My dislike for the cigarette underwent a change. Ulterior motives led me to view it as an ally. It became my darling vehicle, which gave tongue to emotions that my bashfulness had hitherto kept suppressed. It also proved to be an instrument that Martin would use to lure into the open my feelings for him whenever he wished. Cigarettes were no longer lit to appease an addiction but only to be extinguished purposefully. Our romance advanced splendidly with a burning intensity with every cigarette killed. Having enticed him like a temptress for years, the cigarette seemed like a dangerously seductive Delilah who avenged her zealously extinguished light by fanning the flame in Martin’s heart. Not only his love seemed to be escalating wildly in intensity, but his respect and admiration for my innocence also mounted. I was no longer unattainable simply because of the obstacles posed by tradition, religion, or my own ingrained Puritanism. My artless innocence, which surfaced in the impeccant ways I sought to delight him, drew from him a corresponding desire not to sully it. Often his eyes reflected a protective deference that seemed to surpass even his love.
It became, henceforth, no secret for both of us that this hideous habit of smoking had turned delightedly into a deliberate behaviour. Given the parlous surroundings, not to mention my coy nature, the cigarette became our line of approach and a circuitous avenue for reciprocating our emotions. One look into his beautiful hazel eyes would reveal how desperate he would often be for a few words of affection, or for moments of particular attention, or for a tender smile. He could not have expected or conceived of more. Well, against all expectations, it wasn’t Martin’s audacity that ultimately led to our first touch. Backed up by my repulsive ally, it was my bashfulness that paradoxically produced this outcome.
He was working one day in Tom’s office when the phone rang for him. For an unmistakable reason he picked it up from Jack’s desk that neighboured mine. With arm resting on the right side of the swivel armchair and hand drooping at a loose end, he embarked on what turned out to be a lengthy conversation, holding a cigarette between the two fingers of his right hand. An insane urge took control of me as I sat watching the flaking ash of his cigarette. He was engrossed talking, apparently oblivious of me. Suppressing my oscillation between hesitancy and determination, I mustered all my courage and stepped towards him. I looked apprehensively around ensuring no one was looking. Slowly and gently, I lifted his wrist with my thumb and forefinger, took the cigarette away, and crushed it hastily in the nearest ashtray. Such gratuitous impetuosity shook up the unfledged female within me; my heart throbbed crazily, and every muscle in my body trembled. But it was a moment of howling lunacy that I couldn’t comprehend, let alone resist.
In any event, Martin carried on with his phone discourse. He eventually hung up and returned to Tom’s office without a word or even the merest glance at me. He just acted as if nothing had occurred, or that was what I thought erroneously. Towards the end of the day, however, he proved me dead wrong. He retaliated.
The offices were deserted. I was in the storeroom, using my spare time performing what was meant to be the Xeroxing job for the following morning. While the Xerox machine ran boisterously on, I stood, back turned against the door, sorting out the already copied charts and rosters. Suddenly, I felt the back of a hand running gently against my right cheek down to my neck. I was startled; on turning to the side of the action, I saw him, Martin, standing to my right, smiling blithely. I jumped with the agility of a cat, and, in the twinkling of an eye, landed at the far left corner of the room. I stood there breathless, shaking all over. ‘DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN, YOU HEAR?’ I said, threatening with my forefinger.
‘You’re lucky. I was thinking worse’, he said in an elegantly insouciant manner.
Apprehensive of making a move, and gesticulating with a helpless hand, I motioned him to give way for my flight. Playing dull and obtuse yet cocksure, he stood blocking the doorway, asking provocatively, ‘What? What do you want?’
I mimed again for him to step to one side. But he wouldn’t move one bit. He must have been enjoying enormously my powerlessness, as I stood glued to my spot, like a cornered deer. It took more than one plea, nevertheless, before he relented and moved just slightly aside. Chary and wary, I stood a few moments mulling over the soundness of lucking through. Bringing my indecision to an end, I scudded past him like lightning, straight to my office.
‘Hey, your papers’, he cried out laughing
He followed me and stood at the doorway, watching me with amusement as I barricaded myself behind my desk, my brows glowering, and eyes seriously signalling a warning. Smiling and ostensibly jubilant, he strolled into my office and stood some distance away looking affectionately at me for a few brief moments. Then he winked and murmured, as he wound up his seemingly premeditated short visit, ‘We’re even kiddo’.
To Be Continued.......