He started to walk the short distance to the famed restaurant that was to be the first of his halts that day. Next he planned to watch a film and make a few purchases at the mall and drive back and reach home well before mid night. Many of his friends called him ‘Swami’ (saint) as he had none of their vices to splurge his money on. He neither smoked nor drank. This strict abstinence made him look a lot younger than his age.
He walked with quick athletic steps towards the restaurant head bent as if to ward of the sunlight streaming mercilessly down. Suddenly something caught his eye something golden, shining. He bent down and picked it up – it was a beautiful woman’s watch with a diamond encrusted dial. It had a delicate gold and silver strap.
Madhav was perplexed.
Why would someone part with such a beautiful watch? he thought.
He looked around feverishly but couldn’t find anyone about. It wasn’t a crowded day. He was agitated– he wished he had not set eyes on it. He was all for returning it to the original owner. But where was she? He instinctively tested the clasp and found it to be loose. 'Ah!' he exclaimed, 'This is the reason, it fell!' He put it carefully in his right pocket and walked on.
But a few paces later he took out the watch and looked at it again. He thought, This must have adorned a beautiful wrist! As watches were his passion, he admired it in the sunlight and he noticed for the first time the faint exotic perfume that it exuded. He tried to work up the image of its wearer.
At lunch he tried eating but found himself reaching for the watch again and again. He scanned the women in the restaurant hoping to find the owner and return the burden in his pocket. They were mostly mothers coaxing obstinate children to eat. Some of them were battling with young ones strapped onto baby chairs. He smiled involuntarily. There were indeed a few couples, occupying dark corners of the restaurant giggling and whispering and it looked as though they cherished their privacy. But he still ventured near them dropping a napkin and looking surreptitiously at their wrists even as he straightened. But his efforts were in vain.
At the mall he happened to pass by a perfume shop. He had a sudden wild thought. He decided to at least look for the perfume that the watch smelled of. He tested the perfumes there indecisively and worked up the courage to confide to the shop assistant. He soon had the brand in his hand and he bought if after the acquiescence of his olfactory receptors.
On reaching home he surfed the net to identify the model and learnt that the watch was a rare edition, which only furthered his curiosity about the mystery wearer. He carefully placed the watch and the bottle of perfume in a large box and put it in the top rack of his cupboard. He often looked it and tried to visualize the woman. He imagined a tall slim girl, with long straight brown hair, about 22 quite like the models in Fair and Lovely ads but he couldn’t imagine beyond this, about the actual features of her face – her eyes or her lips.
A couple of years later, his parents, convinced that he wouldn’t find a partner on his own, solemnized his marriage with Aditi.
Life took on a new meaning and he found great joy and peace that had eluded him for a long time. He slowly began to forget the woman he had been obsessed with ever since that hot steamy afternoon. He shared with Aditi everything -- his secrets, his fears, but he never worked up the guts to tell her of his dream love. He often went to Bahrain with Aditi, but he carefully avoided going to that particular parking lot.
One morning as Aditi was rearranging the wardrobe, she chanced upon the case in the top rack. She brought it down with great anticipation not knowing what it contained. She found the watch and the bottle of perfume inside. She liked the watch immensely and tried it on. But when she looked at it closely though something seemed amiss. The watch chain looked a little old and it was not in its original box.
Aditi’s first reaction was to call her husband at work. But she felt that the matter at hand could not be resolved in a phone call, and she waited impatiently for him to come home. That evening she placed the box next to his tea on the side table.
Without saying a word she looked intently at his face to gauge his reaction.
Madhav was amused by the discreet way in which she had brought up the subject and he felt compelled to set her mind to rest.
Madhav looked hard at her and laughingly said,
'I have a very interesting story to tell you!'
He began, 'It was a hot summer afternoon some years ago…'
Aditi, listened, her fascination mounting as each earnest detail poured forth from his lips. She was filled with tenderness for him, for the fact that he was capable of so much love and that too for someone he had never actually met. She felt very lucky to have married such a wonderful human being.
'And the perfume?' she asked.
'Oh! I bought it to preserve the memory of the perfume, it had, when I first found it!' he said, sheepishly.
She looked at the watch again and felt the stirrings of a faint memory. She said excitedly,
'Madhav, wait I might actually know who the owner of the watch is!'she exclaimed.
Leaving a disconcerted Madhav on the sofa, she darted to the table and began a vigorous search of the photographs in her database.
She screamed in excitement,
'Madhav, come here at once and look at this picture!'
They both stared at the young woman, who was wearing a similar watch.
Madhav asked in all eagerness,
'Who is she, Aditi?'
'This is my cousin Daya' said Aditi.
'I was reminded of her, when I saw the watch.
I was there, when her father gave it to her on her 18th birthday ...you know...'
'The story adds up, as she lived all her life in Bahrain and this could very well be hers!'
Aditi, then narrated her life with Daya, her cousin and play mate. Daya, was the bright one in the family, and everyone was very proud of her. Her father wanted her to be a dentist, but all she ever wanted was to be a reporter. Her family was upset by her decision but she was insistent. She joined a popular television company after graduation.
Things were all right for a while, her uncle even began to like all the attention they were all getting as a result of Daya’s frequent appearances on TV. Within a few months though, Daya was deputed for an assignment covering the uprising in Egypt. Her parents were quite unhappy about sending her, but she insisted on going convincing them that her status as a reporter would grant her immunity.
Aditi broke down even as she said this, 'Daya, disappeared a week after she reached Egypt and has been missing ever since January, last year…'
A shocked Madhav asked,
'But did you not try to look for her?'
Aditi, looked at him with chagrin, 'Of course my uncle and aunt have been at it ever since, going to Egypt, contacting the embassy, even threatening to sue the television company, they have left no stone unturned!'
Aditi grew silent, eyes downcast.
She looked up suddenly, her eyes shining and said excitedly, 'You know what, the discovery of this watch, might very well be a harbinger of things to come… It will surely bring hope to my desperate uncle, let me call him immediately!'
She got up to make an emotionally charged phone call.
Madhav, sat there staring at the picture of the lean young woman for a long time.
While he was happy that he finally knew who the young woman was, he was plagued by misgivings that he might never actually get to meet her.