You know how you hear about all those things “time freezing – people moving in slow motion, snowflakes dancing” etc. etc., when people meet and they fall in love at first sight, more etc. etc., and some eye roll because you think it’s all rubbish. You don’t believe in it.
Now, this part is possibly the most important part: I must get it right.
I never thought it was a thing. I’m not even sure if it was *love* at first sight. But it was definitely something I had never experienced before. It wasn’t infatuation. It wasn’t a *crush*.
I looked into her eyes, that were on me (I suppose she was startled to see me playing peek-a-boo with her) and I could literally see us down the road 50 years from now old & grey, sitting on a bench somewhere, sipping tea.
I got no answers for you, my friends. All I know is Ella was the girl, (another story how i found the name, keep reading). She was THE girl because all those poetry and novels and everything I had ever read about these situations were making sense, for the first time.
Ella doesn’t show any kind of remorse on being found alone in the back garden, and (maybe) smoking weed, or burying whatever she was burying. She gives me the swiftest smile, and she’s back on doing whatever she’s doing. I take a step back, and I’m surprised, tbh. Curiosity is getting the best of me so I decide to pay her a little visit. Btw, at this point, I didn’t know her name and I was burning to know who she was. I shrug on my coat, breaking the pact I made with Saad to stay Indoors, I walk out.
I think I’ve actually made a fool of myself describing her but let me do it one more time:
As I make my way to the garden, Ella stands up. Her hair is golden brown and they’re gorgeous, really long, and there seem to be diamonds studded in (the snow) she’s tall, not taller than me, I make a quick calculation. As she turns I can see she still has that smile on her face.
Her face: oh the heavens. She looks so kind and soft and at the same time someone who would beat you to Ludo, over and over again, would own probably 3 cats and a dog, would love passionately, probably goes on those trips with her friends. I stop, a few feet away from her and as she waits for me to say something. I’m completely tongue-tied.
Damn it, Ahmed, say something man.
“ What are you hiding in the garden?” I blurt out
If she’s scared, or alarmed, or shocked, or anything else, to see a stranger walk over and start a conversation; she doesn’t show it. It seems like the world’s easiest job, to talk to me. It was as If she was waiting for me to come out. Like maybe she was waiting for our encounter, like she also knew, like me, this was *IT*.
“Excuse Me?” Ella says, amused. “Who are you? There are so many people here, sorry, hard to keep track. And… why have you been spying on me from over there?” she nods into the direction of my room.
With that voice, she could be a singer.
“I’m just a guest at a wedding of someone I don’t know well and didn’t want to attend…” All my pickup lines seem sleazy here. Plus, they won’t work on her, I know. I look at her closely.
“Are you ok?” I ask
She takes a moment too long to answer, but she does. “Hmm…. no”
Self-made hero mode activated.
“No” she confirms.
“Well, what is it? Maybe I can help?” “Hmmmm….” she looks over her shoulder, looks back at me “Are you sure you’re not a random murderer at the wedding looking to kill random people? “
“I would hardly call you random. You’re out in the cold, wearing a coat that’s to your knees, puffing out smoke and doing God knows what. I’d say you were pretty safe from me. You’re hardly…. random “
She smiles back. “ok then. I’m hiding something.”
I look at her warily. “Does it have to be out here?”
“Look, I’m afraid so. Nobody is going to come out here. It’s the safest place to hide anything right now”
“Okay then. What are we hiding?”
I hold my breath as she pulls out an entire bag of something from under her coat
“It’s a… what is it, exactly?” I look in. Confused.
“Sujji ka halva” she whispers, “under close orders not to cook anything, I went against my better judgment and made a whole batch of this traditional sweet. Obviously I ruined it. I can’t face 20 people in there who would say *told you* … thus I’m hiding it. Burying it actually. Too bad the birds have migrated or they could have eaten it”
This is… Well, this is a twist. Where are my dead bodies?
She holds out the bag for my inspection and I take a look.
Oooh… I take my words back.
These sweets are way worse than dead bodies
They’re slimy and black and burnt. They’re so
bad… like my little sister would say *Oh My God* – Bad
I grimaced at the sight. “Uh… I’m not sure ANYONE could eat this” I point out. “They’re like rocks. Like tiny Rocks. They would kill their small little intestines”
For two seconds we stand there and I think we’re imagining it. Then we get back to work.
I dig and she buries, and together we cover it up. She’s perfectly fine sitting next to a total stranger, even though we’ve ruled out the crazy axeman. I find her confidence overwhelming.
That and those small snowflakes on her lashes.
While we work, we talk. She tells me about the weather, how it changed from the forecast, how her dadi makes the best halva, how she wanted to try it today, even though today seemed to be booked for everyone. How she was craving biryani back home (another traditional dish) and I jump into this opportunity to tell her I’ve made it – loads of time for my friends on Fridays like these.
“Well not exactly like these” I said, studying the rock in my hand and she starts to laugh.
“Enough teasing about my cooking! Not anymore!” she reminds me, straightening her gloves.
“Okay…. no more” I agreed. I’d jump into a hole for her, if she asked. But there are no holes here. Lol.
Invalid humour. Sorry.
We sit in silence, and as we work, my shoulder accidentally brushes against hers. She takes an immediate step back and there’s colour in her cheeks, only for a second, but it was there. I saw it.
I actually have goosebumps.
Holy crap. What’s happening to me.
She’s just so easy to communicate with, you know. It seems like I’ve known her forever. The moment I saw her; I knew she’d *click*. The first time I heard her talk, well I could hear her forever. And the way she seems so….
uncomplicated, sitting next to me, burying burnt sujji ka halva when there’s a wedding going on in a few hours, is so… mellow. Like she would conquer the world one day and say “Oh you know… just one of those days…”
But the best thing about her was that she didn’t seem to get fazed. She didn’t get upset, she didn’t seem to be the kind that could cry or create drama. She felt like someone who found answers to the questions, and solutions to the problems. Someone who would be smiling while conquering the world, possibly with a side hobby.
Finally, she asks my name.
“Ahmed. What’s yours?”
“Ella. Well… Madiha. But my friends call me Ella”
“Ella like from Frozen?” I ask, smirking.
“Isn’t that Elsa?” she smirks back, wiping the grin from of my face.
“So what do you do in your random time when you’re not burning traditional sweets?” I change topics, patting mud on top of one bar of sujji halva into the earth.
“I work at a shelter. Taking homeless in. Women’s rights. That’s sort of thing. I also study. I’m studying to be a landscape artist too. You?”
She says that in one breath as if she’s said that loads of time.
“Engineering. Pretty boring but I’m into poetry. I wanted to take that professionally but that’s not a man’s job, or so people believe. Your landscape artist sounds interesting” I reply back, smart I notice I’m talking quickly, maybe because I want to talk to her more, and the sweets are running out. There’s so much to know. I just know her name. We’re still just strangers, and if nothing, I want her number by the end of the day. I want to know her. I’ve never felt like this before.
She’s smiling softly, maybe she’s read my mind? Or maybe I’m over thinking. How could she, when I’ve not said a single thing, a single word, about how I feel? Should I say something?
She’s wrapping up her bag now so if there’s something to say, I must say it now.
I think I panic at this point.
She stands up, adjusting her clothes.
“Ahmed, thank you for being my partner in crime today. Thank you for your time, not asking questions and just being here. That’s what I needed today. It was nice…. no, great to meet you.”
She leans forward to shake hands and laughs “I’ll never forget this half hour of my life”
“I’ll see you at the wedding” I reply.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Goodbye” she smiles and walks away.
And I’m just standing there, in the snow, thousand questions on my mind. Suddenly the wedding I never wanted to attend is the one I have to, the most. Time cannot move slower.
I always knew, today would be different.