A/N: This is about a possibly Autistic stranger.
There are some people who are familiar strangers; faces you see on the bus, in the corridors, in the lift, even a person who always seems to be waiting at that traffic crossing.
Well there’s this girl. I’ve met? seen? run into? her on the Metro. Thrice. She’s South Indian, dark. Pretty, I say: she has hooded eyes which are light brown, and she’s one of those people who seem to have permanent dark circles under their eyes, but in a nice way. Long curly hair held back with a small clutcher. Why is she so remarkable?
She’s not all there, I don’t know how else to put it without being politically incorrect. But she clearly has a mental disorder – I don’t know if its Aspergers, Autism or what – she leads a normal, self-sufficient life, as far as I can tell (no hovering, anxious friend/relative/escort with her that I have seen with most mental patients). She reminds me of Luna Lovegood. I admire her. This is my personal experience, regardless of political correctness. Forgive me.
Sliding into the seat next to me on the Metro one day, a girl randomly says “Hello, which college are you from?”
“Okay”. She seems to drift off, and starts humming.
“Where are the other people from Hindu?”, she suddenly asks, and I take a moment to wonder what she means. “They’re all going home, I guess.” She seemed satisfied by this answer. All through the ride, she was alternately wildly distracted and intensely interested in me. Her attention felt as blinding as a marine searchlight, and you couldn’t look away from her eyes. Midway through, she started singing. Loudly, and really well.
People don’t talk very loudly on the Metro, or sing. The white-tomb-like sealed carriages are so silent you can hear shoes scuffing on the floor. It prohibits sound, unless you’re with friends. Conversations carry, people stare. So no one sings.
But she did.
I still remember she started out singing “So Gaye Hain” from Zubeida. Her voice was beautiful, clearly classically trained. She would sing the opening lines, and then seem to forget where she was in the verse, and start over. It was the same two lines, flawlessly repeated, with the relentless quality of a thought that refuses to let go. She switched to Malayalam, and the lady sitting beside me leaned over to ask which language it was.
The other people in the compartment looked awkward. You couldn’t really zone out, like any other day in the Metro; she kept us fixed there, to the present moment. She sang like she’d forgotten where we were. Utterly unselfconscious, even unaware of social cues. This one girl sitting opposite us and talking to her boyfriend on the phone was clearly irritated and gave her pointed looks. Honestly I felt awkward too, at first – she was drawing attention to us both, and I just wanted to be anonymous.
“So Gaye Hain” was stuck in my head for weeks.
I’m trying to tell you why she made such an impact on me. You know the ennui of daily travel, the sheer tiredness of doing it everyday? It numbs people. I listen to music on my 1.5 hour daily commute.Before this I couldn’t resist moving to music. Now I must. I don’t like attracting attention, I want to appear controlled.
She’s unjaded. God, that’s trite, I don’t know shit about her, or what is even going through her head, but she isn’t worn into the same groove as the rest of us. Maybe that’s what comes of having a mental disorder, being slightly ‘loopy’? Everybody loves Luna – she says it like it is. Mystery girl too.
Life is not about saying it like it is. That’s what growing up means. Sort of. I’m trying not to be profound. (Am I romanticising this? Perhaps this is what comes of only knowing someone from afar).
I saw her again, several times. She was always a few seats or a few strides away. I could easily have tapped her on the shoulder. What would I say? What could I possibly say?
“What’s your name”?
“You sat next to me and sang for one and a half hours and it was unforgettable, though awkward”?
“Who are you”?
“Do you remember me? I remember you”
I saw her again today. I’d gotten a seat, but she was standing. I wondered if I should give her my seat. I didn’t.
Well, I didn’t have any apparent reason for giving her my seat – other people’s eyes pinned me in place.
She kept paced feverishly up and down the compartment looking for a seat, shedding that mask which all of us wear – we want badly to sit, we never show it. To not appear as desperate and tired as we feel. Its quite a futile exercise, but everyone keeps up that pretense.
When the lady next to the lady next to me got up, she didn’t notice that a seat was vacant. I tapped her on the elbow and motioned at it. There was no recognition in her eyes. Of course not. She hadn’t spent hours planning a blog post about me.
Yes, she sang again. I paused my music and listened to her, too hesitant to openly take out my earplugs. Two girls sitting across from me kept sniggering at her. She kept singing irrespective. She got a phone call from her mother on her cell, and she was very loud. Mostly I give loud cellphone-talkers dirty looks, but I glared at those two girls instead. I don’t know what the point of this is. I don;t even know what to call her.
She’s her. That girl who sings.