Chapter 3: Speck
The 3 weeks following my first formal encounter with Zarah were spent systematically implanting my presence into her daily routine. This is easy to accomplish, since social norms prevent me from talking to her or getting too close to her on a normal basis, which leaves me with the comfortable position of just walking by. I stopped taking the transit shuttles running within the university and walked all the way from the main parking lot besides the gated entrance, mapping out my route towards my biology and Natural Sciences complex to always have me make a shortcut through the Arts and Humanities area. So, as it would be perceived, fate would have me within walking distance from her every school day around noon. Of course, I don’t expect her nor myself to walk up to each other anytime soon and that’s just fine, since this leaves the brewing of reasoning to the imagination. When we do meet again, and she expresses any indication of seeing me walk by every day, the manner in which it is brought up would be highly suggestive of her thought process and within what light she perceives me to be.
It also allows me to no longer act unaware of her being there. Sure, I don’t act like I know her or anything, nor do I stare at her to warrant rumors towards me and my intentions, but a well-placed glance would be of no harm to the two parties concerned. Almost like acknowledging that new neighbor who moves in down the street, whom you don’t care to meet but still isn’t exactly a stranger. A simple practice which I give the appropriate title of “Habituation”. I am aware that this is already an established psychology term, but I am working on my own grounds here and not cherry picking from the likes of Skinner, Freud and Pavlov.
As I would walk by and ‘generally’ turn my head towards the garden between the buildings, I would witness Zarah, sitting on the exact same decaying green bench in the middle, cross-legged in her monotonous attire, fixated on a piece of ‘literature’ in her lap. The first few days I noticed that she bore a hair-band and generally ignored considering my presence. By the end of the first week, the band was gone, which allowed her to shift her hair to obscure her face. Initially, I considered this to be a casual “Get lost” indication, but with someone so adamant in flat-out ignoring me, this habit stuck out at me. She felt odd about my being there. I never stopped and stared, so gave off no insincere vibes. Which had me assume that she was worried of me finding some fault, some opening.
To validate this theory, I decided to meet her once more. I could no longer rely on constructing another fiasco to gain her undivided attention, so had to resolve to the classic after-school confrontation. Three days ago, as she walked over as usual towards the bus stop near the parking lot by the gate, I bumped into her amidst a sea of self-engaged students and just stood in front of her, until she shrugged at me in annoyance, asking “What do you want?”
As a lesson for approaching in a conversation designed to extract a message, I shall display exactly how the talk went down.
“Well, to be honest, a sister of a friend here -at yours Arts area – told me that there’s talk amongst them that I’m making you feel awkward. So, I wanted to apologize for that.” I spoke solemnly, not pausing and not providing much articulation to my wordings, so as to hint shyness in the approach. Also, the content of my lie was thought out. Zarah may be subjected to listening to other people’s rumors, but she would never be the one to start or personally inquire about one, especially regarding herself.
She stood in silence, as if nudging me to go on, but it is premature to display one’s whole hand. So, I just mimicked her quietness. Eventually she rolled her eyes halfway and spoke with a volume that would cover only half the distance between us. I suppose that was the point though.
“You certainly did make it a habit.”
“I’m sorry,” I was quick to say, lowering my head to symbolize my observable shame “It’s just that…” I positioned a well-thought pause to gauge her interest. Sure enough, her rolling eyes had once more found straightness.
“It’s just that I found it strange. Everyday. Seeing, or rather…noticing how you’re always sitting: alone.” My tone and pace were still maintained.
After another momentary pause she replied, “Strange thing to notice.”
This was a refreshingly smart response and equally annoying, requiring me to clarify my point of the conversation, whilst not giving her opinions away. Never the less, I was up to it.
“I suppose it stood out.”
The reply came quicker than expected. In an almost sassy, poking tone she replied, “If you’re looking for it.”
This was what I had been searching for. Sure, it appears as if though she’s just mocking my attention towards her, but when one considers the thought-process that goes into the sentence, there is no going around the fact that she had to have considered the idea in the first place. Hence, though a statement, she’s actually expecting my response to verify or nullify it. Either response could be used to gauge my intentions. So, to make that conclusion harder on her, I played the middle path.
“I’m sorry if it felt that way.”
She gave off a muted scoff and then walked past me towards her bus.
Stay tuned for further updates on the matter.”
Zaka fell back on his chair as his post was uploaded, pondering over the little detail he willingly excluded. Zarah did not go home on a bus that day, contrary to her usual routine that Zaka had been accustomed to observing. Instead, amid their awkward confrontation, a tall slender man, wrapped in a muffler, donning white gloves and an overcoat, walked directly between the two and seized her attention, whisking Zarah away without saying a word. He lead her across the rocky, dusty parking lot, lined with old rusty, long blue buses, almost disappearing amongst the throng of tired students, until his head emerged in the backdrop where he opened a car door for her and then situated himself in the driver’s seat and drove off.
The whole scenario struck Zaka with some confusion. He had known that Kashif did not take the bus with his sister, so him being left behind was not a point of interest, rather, he never considered Zarah to hail from a well-off family. She was non-boastful and unglamorous in attire and behavior, so the introduction of a driver or butler with a private vehicle, during work hours seemed out of the picture. If the Baloch name was akin to high-middle, or high-class socio-economic standings, they why did the behaviors of the two siblings vary with such intensity? This was a fluster that Zaka could not shake.
Therein opened a new point of consideration for the young man’s ambitious mind. One of his theories involved the growth of character from external influence. A watered-down representation of the traits of every human being could be traced to someone or an act encountered by someone, during an impressionable phase of one’s life. Suddenly, the explanation of Zarah’s bizarre social behavior having its roots in her abode became a possibility, shaping into the next phase of his probing.
He had to get in contact with the Baloch family.