He watched her through the window. He watched as she unbuttoned her shirt and slipped it off; as she stepped out of her pants and chucked them into a corner; as she slipped out of her undergarments with a sway of the hips and a swing of her shoulders. He watched her as she stretched her naked body and sauntered over to the mirror. He watched her as she posed for the mirror and studied her reflection. He watched her as her shoulders relaxed, as her belly thrust out to its actual capacity, as her thighs jiggled and as she seemed to let go of all her tension.
She smiled and he smiled watching her.
Then, she stretched out her arms high up above her head, lifted up on to her toes and began to dance, like every day.
And like every day, he watched her.
It happened one random morning, when he was sipping his coffee and staring out of his window aimlessly. A writer by profession, his writer’s block stretched endlessly in front of him. despondency threatened to overtake him and just then, a flash of movement caught his eye.
He had to strain to see on that first day. He doesn’t remember what he felt when his eyes first fell on the naked dancer. Rather, he refuses to remember the feeling because the snobby side of his mind uses the adjectives vulgar and cheap to describe the feeling and most of his mind was taken up by the said snobby side.
However, that didn’t stop him from coming back to the window the next day with a set of binoculars. She didn’t turn up that day though. He suppressed the “feeling” and didn’t come back for the next two days.
On the 3rd day, he was back at the window. That day, he spent the entire day by that structure in his wall, binoculars glued to his eyes. He was rewarded just ten minutes after the clock struck 6. She danced. He watched.
She was no model to look at. She was no dancer either. Her thighs were too thick to rise high. Her arms were rather flabby to be called graceful and her waist was definitely not dainty or waif-like. What she had though, that captured his attention, was freedom; freedom that rose out of her step-by-step with each garment that is shed. She is naked. She is free and she is happy beyond all reason.
At first, he started watching her as a surrender to his basic urges. As days passed by, his basic urges were replaced by something more primitive, more infantile.
He felt like a baby smiling in response to its mother’s laugh when he looked at her.
She laughed, he smiled. She twirled, he counted. She stepped, he kept the beat. She was the dancer, he was her reflection. She didn’t know he existed, he loved her.
Today was no different, or so, he thought, until that moment when he saw that she wasn’t alone anymore.
He was dressed in a loose t-shirt and trousers and he stretched his arm out and pulled her to him mid-twirl.
His back was towards him and his binoculars were trained on her face just visible over his shoulder as he held her naked self to his. The action was romantic, but the reaction definitely wasn’t.
The happiness had fled out of her face. She looked like a little princess whose castle of dreams had been rudely shattered. They started dancing- a waltz. But, it wasn’t the same. Her knuckles gripping his arm were too white. Her shoulders were too tightly held up. Her stomach was pulled in and her step was stiff. Most disturbing of all, her smile was fake; and it broke his heart.
That evening, he found himself walking in the direction of their house. He rang and the door opened.
She stood there.
Fully clothed, neatly attired, hair pulled back and smiling, it was her. But, unconsciously, he stepped back as the certainty assailed him that it wasn’t her. The woman was there, but not the dancer. It wasn’t her.
Somehow, he managed to stammer out a request for a church subscription.
“I’m sorry, but, we are not church-goers,” she replied.
Her voice was soft and yet, it had a richness that bespoke of the lady of those stolen hours.
He stepped closer, drawn towards her and then, he heard the voice from inside:
“Who is it, honey?” not too deep, not too pitched. The voice was an everyday voice, but for its underlying tones of dominance.
Her smile became more fixed and more false as she turned towards the voice and replied, “It’s just a subscription.”
He stepped forward with a definite purpose now. His hand fished out a pamphlet from his pocket and this time, he smiled.
“Just a minute. I’m a neighbour of yours. Live in the street just behind. I’m a writer and part of this initiative to encourage reading among kids. If you can give me just a little bit of your time, I would like to explain it to you?” he asked.
“Oh! Well…sure, come on in,” she said and stepped back.
The man in the house came into view as he sat down on the couch. With a big forehead, pointed chin and hair slicked back over his scalp, he was definitely a handsome man to look at.
He was also definitely full of his self-worth as a “Man”, the writer thought, when he saw the entitlement in the smile that the man bestowed upon the dancer as she took away his empty coffee cup and when he heard the command in his voice, when he asked her who he was. Then, he went back to reading his newspaper and the dancer was left with her audience.
That was the first one-on-one he had with her.
By the end of those 15 minutes, she had joined his cause.
By the end of that week, they had visited two local schools together and he got to listen to her talk passionately about every book she loved and he felt jealous of the space those books occupied in her heart.
By the end of that month, he had become her friend and she started talking to him about things other than books. He told her all about his writings and even more about his writer’s blocks. She told him all about staying at home and keeping house for her husband.
By the end of the next month, he had become her confidant. She would tell him that she wasn’t happy; she would tell him of her husband beating her at times; she would tell him that she felt shackled and bound by him. He didn’t know that he could feel an anger that potent. For the first time then, he knew he was capable of murder. But, he reigned it in and offered his shoulder as she cried.
It was 6 months later when he noticed a bruise for the first time. It was midway up her arm, bluish-black in colour and shaped like three longitudinal bands across her skin. His blood boiled and he asked her about it.
She averted her eyes and said that it was nothing.
And for the first time in their acquaintance, he snapped at her, “Don’t lie to me!”
She looked at him in surprise.
“If you knew what it was, why did you ask me?” she snapped right back.
“I will kill him,” he growled, as his face flushed.
“You will do nothing of that sort!” she fired back and left.
It was their first fight. He was devastated. But, that evening, he got a call.
“He’s out for dinner today. Can you give me company?” she asked.
“When do you want me to come?” he asked, trying and failing to hold back his eagerness.
“Let’s say six?”
“It’s a date.”
Their dinner started silently, the awkwardness of their earlier fight still lingering in the air.
Finally, she said softly, “Would you really kill him for me?”
He considered his answer. As the silence began to stretch again, he threw caution to the winds and looked at her straight in the eye:
“I’d do anything for you,” he declared softly.
She looked away immediately. A brief spell of silence later, she spoke again:
“I want to leave him. Do you think I can leave him?”
“Yes,” he said simply, but with a force of conviction behind the word.
“I’m scared,” she whispered.
He stood up, walked towards her and kneeled down beside her. He took her face into his hands gently, so that she faced him. He caught her gaze in his and tried to put his entire heart into that one look.
“You don’t have to be,” he said slowly, “I’m here for you no matter what.”
She bent her head down towards his and that was how their first kiss happened.
It wasn’t easy.
She told her husband that night.
For the first time since he met her in person, the writer took to his binoculars again. He watched her speak to him. He watched the husband turn around with a look of rage on his face. He watched as the brute lifted his hand to strike her.
The next moment, the binoculars were on the floor and he was running as fast as he could in the direction of her house.
He prayed to every God that he had never acknowledged before as he banged on her door frantically.
It flew open and she stood there, scared, bruised and her clothes half torn off of her. She flew into his arms.
“I knew it was you. I knew it was you,” she chanted like it was a mantra.
“YOU!” roared the brute as he stalked out into the living room, “How dare you come here, you bastard!”
The writer stepped into the house with the dancer clutching at his sleeve and shut the door behind him.
“I think we should all calm down for a minute here,” he said quietly.
“Calm down? CALM DOWN?!” the fiend of a husband roared, “You slut around with my wife, behind my back and you dare tell me to CALM DOWN? You bloody scoundrel! I am gonna kill you! I will kill you!” and he swung a fist into the writer’s face.
He fell with a crash onto a table and she screamed. The husband advanced onto his fallen form with his fist raised and pummelled him again. Her screams intermingled with the blood dripping down from the lesser man’s fist as it went down again and again. A smile came unbidden to beaten man’s lips at the irony of the fact that he, who had always abhorred love stories, was going to die for the woman he loved. Just as a laugh at this thought gurgled at the bottom of his throat, the fists stopped, the weight shifted and the monster of a man slipped off of him and fell down unconscious.
Slowly, the writer opened his eyes (as much as he could) and in front of him, she stood in all of her half-naked glory, a golf club clutched tight with both her hands and a look of savage fury on her face.
“My dancer,” he murmured and slipped away blissfully from the land of consciousness.
When he woke up, he thought he had gone blind. He couldn’t see anything and he wasn’t even sure that he wasn’t dead.
“Hello! Anybody?” he called out.
“I’m right here,” came the immediate reply in her rich voice.
“So…I’m not dead?” he questioned wonderingly.
“No,” he could hear the smile in her voice.
“But…I’m blind?” he asked haltingly.
“No!” she was definitely laughing now. “Your eyes are swollen shut. You did get pummelled rather badly, you know,” he could hear the guilt in her voice.
“Yes, I don’t think I’m going to forget that quite so soon,” he quipped, “After all, that was the most heroic thing I ever did in my life!”
She let out a gust of laughter, took his hand in hers and leant forward and that was how their second kiss happened.
It was 3 months later. He was fully healed from the ordeal. She was undergoing therapy for the remnants of the same. They lived together now and her divorce was still being finalized. The monster was in jail and that made the process a little easier. He had stopped keeping count of their kisses after their 10th kiss in the half hour it took to reach home after being discharged from the hospital.
Then, one night, they were lying in bed, cosily ensconced in each other’s arms and she whispered, “Why did you call me your dancer that day?”
He smiled as he remembered how he came to be at her door 9 months ago. He kissed her gently and started telling her about the window.