She was feeling uneasy about travelling with E on a day trip to Mumbai. There was a feeling of heaviness, like some kind of weight pulling her down. E’s tall and grizzly look, his head-strong views, stubborn disposition, along with some other vague impressions, made her feel slightly anxious about sharing the intimate space of a car with him. She shared her anxiety with her husband, two days before the trip. With his ankle slightly swollen, he wasn’t too keen on a trip that didn’t really require his presence. She and E were totally capable of handling between themselves whatever needed to get done. And yet he chose to accompany her, further buoyed by her compliments of how loving, empathetic and caring he was. He remarked that she was too beautiful to be allowed to travel alone, with this handsome French contractor. She was charmed and tickled.

She woke early, contrary to her habit of waking to the light of a late morning Sun upon her face. The summer heat made the morning sultry and humid. To keep herself cool during the travel, and for the hot, humid site visit in Mumbai, she dressed herself in a red, translucent, chiffon sari, and put on a contrasting mustard yellow, cotton blouse. Her mood was a little forced. A lover of detail and fashion, she felt unenthusiastic, and less spritely. She chose to wear a simple pair of ruby earrings instead of her favourite, flamboyant, dangling earrings studded with a deep and cooling emerald. Her moodiness made her linger less in front of the mirror, and she was ready, quicker than usual. Habitually reluctant to enter the kitchen, she surprised herself, by making for herself a mango yogurt shake. Was she repressing some feelings? Was she toning all her feelings down, to remain calm in front of her keenly observant husband? Or was she simply honouring her mellow, yet slightly anxious state of mind? The couple drove out, in the comfort of their big four-wheel drive.

She called E, as they came closer to their rendezvous. He cut her call, and messaged back, “ Ready”. The car entered his office grounds. As they circled the round about, the couple marvelled aloud, as E walked past them, in a grey t-shirt, with well-fitted jeans. His silvery grey hair appeared freshly cut, and his large feet looked elegant in a pair of dressy, camel-brown leather moccasins. She wondered if E, who otherwise never struck her to be handsome, had dressed up, to draw her in? She caught a certain flush of grey upon his angular face. Perhaps it was the surprise and the disappointment, brought about by the unexpected presence of her husband. Had the cause for her unconscious fears and uneasiness been this under-current of attraction that E felt towards her? Had she repressed any feelings of attraction towards him? It was difficult to answer any of these questions.

However, as she owned her feelings, she recognised that her being was inspired by the care E had taken to groom himself. She felt more open, relaxed, happier and looked forward to her journey. It was not what she had anticipated. As soon as E entered the car, he remarked to her, “ I have a small gift for you”. She was charmed and curious. He handed her a small, brown bottle with some liquid in it. It was Boric acid, for her ear infection. He had promised her some, a few days earlier. This remedy had worked for him, and for all his children, as they would catch ear infections often, in the pool, or, whenever they swam in the sea. He explained that these drops quickly dried up the fungus that feeds on humidity inside the ear, arresting all the bacterial infection, and allowing a quick return to the pleasure of a good swim! It was a thoughtful gift and it left a warm feeling in her heart.

They stopped for breakfast. E had already eaten at home. She appreciated his professionalism, and sense of self-reliance. As they headed towards the car, he touched her upper arm in a caring manner, while remarking about something, gently brushing off a leaf that had fallen upon her hair. His touch made her tingle. She felt self-conscious. She wondered what her husband would have to say about that. Much later, when she revisited this sensation in her journal pages, she sensed his touch to be that of a loving man, of a caring father, or, the touch of an empathetic, elder brother. It was something she had missed deeply, while growing up inside a queer, non-emotive birth family. On further self-reflection, she wasn’t sure why her tenderness towards E had catapulted multiple-fold, since that day. Had it to do with his soulful and tender responses to all her questions that she had so candidly flung towards him, on their journey to Mumbai and back?

There were characters from his biographical stories that lingered and left a melodious resonance inside her now. One could almost hear the handpicked selections of soft music that he played, each afternoon, for his paralysed eighty-eight year old mother, to help ease her pain. He spoke of his strict, but loving grandfather, who managed a big farm in Algeria before the terrible war forced them to flee to France. This was a man who could build and fix anything, a man who cooked and did all the chores around the house because of his wife’s handicapped leg. He spoke of the time he held his aged grandmother’s frail hands, as a nineteen year old, witnessing her breath grow heavy and slow, until it ceased, and the tranquil silence of her passing enveloped him. He spoke of the recent death of his only daughter, beautiful and talented, in a brutal road accident. She could feel his pain, still fresh, though he had spoken about it all, with neutrality. He had mastered the craft of hiding his brokenness, she reminisced.

E had spoken about his two sons, lion-hearted, independent and hard working. Like their father, she had thought. They were both surfers, loving the joys of riding Ocean waves. His love for them was clear. He remarked how hard it was for men to express their love to their children, especially to sons, while the women had the ability to express it all, so easily. She had listened to his every story, to every anecdote that he shared with such care. She observed the lines on his face, his rough and big palms, his deep set eyes, his soft and accented dialect, his crooked teeth, his appetite, his choice of food, his wide-eyed childlike wonder for new experiences, as they took him to beautiful places to eat, or to choose fittings or stones. She observed his mannerisms, his sense of clarity and his knowledge about what he needed specifically from each vendor; his sense of respect towards all those he interacted with; or the care with which he handled all the objects he inspected, his sense of humour; his ability to become one with the local community of workers; his disappointment with mediocrity; with careless work; or lack of professionalism. She also observed his dreaminess; his obsession for fitness and for a healthy life. E confessed to having become interested in art, only in recent years, as much of his youth was about working hard to make ends meet. There had been no time then to linger, a quality that art demanded, E remarked. He moved to her country with his wife and three young children, when he was thirty-three years old. His wife was the most resistant to this bombastic move to an absolutely foreign culture and people. But after three months of torturous sickness and frustration with the change, she had halted in prayer and surrendered to her destiny. That day onwards, miraculously, everything had fallen into place for their whole family, and since then, they had felt at home in her country.

At one point in the car ride, when all was silent, she suddenly asked him, “What is your favourite flower, E?” Taken by surprise, E blurted out some contemplative sighs, and then remarked, “ My favourite flowers are the little, blue, wild flowers, very small, that appear suddenly after the first rains. I see them often when I go bicycling. And in France, I also like a kind of a blue flower that grows in the spring. In fact, I also like blue-green butterflies. I have something for the colour blue”.

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His response stirred her. It revealed to her the simplicity and the innocence of his being, to love a wild flower that has no name, that has no other quality than that of showing up unexpected, in a sudden flash of beauty! She floated upon the ripples kindled by his uncanny response. She saw meadows of tiny, wild, blue flowers on vast, open fields. She recollected images of these tiny flowers on the long walks with her six year old son in her native city that was surrounded by many hills. She missed his presence by her side. She drove the rest of the journey in silent contemplation, until the madness of the city streets and the crazy traffic, rudely jolted her awake to the present moment.