And now the next part!
This was totally unexpected and uncalled for. I didn’t even imagine that such a thing could happen to me. What had a simple helping gesture gotten me into? Though I admired the painting beyond limits but somehow, its beauty wasn’t radiating awe or admiration now. It was just sitting there on my desk like a big mysterious piece of a jigsaw puzzle. What did this gift mean?
John was out of the office for a couple of hours. When he returned, he walked past me while I sat in my seat, having put the painting behind the table, completely out of his view. Something about painting or was it about Martin, seemed to annoy John and effected everything around him. When I called him to tell him about his appointments post lunch, he spoke in monosyllables.
As I sat quietly, the phone rang. It was John’s direct number. Some client of his, I thought. I took a deep breath and picked it up.
‘John’s office, I spoke in a secretarial voice, I had learned to master in this one year.
Is this Sandra? The voice on the other side asked.
Yes! How may I help you? I asked, wondering who would want to speak to me.
Mom and dad called me on the mobile and others never called me during office hours. Friends always called during the weekend to check out on me.
Quite an unexpected caller, this was!
Sandra! Martin here! The voice boomed in my ear.
Just not what I wanted!
Oh Martin! I said quietly. I didn’t want John to know I was speaking to someone whose presence made him dreadful, for some unknown reasons.
You don’t sound happy that I called! He said in a teasing tone.
God! Was it so easy to know what I was feeling!
Oh no! Nothing like that. I didn’t expect your call, I said trying to end the talk soon.
So? He asked, as though waiting for me to tell him something.
Confused what he wanted to know, I repeated the word.
Did you like it? He asked in a tremulous voice.
Like? I enquired, still not able to understand what he meant.
You didn’t get it? He asked surprise resonating in his voice.
Oh! I got it! Thanks but you shouldn’t have, I said, sounding unexcited even to myself. I sounded like an ungrateful person. It was something he valued, as it was engraved at the back of his visiting cards. Yet here I was showing no regard for it.
It is beautiful, I said.
Thanks! He replied softly.
You didn’t have to send it off to me! I said.
Only if he hadn’t!
Things would have been normal here, between John and me.
Well, you were really amazed at it and I wanted to give it to someone who would admire it, he explained, I’m glad I found someone who really deserves to keep it.
Thank you so much! I said.
Oh you needn’t thank me so much for it! Please consider it as a gift for your kindness last night, he said casually.
A silence fell between us and I hoped he would disconnect the call soon.
Can we meet up for coffee? he asked hope mingled in his voice.
Well, I am busy here at office and can’t move out unless it is weekend, I said trying to avoid any promises.
Yes. I know you’re at office. I didn’t have your mobile number so I called up here! he stated.
Hmm! I said, not speaking much, afraid that he would ask for the number.
Just then the phone rang at his side. Maybe he too was in his office.
God bless the caller.
OK then! See you soon! He said, in a hurry.
Sure! Good bye! I said and put back the phone before he had said bye.
Deciding firmly that I had to return the painting back to him, I had a look at it. I didn’t deserve it.
I didn’t want it!
John kept to himself the rest of the day. He didn’t call me when the client came in for the meeting, he didn’t ask me to come in and take down any points or terms for the agreements to be typed. When the clock struck three, as per the routine, I took in his cup of coffee.
I knocked and entered in the room. He was holding the phone to his ear. I knew he was speaking to no one. All his calls passed through me to him. I placed the coffee in front of him and left. He was avoiding me. Why was he behaving this way?
I hadn’t asked Martin for the painting!
The day ended with the same gloominess between us. He was not very chatty with the others usually and neither was he angry as he had been in the morning, so everyone felt that he was no more hostile, just silent as always. But I knew it wasn’t normal, or a usual thing. He avoided looking me in the eyes. It astonished me more when for the first time since he had joined the office, he left before everyone. He was always the last. After I had joined, it had been both of us, together. Today, I was left back!
As Tuesday dawned, the uneasiness continued between us. I felt he was over reacting and being too foolish to take just a small gesture out of context. It was just a painting after all. To avoid any reaction from him or the other colleagues at work, I took the painting home. I kept it in the living room, in mother’s house. She liked it, and said I could hang it till I decided what to do about it. I decided to talk to Martin first and then hand it over back to him.
I didn’t want the painting in the house. It was beautiful but some how it made me restless. It made me think of Martin and John. It brought me memories of that night at the party, it made me ponder over the difference in the ways Martin and John behaved towards me. What was I thinking? What was this supposed to mean? This was just a friendly gesture, wasn’t it?
As the week dragged to Wednesday, nothing between us changed. Rather he turned cold and distanced from all of us. Except orders nothing came from him. No hi-hello, no cordial greetings. Just orders and filing work for me.
Rather he stayed out most of the time. He was keeping himself occupied with the new client and that was bothering me. I had no idea where he was, the max he told me on the phone was – out with an important client and not to be disturbed. Inspite of being in the same office, we both were in two different worlds.
He was silently avoiding me and it broke my heart. Knowing he wasn’t ready and unaware of my love, was different but to be left alone was painful. Made me feel abandoned, the worst kind of feeling. Though my heart always broke when some woman would throw herself at him, I knew he wouldn’t take a rational step and use her to his advantage. Somehow, here I felt, he wasn’t trusting me. Did he feel I was interested in Martin? The question gave birth to another one. Was he concerned if I was?
Thursday came. Same morning and same old files and desk. With nothing to type or file in the cabinet. I was checking on the company mails. I rarely did this, as most of the things were told verbally to me by John. But these days, we hadn’t even spoke a complete sentence to each another. Suddenly a red spot blinked on the Inbox folder. A mail had come in. From John. Wondering what it could be, I dragged the cursor to it and clicked it open.
My heart jumped with joy. It was a mail which he had forwarded to all in the office. An invitation for the press meet where one of the clients was announcing a five year contract with our company. A tie up. The huge opportunity than John had always waited for. As one by one everyone clicked open the mails, the office echoed with the joyous shouts. They all collected and walked over to me.
That’s big news!
Why didn’t you tell us?
Quite a secret you both had kept!
They spoke collectively.
I realized now why he was so busy these days. Those long hours outside, those long meetings and busy schedule he kept. Was that why he was being so indifferent?
As the news sunk in. I was startled when the thought struck me.
No! I was not part of it at all. He hadn’t told me too!
John didn’t tell me such an important thing.
The aloofness of his had hurt me, and he had deepened the wound with this. A lump rose in my heart and tears started forming in the eyes. I was scared it would fall and everyone would be asking me questions. To which I had no answers.
Just then the door opened and John stepped out.
I was surprised to see him stand there. It was the first time after Monday’s lunch, that he stood completely in my view.
He wasn’t as he would always be. Unkempt hair replaced his gelled hair, stubble covered his chin which he kept shaved everyday, his eyes were tired and sad. As a matter of fact, he was in a mess.
He had been avoiding me at lunch, leaving office and returning after the lunch break. Coming after me and rushing into his office with the mobile tucked between his shoulder and chin. As though busy in some important call. I hadn’t been able to see him properly until now.
He came out and stood with all the workers gathered in the middle. I stood behind my desk, a little far. I could see him and hear him but I didn’t feel like going in that group. His eyes moved around and settled on mine as congratulatory messages were echoing in the office. There was a sadness in his eyes instead of the spark which they had when he accomplished something. He stood there, the man in charge with a reason to celebrate but he looked powerless and lonely. What was happening to him?
As the party was organized to announce the tie up, we were to co-host it. To delegate work before the event, he asked us to collect in the meeting hall after lunch. There was still about an hour left.
All slowly dispersed away. Occupying their seats, all smiles and proud of being part of the company, progressing towards its goals. There was talk about promotions, bonus, salary hikes and excitement in the air.
But somehow I felt distraught. Why? Why was I being treated as just another employee? Was I just that for him? He always treated me as a friend first and then as secretary. But had the dynamics between us changed? And why?
I needed answers. And I needed them now.
(P.S. Looks like there will be more to come! Keep reading! 😂)