can’t we be friends? Please.”
Kani looks at her. She has a frown. Her eyes plead. Her hands tremble and her hair keeps flying, trying to set themselves free from her hair-pins.
There is a pause. Silence. Gurgling of water. Peal of bells at a distance. A few tourists raft past them from right to their left. Shouting. The mountains are green on both the sides and rise to a distance unimaginable.
“You need to introspect” Kani says “Friendship is an alibi”
“What do I need to introspect about?” her voice rises. “I have told you that I am married and I am here to get away from home and all that mess. All I am seeking is your friendship. What do I need to introspect about?”
Kani smokes. A few old men dressed in saffron drapes cross the bridge.
“Yourself” he answers taking a pause after every sentence “you are so beautiful. You are worried. Be like this river. Transparent. Clear. From within. Ask yourself, what do you seek?”
Amyra obeys. What do I seek? she thinks. What do I seek from this unknown man? Why do I depend on his answer? Why does his friendship matter?
She is reminded of her husband, somehow. She thinks of all those times when he worked late nights. She thinks of all those times when he denied going out for a movie. She thinks of all those times when he was stingy about money. It is a pain being married to a man who has outgrown his age. Men should not be like that. Men should be like teenaged boys — agreeing to everything for love. And yet, men should be responsible.
Amyra fails to get an answer. She sees how dependent she has become on a stranger. On a vagabond. Let me get my answer, she thinks. Let me cross the boundaries, she thinks. Perhaps then, I will know what I seek. No one watches me here. No one cares. I can do whatever I want to. Yes, whatever. What. Ever.
“Can I kiss you, Kani?” She asks.
“I don’t mind kissing a lady as beautiful as you” he says.
Amyra smiles. The frown on her forehead remains. She leans forward, trembling. He stays still. It is Amyra who wants to kiss.
She thinks of her husband again. She thinks of that one incident of her illness when he had given up his foreign trip just to be with her. He had missed an opportunity of a lifetime. Guaranteed long term, after the initial stint of three weeks. Minimum salary of two crores a year. And he had given up all!
Dilemma. Why do they have to stick to a routine? Why do they have to be so worried about everything? Why can’t they be free? Why can’t they be detached? Like vagabonds? Like Kani?
She stops. In the spur of a moment, she had leaned forward to kiss a stranger and some some real introspection happened. All in the spur of a moment.
Yes! She is clear now. Like the river that flows below her feet, she is clear. Kani is an image that Amyra wants to see her husband as. Kani is a dream that Amyra wants to live with. Kani is a fantasy that she wants to turn her husband into. Kani is everything that her husband is not. She seeks companionship. She seeks a friend in her husband. She seeks the expression of love. It is not easy, but not impossible either. He has a jolly side to him too. He can be fun, like the time just after the marriage. He can be a delight to talk to, like everyday when Amyra talks about neighbors at a stretch and he keeps listening without flinching. A middle ground may be possible. Fantasies are momentary. Kani is momentary.
She goes back to the rock, and Kani smokes again staring at her. Unaffected. She gets up, unpins her hair letting them loose. She throws the pins in the river. Kani sighs.
She bends down, and splashes some cold sweet water on her face and begins walking back to their taxi.
She walks a few steps, stops, turns around to look at Kani who is still staring at her. They smile at each other.
“Have faith in yourself” he says loudly “You will find a way!”
She nods in gratitude and walks towards the stall to purchase a memento for her husband.