A Touch From a Stranger
Oh, damn. Groaning, I bent to pick up the shopping bags that had slipped from my fingers. I was getting married the next month, and the shopping expedition had been going insane. There was still so much to do, but because our families were in New York, I was left to do everything.
We were having bridesmaids and maid of honor and other stuff. I had to buy dresses for my three friends joining us from New York. As they would reach just days before the wedding, we did the shopping on a video call. But they left me to do the grunt work of seeing the dresses were ready, the requested alteration done on time, and finally collecting them.
Mayank wanted them to wear new dresses gifted by us on four occasions. Formal engagement for the world to see, cocktail party, mehendi and haldi ceremony, and wedding. mehendi and haldi ceremonies were happening together. My bridesmaids had put their foot down and rebelled against him for the reception party dress. They wanted to wear their choice of colors and not the red Mayank was forcing them to wear.
I had seven bags with me right now, and my fiancé had called me for lunch. I told Mayank I was busy, but only if he would understand my plight. For him, I was living the time of my life, whereas I told him countless times how much I loathed shopping or strolling the boutiques until the end of the day.
Because of the heat and continuous sweating in my palm, my bags slipped through my fingers. My fingers were throbbing in pain, but he wanted to see the shopping and approve it.
Yes, life was such, but I had stopped fighting long back. The guy who signs the cheque gets to approve or reject things.
I entered the elevator and put the bags on the floor, sighing in relief. My arms were killing me. I flexed my arms for a bit to loosen the stiff muscles. I couldn’t wait to reach home and soak myself in a pleasurable, warm bath.
I felt a drop of sweat travel from my neck to my spinal cord, rolling down my back, and I groaned. Yikes.
Opening my bag, I removed a wet tissue and wiped my hands. Also dabbing it lightly on my face, I moaned at the relief I felt because of the wetness and cold temperature of the tissue. Putting the used tissue in the back compartment of my purse, I stood straight, checking the screen. Fifteen floors to go.
We were five of us right now. One guy stood in the corner within himself.
I spun once to look at him from the corner of my eyes. Ah, the same guy I had met outside the elevator. But he was within himself, not even once looking my way. He was reading a book. It had been ages since I had read something or even heard music.
Life was so stressful now that I hadn’t had a chance to listen to music or read a romance novel. The reality was different, and dad said romance is for movies. In real life, security and compatibility mattered more. Our conversation a year back flashed in front of me.
“I don’t love Mayank. Dad, this is my life we are talking about.”
“So, what? Your mother and I didn’t love each other when we got married. But now we are happy together. Stop watching your nonsense romantic movies. That isn’t reality.”
“I don’t want to marry someone I don’t love. Feelings matter to me. Your time was different, and this era is different.”
“Stop. If you want to take over my business one day, you will do as I say.”
“What? You are blackmailing me?”
“I am saying it as it is. We are going into partnership with the Oberoi Groups, and we want to strengthen our bond. It is not like you don’t know Mayank. You know him. You guys have the same circle of friends. Now, stop this whining. You will marry him. That’s the end of the discussion.”
A ding brought me back to earth, and I took a deep breath. My life changed after that conversation, and everything was nothing but a blur after that.
Dad thought he and my mom were happy. Only an outsider could see how much my mom gave up to stay with his hardcore personality.
I was coming to terms with my new life when Mayank threw a bomb, changing everything.
Suddenly I came to know Mayank was expanding and setting his base in India. Not forever, but until things settled. We had to shift here after marriage. Somehow, that didn’t hurt me because I loved India. But I lost my job at dad’s company.
I turned again to look at the guy. He looked peaceful as if he was free of all the burdens. Now that I was shifting, I wasn’t sure how I would continue working for dad. The sole reason I had agreed to this loveless marriage was because of work. And the funny thing was, I didn’t even have that with me now. Working from India wasn’t an option. Suddenly, my life had come to a standstill, and I was clueless about my future. I sighed, controlling my thoughts. No use in dwelling on things that would only bring hurt.
The guy looked chilled out and unbothered as he read the book. I would love to do the same, but I wasn’t lucky like him. His face had a strange calmness that I hadn’t seen in others. His expression said he wasn’t in the race. He made his own future and didn’t compete with us.
I wish I could also relax and enjoy my time, but they left me to bear the weight. Even my mom.
Mayank also never helped much. He was from the category of guys who believed the girl should do everything, and he had to sign the cheque.
Everyone left us on the fourth floor. By us, I meant the guy and me. He was yet to glance up even once. But now we were alone.
Didn’t he feel my eyes on him?
He was cute.
I hoped that was a nice compliment because I couldn’t come up with anything else. The guy had long hair that he had tied with a band. And, oh… he smiled. The dimples, wow. I could only see one cheek, and a nice dent appeared on his right cheek as he smiled. But I was sure he had another one, too.
He was reading a romance novel. This goofy grin cannot come otherwise. My cheeks flamed with embarrassment as he moved his feet in place, and I spun towards the door.
Was I actually blatantly staring at him? I needed to remind myself I was getting married. But it was a harmless stare. And Mayank and I both knew we didn’t love each other. We were marrying because it was convenient.
The elevator reached the second floor, and I bent to pick up the bags, shaking my head at my absurdness. I had a sudden feeling of leaving them here and running away. But I took a deep breath and composed myself, not letting the irrational thoughts take over.
Dad would never approve of these actions. For him, a lady should always be calm and ready to handle anything. Mr. Pranav Kumar’s perfect wife and his sorted daughter.
Sadness washed over me that the marriage preparations that should have been my memories were merely tasks I ticked off the list one by one. The strain was too much on my hands, and I put the bags again on the floor.
The elevator dinged and brought me out of my misery. I waited for the door to open, tapping my foot against the floor. Once the doors opened, I bent to pick up the bags.
I hope I didn’t forget my car keys upstairs. Oh, damn. I would have to go to the twenty-fifth floor again if I had. I will keep the bags with security. No way I was taking them with me all the way up again.
I had to call the beautician for the trial. She said she would reach by five. Then tomorrow, we had our final cake tasting. My thoughts paused when I found someone’s touch on me.
Someone grabbed my arm just as I was about to step out of the elevator. Panic set in, and I used the move I had learned in my self-defense class without thinking. Knocking him in the ribs with my elbow, I rushed out.
Oh, no. I shouldn’t have hit the guy. I just… I turned to see him holding his stomach. Feeling mortified, I wanted to be out before I did something more stupid.
Shit, I shouldn’t have reacted. He wasn’t the guy from the prom. That was years ago, but it still felt like yesterday. I needed to be out of here. I grabbed my bags tighter, deciding to leave rather than make this more uncomfortable.
Just as I was about to leave, the guy again grabbed my hand, and blood boiled inside me. I turned and threw him a glare, trying to wrench my arm free.
Oh, he was the same guy. The guy I found cute in the first place.
Where was the security? I hated the setting of this place. They shouldn’t have elevators on the backside. The front-side elevators weren’t open for the guests, and I had to use the one in the back, which was isolated.
I tried to break free, adrenaline coursing through me, but the guy didn’t let me. He wasn’t the sweet, cute guy I thought he would be. Dad would say, I told you so. Seeing that I was trying to push his hand off, he left my arm and gestured something with his hand.
Shaking my head, I turned, not bothering to listen to him.
Just reach home, and it will be okay. He is not your past. He is just a stranger. I reminded myself, as I didn’t want a panic attack now. It took me a year of therapy sessions to get out of that phase where I couldn’t take anyone’s touch on me.
He tried to touch me again. I turned, throwing him a piercing glare. He kept gesturing with his hands, but my mind was too occupied with fear to understand his nonsense. I bent my knee and kneed him in the groin.
He groaned, screaming in pain as he fell. His hands covered the area, and I rushed forward. But before I could move, he grabbed my leg.
Was this guy insane?
“Leave me alone, or I will call security. Are you insane?”
The elevator doors tried to close, but because his leg was in between, the doors opened again. Shit, had I hit him too hard?
He again gestured something and pointed toward the corner. My eyebrows squinted in confusion, but I turned to where he was pointing, fuming with anger.
It was a bag. Wait, was it mine? I looked at him, trying to understand his gestures. He pointed toward my bags scattered on the floor and gestured toward the bag in a corner.
Oh. I gulped as I read the label on the shopping bag. It was mine. I turned back, and the guy gestured to me, pointing to my bags and the lone one that was left on the floor.
Oh, God. Now I understood.
He was sprawled on the floor yet tried to explain the situation to me. I nodded and bit my lip, wanting to evaporate or dissolve. He put his hands in the air, and I mouthed a sorry, embarrassed to hell. But why did he touch me? He could have called me or something. Someone touching me without me knowing was a hard limit for me.
Standing, he picked up the bag from the floor and gave it to me. Wow! What a gentleman.
“I am sorry,” I spoke.
He didn’t acknowledge me as he bent to pick up the last of my bags. I smiled, but it came out as a grimace. I was so mortified.
“I am so sorry,” I repeated as he looked at me. But again, no reaction.
“I shouldn’t have reacted without trying to understand you first. But you could have used your vocal cords. That’s what we normal people do.” I continued, but his eyes remained blank.
Wait! Why wasn’t he acknowledging me? Suddenly he smiled, and it was the same bubbly, cute one I loved before.
He grinned, shaking his head, his lips spreading in a carefree smile. How do I know it was carefree? I just knew.
I had never seen Mayank smile like this. Never. There was always a permanent frown on his face. I was used to it, but this was new. Completely new.
He put the bags beside him and removed his phone, typing something while I waited, narrowing my eyes. What was he up to now? He hadn’t acknowledged me or my words even once.
He showed me his phone, and I squinted my eyes to read whatever he had typed.
I cannot speak, so I wasn’t able to call you. You got good self-defense moves. I am impressed.
I glanced up, dumbfounded by this. Oh, shit. I touched my earlobes, and he grinned again, shaking his head.
He again typed something and showed me.
Not required. You look tired. Go home and relax. Drink herbal tea and not coffee.
I pursed my lips and grabbed his phone.
How do you know I love coffee?
He typed back. I just know. He winked, and something stuttered in my chest.
His smile unnerved me. He picked up the bags and gestured for me to step out.
“Can you hear me?”
He squinted his eyebrows, and I wanted to kick myself. Oh, God. I didn’t know how to behave. I had never met someone like this.
He again gestured, asking me to step out. I swallowed, nodding.
The guy was deaf and mute. But he looked so handsome and perfect. Carefree, a smile brightening anyone’s day, and a body to die for. I saw his bulging muscles and gulped.
Something was wrong with me. I had never tried to look for these things in Mayank, but with him, I couldn’t control my thoughts as my eyes noted everything, reminding me it didn’t matter that he couldn’t hear or talk. He was perfect in other ways.
I tried to take the bags from his hand, but he shook his head, gesturing me to move.
We turned and found security by the door. Oh, finally, he had come.
The security glared at us but didn’t say a word and ensured the elevator doors closed. It being afternoon, people were leaving, but no one was coming. So, we hadn’t met the crowd who wanted to go up. But I am sure there would be people who wanted to come down.
I walked with the guy and felt something strange coursing through me. I gulped at the weird tingling in my stomach. Pausing by my car, I touched the guy’s arm to get his attention.
He stopped and smiled again.
Can he stop doing that? Why does he have to smile at everything? Nothing in life was worth grinning about.
Shaking my head, I opened the trunk, and he put the bags inside. I saw someone walking toward us. He tapped on the guy’s shoulder and signed something.
Oh, it was sign language. They kept signing back and forth. Finally, the guy nodded and turned my way.
I removed my phone from my purse and typed the message.
Thank you and so sorry for before.
The guy read and smiled, shaking his head.
I cleared the message and typed another one.
That made him laugh. He pursed his lips and took my phone.
I waited, having never been so eager in my life.
Why do you want to know my name? I know I am handsome. Are you asking me out?
My face heated with embarrassment, and I glanced up, panic unmistakable on my face. The guy took my eagerness as flirting, but I wasn’t. This was genuine. I was genuinely asking him his name. I shook my head frantically, not wishing him to take this the wrong way.
The guy laughed harder and returned my phone.
I quickly typed. Sorry if I gave the wrong signal, but I only wish to know your name. You saved my bag, after all.
He nodded, winked, and left me alone. I sighed as I saw him walking toward his car. That was absurd.
Who was he? He had a driver and security, yet he couldn’t hear or speak.
Stupid of me to relate both things. I wish I could get the guy’s name. My eyes were on him, and as he turned, I tried to duck my face before he got more absurd ideas. I sincerely tried, but my need to see him one last time overcame my humiliation.
Suddenly, my phone beeped. The guy gestured for me to check my phone. Because I wasn’t saving myself or in sheer panic mode, understanding him wasn’t difficult. He was good with gestures.
A smile broke free, and I glanced up. The guy made a gesture of capturing my smile and touching his heart. I also understood as he asked me my name.
I shrugged and typed a response.
Try to know.
If I do, will you meet me for coffee?
What? Do I tell him I was engaged and getting married next month? I hated to have lunch and dinner at the office. When was the last time I went out? But this was wrong, yet I wanted nothing more than a few hours of his carefree persona.
My heart jumped in my chest, wanting me to say yes. Only if things were that simple.
I shook my head and sat in the car, not looking his way. He had no other way to reach me, so I avoided his eyes and reversed, hoping to get out of this place.
Wait, how did he have my number?
This had already gotten out of hand, so I didn’t dwell. I would be in altogether another mess if dad came to know about this. I didn’t care about Mayank, but I did what my father thought about me.
My phone beeped, but I didn’t check as my eyes were on the road. This encounter had to end here. But I would remember him. At least for a few years. His smile would stay.
It would be my elevator incident and a touch from a stranger.
I met a guy who couldn’t talk or hear, but he was happier and more enthusiastic than I had ever been. You don’t need to have everything. You only need to have something to get going. Smiling and being happy is in your hands. I had found happiness in my circumstances and this strange meet, but they were choking me to death. But this was my life, and I had to live this forever.
Read other short stories.
I Confessed (click to read)