Election Section


By Roopa Ramamoorthi
Friday December 21, 2007

Halfway down the long line moving toward her she noticed a man. It had to be him. He had salt and pepper hair now like her. His eyes were hidden behind glasses. OK, they were both now wearing high refractive index lenses, not like the windshields of old, but still there were those layers separating their eyes.  

She did not want to be caught staring and returned to signing a book. Not like thirty years ago when their noses brushed and their eyes locked. Those were young eyes, innocent eyes—hers kohl-rimmed, almond shaped—his owl-like, hungry. But that was so long ago. 

With a smile she handed over the book to the blond woman in front of her. One more stop on her book tour. It was his city, the city where the pavement was as hot as a tandoori oven, the state of at least three American Presidents. The image of that final car drive to the airport on that overcast day thirty years ago came to her. His black Honda Accord with the cracked windshield, his staring straight ahead, her attempts at conversation. The next woman shyly placed a book on her table. She scolded herself to remain in control and went back to signing books mechanically, smiling by stretching her jaw muscles. “Yes, to whom should I address this?” Happy reading, best wishes, Enjoy—she traded off among a few stock phrases.  

She handed yet another book again and saw he was now only two away. Her blouse was getting damp. She wondered whether she had done the right thing wearing that multi-stone bracelet, the one with the peacock green, rosebud pink and watery blue stones. Their drives along the ocean, his hand on her knee, his playfully doling real pennies for her thoughts, licking McDonald dot ice creams or holding hands at a fancy Persian restaurant—every detail was engraved in her memory. 

He placed the book in front of her and said, “Hello there.” She felt his eyes on her multi-stone bracelet. She looked for and found his wedding ring, wondered if he had children, how old they were. She took a breath, bit her lower lip. “Whom should I make it out to?” she said in as nonchalant a voice as she could muster. She hoped he did not notice the sweat from her palm on the pen. He did not answer. She looked up, adjusted her bracelet which had slipped up from her wrist. The line was long. The publisher would want her PR to be efficient, not to linger. She signed, “Thank you for Parallel Lives.” It was not one of the stock phrases. She had forgotten to add “buying.” The verb had disappeared before the title.  

He collected the book and started on his way. She greeted the next person but from the corner of her eye she noticed that he turned back once halfway to the bookstore exit. Did she detect a sadness in his eyes or was she just imagining it? The $5 bracelet bought so long ago in this city would circle her wrist for the last time that day.