The Walker – By Barnali Saha
It was half past six on a snowy Sunday evening and Trisha Peterson was applying a generous dollop of her Olay sensitive skin face wash. She used her fingers to gently lather up her face puffing her cheeks as she worked on. The loose curls of her ponytailed blond hair hung behind her ears like horse’s mane. After she had splashed her face clean, Trisha wiped it with her olive green towel. Green was her favorite color; it had been her favorite color even before she had seen her first rainbow while staying at her grandparent’s farmhouse back in 1986. It was not that she was never fond of any other color or that she detested the reds and maroons, it was simply that green and especially olive green always seemed to lift her moods. She thought that green was a very happy color.
Trisha walked to the bathroom window and drew the blind to see the status of the accumulating snow. The snow was coming down in steady peaceful flurries; there was already a white coat on her red Toyota van. Shit, she said as she dragged herself away from the window. On any other day Trisha would have stood a while and enjoyed the snow, but not today. Today was special and Trisha knew it when she saw her hour glass, which rarely completed its hourly hemispherical journeys and generally got clogged midway, completed six straight pole to pole trips and winked at her from its resting place. Today after a long relationship hiatus Trisha was going on a date. All day long she had felt an icy cold sensation sandwiched between warm sighs and swivels of emotions inside her. Sometimes she thought that match.com was probably too fast to find her a match and that she should just shoo the date and not turn up. But then that wouldn’t be a very lady like thing for a mature thirty two year old woman whose demand in the prospective singles market was dwindling everyday. In fact, she was pretty surprised when she actually got the email from Mark Stevens the other day saying that he had seen her profile in the match.com website and was ‘bowled over’ by her gorgeous picture. Not a very gentlemanly mail it was, Trisha thought, but she decided to give it a shot. After all he did seem pretty interested. On receiving the mail, Trisha googled his name and found out that Mark was a pretty straight thirty five year old guy, an investment banker once divorced (as per his Facebook profile) with no criminal record. He was into sports because he was a member of The Baseball Fans community and had once won a cycling race as a college student in Ohio. A good match, Trisha thought and replied back with an affirmation that she would be seeing him at the at the Blackstone restaurant on the following Sunday evening. The reply came back fast and the prospective dating deal looked pretty good. Except that Trisha wondered if he had actually seen it. That very line which currently sums up her whole existence and places her in that special box of physically handicapped people.
She turned to her closet and after much debating as to what to wear and what to discard, she decided on a pair of plain blue jeans and an ordinary olive green sweater. She dressed nervously glancing at the watch. She was running late. After she had dressed Trisha looked at her reflection in the mirror; she thought she looked pretty. The make up was light and well set, her lips were properly done and she thought she was ready. Just before leaving she clasped her palms and uttered a silent prayer, she never went out anywhere without uttering her little prayers. The act some how made her feel safe on the roads as every time she stepped on the street a shuddering trepidation of being run down by a vehicle haunted her. Once she talked about it to her pastor at the Blakemore church and it was he who had asked her to do the religious exercise everyday before any important or unimportant event. And after the first day Trisha had tried it, she felt a gentle touch of calmness filling her mind. It was on that day that Trisha felt like a child of God, it was the first time she knew that God was her guardian angel and he was there for her hovering in the sky with his mighty stretched out wings.
It was already dinner time when Trisha walked into the restaurant. A group of young waiters and waitresses in black and white uniforms were hurriedly walking to the tables with smoking platters. Trisha leaned on her walker grabbed the metal on its sides and walked to the attending waitress standing in a box next to the door.. “Hello” a waitress said; she was a girl with a face of a child. She was hardly twenty. “Is Mark Steven’s around?” Trisha asked, softly, clasping the cold handrail of her aluminum walker. “No, he has not come yet” she replied in a perfect musical voice after checking her guest list. “I will have the table for two then,” Trisha said. The girl pointed an empty table next to the window and asked her if that would be good for her. “Excellent” Trisha replied. “And would you like something to drink while you wait?” she asked. “Just water” Trisha replied. The girl then hurried out of her box to help Trisha to her table. Trisha backed away, “I am fine,” she said and noisily thumped her walker on the floor.
The restaurant was warm and cozy it smelled like grilled meat and alfredo sauce. There were bright bouquets of red and yellow flowers on all tables. Lamps with vibrant stained glass shades hung over the tables. Trisha bent on her walker and slowly began moving to her table. She looked at the dusty mossy green carpet and almost noiselessly dragged herself. She tried to avert the furtive glances she might be getting for the people around. It was not that she was a born handicap, an abnormal by birth. She was perfectly all right in all her ways except for her left leg that turned delinquent and began behaving peculiarly after it was hurt at the car accident that she had three years back. Still Trisha was ashamed of herself. She licked her lips and measured the distance with her eyes. Even a few feet seemed like a long quest to her. Just as she had reached the middle of the room, a terrible paroxysm of pain cramped her left leg’s calf muscles. Ouch she cried almost inaudibly making sure that nobody listened. For a while she quietly stood on the floor. At that moment, like always, Trisha felt the unavoidable wish to vanish from public eye and drift back to her one bedroom apartment where she lived alone with no soul except her owns to scrutinize her moves. A couple of waiters almost elbowed their way to the tables without paying her any attention. A minute later the excruciating spasm of pain abated and Trisha felt better. She was glad that Mark wasn’t still there. Just as she felt her limbs were ambulatory again, she hurriedly dragged her right leg and then, with great effort, her left leg thereby finally managing to move herself further toward the table.
Life can sometimes be a grave moral liability and Trisha knew very well that she had to accept her handicap and live with it like a harmonious neighbor. In her silent soliloquies she had often reached the pinned up moment of convincing her confused mind that the defect was a part of life, a streak of reality that made her human. She often behaved overtly matured in those secret self conversations only to forget all she had thought the following day and felt as bogged down as always when she confronted the public eye. Sometimes it really gets difficult to convince one’s own mind and one has to lie to it to alleviate its distress. Trisha had been trying the trick with little luck; her process wasn’t wrong it was simply that she lacked the material. You cannot trick your mind with stupid inane lies. It knows you better than you yourself do.
Trisha carefully hid the walker behind her chair making sure to hide it such that it could not be seen by someone sitting in the opposite direction. Then, the glass door of the restaurant powerfully opened and Trisha saw somebody walking in. She craned her neck to see the newly arrived chap. The man walked in and asked something to the attending waitress, the same girl named Becky who had greeted Trisha. The waitress pointed the table where she was sitting and the man began to walk toward the direction in the macho steps of a construction worker.
Mark Stevens was tall and well built. He was wearing a black suit and a maroon silk shirt, the material of the shirt glistened in the light. His gelled brown hair was parted in the middle and over all he almost looked like a big and tall fashion model.
On reaching the table, he smiled and extended his palm handsomely for a shake, a thing he would do normally when meeting a new clientele.
“Hi, Mark here,” he said exposing a set of well set milky white teeth.
“Hi” Trisha replied extending her hand.
“Whoa! Your hand is really cold,” said Mark.
Trisha smiled and sat down. At a first look she almost detested Mark’s ebullience. She had the tendency of hating or loving people at first sight. She had made few friends and more critics following the process over the years, but in her mind she always knew if one was to love a person, one would love him at the first sight. Sitting in the restaurant Trisha deliberately tried to denounce the negative ideas her mind inevitable began boring on seeing Mark. For a while she inspected his looks and found not a notable folly. Then, when he summoned the waitress with a hand gesture, she tried to discover traits of insolence in his attitude only to find there wasn’t actually anything contemptuously rude or impertinent in his behavior. When the waitress handed the menu cards and asked about their drinking preferences, Mark elegantly referred that he would have whatever the lady would be drinking. Trisha found his repertoire amusing and said that since she didn’t drink, she would have another glass of water. Mark smiled and said, “Ditto!” Trisha noticed that he didn’t change his order and ask for wine or beer. Smart move, she thought.
At the table, the conversation began rolling in no time. By the time the food had arrived Trisha had already finished telling about herself and her little job in the state library; she told it all except the walker and how it came to her life. In the beginning there was a slight uneasiness stirring Trisha which was the inevitable result of her slow social life, but later she found herself laughing to Mark’s witty political jokes. Soon she began enjoying the conversation with the investment banker who talked about all sorts of things except about himself. Trisha listened to him hour after hour without getting bored. Occasionally, Mark would stop to take a sip of water and ask Trisha to tell something about herself only to begin talking before she would conjure up a story in her mind. She felt hot lava running between her legs when Mark suddenly stroked her in the middle of a conversation. She looked up coyly and sensed the blood rushing to her heart. Outside the snow came down like a rain of bird feathers.
Around ten o’ clock the snow began coming down heavily. The guests in the restaurant had already left except for Trisha and Mark. Trisha had not looked at her watch in a long time and hence was not aware that she had passed her usual bedtime. At closing time the waitress came back with their check.
Trisha brought out her walker, casually, totally forgetting the pretenses she had in mind when she had walked in. Mark paid the bill and when he turned around with his usual smile and saw Trisha leaning on her walker a sudden change of expression convoluted his looks. The smile gave way to a frown and a cloud of confusion materialized in his green eyes. His face turned red and he stood immobilized beside the table. Trisha could read his expression. She had seen a rainbow of such faces in the past. “Trisha, you” Mark said choppily, staring at her open mouthed. Trisha felt her whole body undergoing a postmortem in his eyes. She couldn’t stand those eyes; they were a sudden reminder of the ugliness she had hoped not to see in Mark. But she was wrong; she now realized how wrong she was.
She turned around to leave and hauled herself through the floor. She felt the world staring at her. She wished to tear away the mask of sociability that hung from the faces she saw around her. She wanted to run away, alas if only she could run.
At the door she turned back for a second and saw Mark still standing next to the table, paralyzed by the shock that Trisha had caused him. She dragged her walker on the ground searing the breast of the virgin snowfall that coated the earth. Her aluminum gadget created confused inscriptions on the ground, inscriptions that no cartographer could ever decipher. The uneasy, expressive markings stared at her from the ground and in the spectrum of blurry and downsized tones, a crowd of faces that she had seen throughout her life flashed in and out of the foggy light shot by a googly eyed sad lamppost.
Trisha shoved the walker in the back seat of her car and limped her way to the driver’s seat. A negative blue tag with an image of a man sitting on a wheel chair danced in front of her eyes. She clenched her teeth and threw the tag at the back where it rested, as if out of mere coincidence, just in the cervix of the aluminum walker.
As she drove her way through the icy highways motley of phantasmagorical images inter-played gravely under her quiet cold palms that still felt the sensation of holding the walker trot in their veins. It was on a night like this that her husband and she were coming back from a road trip to Virginia. The roads were icy and the car was skidding inadvertently. She remembered asking John to drive slowly, but he didn’t hear her, he was listening to “Dreams go by” from Harry Chaplin’s album Portrait Gallery. John was immersed in the tunes when an express truck, a gargantuan beast, materialized out of the blue just in front of their 1995 Saab and there was a deafening crash. The car rumbled and hit the snowy edge of the road. It crumbled like a poor toy at the hands of a careless child. Trisha’s body toppled and she felt a blow in her abdomen. She was blind for a while. All she remembered were the lines of the song rapidly disappearing into the darkness that suddenly hit her like an earthquake.
You know I want to be a painter, girl
A real artistic snob
But I guess we will have our children first
You will find a home, I’ll get a job
That was all she ever wanted. That was all she ever wanted from John. John, John was no more. In the blinding darkness before drifting to the unconscious condition Trisha searched for him. She couldn’t find him.
When Trisha undressed for the night it was almost midnight. The snowstorm was raging madly outside. She dusted her bed and arranged her pillows around her. She still had John’s pillows; she couldn’t sleep without them touching her torso. She straightened her body on the bed. Her mind was blank like a clean blackboard with scrapes of white chalk dust on its edges. She wasn’t angry anymore, neither was she mad or unhappy. As she lay on her bed she somehow felt contented. She didn’t want to think about the date, which was worthless. Instead she turned her ear to the wind chime outside that had been continuously producing an eccentric rhythm. Every time there was a storm it would create an orchestra of offbeat tunes. Seeing the storm the generally silent chime would go wild, it would jump and lollygag, dance back and forth with excitement. Its slender hollow tentacles would swing and grab each other’s hands and tinkle with glee. Trisha listened to the tones intently. She tried to make out the meaning of each tinkle. So strange was its moves, so unconventional was its music that it could very well be mistaken for the collective drag of hundreds and thousands of aluminum walkers in stoned and tiled floors.