She raised herself on tip toes. Stretching her right hand to the maximum height, she knew she could not be taller than this. But she tried to get in one more inch, anyway. You could tell that the strain had begun to hurt her. The muscles of her thighs were as tout as they could be. Any medical expert would have told you that just a fraction more of stress and her muscles would tear up. Her legs had begun to tremble. But her resolve was not shaking. The right hand, stretched in the air, was just centimetres away from the intended target. Being in that position for longer than her body could take and the staring match that she was engaged in with the stone wall ensured that tears were streaming down her cheeks. Despite her years, standing like this, she looked like a school student punished by a teacher for creating a ruckus in class. Like a stubborn child, who wanted to prove to the teacher that a severe punishment was not enough to tame the wild personality, she continued her endeavour to stretch beyond the limitations of her height.
Sweat started to drip down her spine. The black t-shirt that had seemed like a good option in the morning, when she had slung her camera bag over her shoulders and left her house, was now sticking to her like second skin. The denims seemed to have absorbed all the humidity of the day and had turned into a stiff version of themselves. Had she known earlier that the desire to touch would engulf her to this extent she would have given more thought to her attire. However, at this moment nothing mattered but just her goal—to feel the cold, yellowing stone under her fingers.
He was there, jogging like he did daily. The rhythm of the jog worked like a mantra to invoke the ruthless strategist in him. Every day of every week, except on Sundays, he would take the circuitous route that seemed to run along the ruins of the tombs like a silk ribbon wrapped around a box holding an expensive gift. The rhythm reminded him of clocks and he liked to believe that he was a machine—solid, predictable and dependable. Being a machine helped him distance himself from emotions which in the past had on several occasions got the better of him. When dealing with the thirty- something-himself, he was like a strict class monitor, who believed that the honourable thing was to maintain order even if it meant losing a few friends by altering the course a little. Even if he felt like taking a different route on his morning jog sometimes, he resisted the temptation and continued on the path like, you guessed it, a machine!
However, today was different. He had been thinking of something and had changed the route without even realising it. He could not remember what was on his mind, as he stood, resting his hips on one of the broken stone walls of the ruins. He could not even recollect the moment when he stopped staring in the vacant space and started looking at that girl who was trying to achieve the impossible. He did not remember when he had started rooting for her success. When his casual stance had changed and his body had tensed as much as hers. He had concentrated all his energies to ensure that if he had to, he would will her to touch the stone she was aiming at. It was important to her, that much was clear by the effort she was putting into it. Why it was important for him that she touched the stone was a mystery.
She had come to the monument with the aim of clicking some photographs for a project she was working on. She had stood there staring at the calligraphy on the walls that had been built hundreds of years ago. Oblivious to the crowd of early morning walkers and photography enthusiasts around her, she stood looking at the walls for what seemed like an eternity. She did not know how to read the language of the inscriptions but the need to understand their meaning had consumed her in a flash. No logical reason could explain why she felt that she would understand the meaning by merely touching the calligraphy on the cold, yellowing stones. But only the fulfilment of this need made any sense to her at that moment.
He could see her strain. He was also battling, battling very hard, the urge to go near her and help her achieve what seemed impossible. Something had connected him to her. He was yet to see her face but he was attracted to her. He was sure that she was not even aware of his existence. But that did not matter. He knew he was strong. She seemed strong willed. They would make it work. Their combined energies would help her become at least an inch taller. She would touch the inscriptions on the stone.
Even as he willed his energies to her, she let her hand fall. She suddenly stooped low; her hands nearly touching the ground; knees bent. Like a rocket launching into space, she launched herself in the air. He followed her with his steady gaze, almost as if giving her momentum. To him it looked like everything was happening in slow motion. The tip of her finger touched the embossed calligraphy on the wall. She emitted a sound that was neither a scream nor a laugh, yet both. That sound was beautiful to him. Mid-air, she flung her head back, a big smile on her face. He too smiled and took a deep breath realizing for the first time that he had been holding his breath for the jump. His eyes closed as his smile widened. There was a loud sound. People froze in their paths for a few seconds. And before he knew it, he rushed to her side. Helping her up, he took her camera bag from her and took out the water bottle for her as if he had himself packed the bag for her.
The excitement of touching the calligraphy inscription on the stone wall and the fall left her a little bewildered. She followed his lead and let him help her without any questions or hesitation. Her reverie broke when she heard him ramble, almost to himself, “I’m sorry. I closed my eyes and lost contact. Then you fell. It’s all my fault. I’m really sorry.” Despite her bruised knee which was now starting to bleed and the aches that had started to surface, she burst out laughing and said, “I’ll forgive you after a cup of coffee and few painkillers.”