Author’s note: I suppose everyone has at some point fantasised a platonic love story with themselves in the lead. Naturally, these fantasies originate in the early years of adulthood and can be often far from the way things work in reality. I had started writing this story when I was sixteen and have continued to revise it since…finally posting it today.
I hope that this story brings a smile to its readers.
Julia was wondering nervously, whether she should enter Richard’s house and then out of a moment’s impulse rang the doorbell when a middle-aged woman opened the door. Behind, there was another young girl curiously looking at her.
“Hello ma’am. My name’s Julia Fischer. I am a colleague of Richard at Dermott Pharmaceuticals. I have just come to return his briefcase.”
The middle-aged woman was Richard’s mother Claire, and after seeing her ID, was pleased that she was not a salesperson and gladly let her in. The other young girl was Elena, Richard’s elder sister. She was particularly intrigued by the sudden arrival of this visitor.
“So I believe you are a newbie to the company.”
“Not quite. I have been working here for two years.”
“Interesting, well Richard is incredibly careless. He’s not exactly the ideal colleague, is he? To have asked a fellow employee to bring home his briefcase, it must have irked you.”
“No. It wasn’t much trouble at all.”
“Indeed, it is all for the company at the end of the day, is it not?”
“Of course it is.”
“But then, would it not have been better for you to call him back to the office. Or you could have just kept it with yourself and returned it the following day. If it contained something important, it should have been Richard going to your house to get the briefcase and not the other way around. To tell you the truth, it seems you have vested interests. What are you really after?”
Julia was beginning to feel the heat when Claire came to her rescue. “Give the poor girl a break, will you? I am sorry Julia. Elena is a lawyer and her profession demands her to be suspicious.”
“No it is all right. I had actually come to deliver the briefcase Mrs Ford. That’s all there is to it.”
“I should thank you for bringing Richard’s briefcase. So … how is Richard as a colleague?”
“Well…I haven’t got to work with him much except for an assignment seven months ago. During which I found him to be a very eccentric and reclusive person. His behaviour had made me curious about his family environment at that time which is also partly why I came here to deliver this briefcase. I was wrong to assume a flaw there….for you two are very lovely people.”
“Hold it right there,” barged in Elena. “Eccentric, eh? So is Richard a museum artefact for you? Or do you harbour romantic feelings for him? Not only that, to have already taken up the role of a person who covers up their partner’s mistakes. You must be the same age as Richard and at this stage of life should focus on your career. It is because of girls like you that the society is plagued by chauvinistic men. If this keeps up, Mrs Pankhurst’s noble mission shall never get fulfilled.”
“Pardon me, but I have never compromised on my work. I am one of the few employees who even commit themselves to overtime. And I do not see anything wrong in having concern for a person, man or woman.”
Oh is it…”
“Now, now; stop arguing here,” Claire advised. Turning to Julia, she continued, “It is nice of you to have concern for someone else in these competitive times. Regarding my son’s personality, it is the way he wishes to live, albeit a difficult way. If this matters so much to you, then don’t give up on him; it wouldn’t harm if he learns to socialise a bit. I had expected he would have gotten over his shyness years ago at school. And one more thing; how did you reach this place? I don’t think Richard would have given you the address, primarily because no one would.”
“Oh yes please, tell us,” Elena asked very curiously.
“You are as sharp as Elena aren’t you? Well…I……uh… had stalked Richard all the way here not so long ago and I worked out that boarding the underground train followed by a bus ride will bring me here much before than the single bus ride which he does every day.” Her face was now flushed.
There was a stunned silence for a minute after which Elena burst into cackles, while Claire was suppressing her own laughter with great difficulty.
“You have got some nerve……” Elena said before bursting into another round of laughter. She had a few more questions to ask but was too amused to hound her.
“You do know either way stalking is an offence. Isn’t it Elena?” remarked Claire as she turned around to get a legal opinion, to which Elena nodded whilst laughing.
“Well…uh…I guess I took my curiosity about him to an extreme. Believe me, I have stalked each and every colleague of mine; because you may never know when you need to visit someone’s residence…I better leave now before he returns. Goodbye and good night.”
It was after a while that Richard came home. Richard, 25, entered with an air of serenity that is characteristic all airheads.
“How was your day Richard?” Claire asked.
“Nothing special as such; it was for the most part a regular day. The boss was in a foul mood after I had made a slight goof-up…don’t know how it happened; had to do overtime to repair the damage. By good luck the boss did not fire me.”
“A girl by the name of Julia visited us before you came and returned your briefcase,” said Elena. “You know her?”
“Yes, I do. She is a very spirited and committed worker and has a merry disposition and somewhat pretty face. But she easily becomes paranoid. Once the boss wrongly informed her of a deadline and then she drove all her colleagues insane in the zest to get the work done. “
“You’re one to talk,” Claire said “if I am not wrong, you were the one who had once spilled coffee on a co-worker’s shirt and had to pay for his laundry and then you had mistakenly shredded some office documents and….”
“I get it mom. But it’s funny why she took the trouble. The briefcase is empty. I had emptied it in her presence but then forgot to bring it home.”
Thereafter, the three had dinner, had some chat about one of Elena’s many legal cases and then went to bed. The unexpected visit was forgotten.
The next day Richard was in for a shock when he saw that all personal cabins had been dismantled on orders of their boss.
“Excuse me, Mr Swenson but I fail to understand why our cabins have been broken down.”
Mr Swenson gave him a displeased look. “You are not exactly in the position to ask that, Mr Ford, especially after you had deleted the draft of the third quarter accounts. Although I am impressed that you remade it yesterday it still does not hide the fact that you are dangerously careless, especially now that Mr Rodgers scanned your computer thoroughly and found a copy of the draft in the music folder.”
Richard hung his head down in outward shame and inward frustration. Mr Swenson continued.
“Suffice it to say that all of you will now be working without your individual cabins.” He then walked off to his still intact cabin.
Alice, Mr Swenson’s secretary, clarified matters. It was an alleged experiment of Mr Swenson, who wished to apply his years of experience and education in management; more importantly the education.
So, Richard — who still remembered his uncomfortable stint with nosey, paranoid Julia seven months ago — now ended up sitting right next to her table.
He scarcely talked to her or anyone, only addressing people in matters of absolute necessity. Ironically though, he would always help her when needed to deal with that rare, complex problem which clumsy people (much like he himself) face and which drives them to needless panic. Julia, on her part would often try to prise some words out of his mouth but Richard was a master at matter-of-fact speaking.
Their boss was certainly pleased and they got a raise after two months. But the relationship between the two of them never went any further.
Everything was going on with the same monotony until one Wednesday when Richard did not come for work. It was barely noticed. But when Richard did not turn up for a whole week, the boss was intrigued, as Richard was not an employee who had ever absented despite having piled up technically a year of paid leaves, though company policy restricted it to a maximum of two months. This sparked a flurry of phone calls to the Ford household. Of course Mr Swenson did not call him, but he was told that Richard is just suffering from flu and should resume work next week.
Julia, on her part decided to go a step ahead and visit him. Until getting news of his condition, she had been imagining a lot of terrible scenarios ranging from epileptic fits to road accidents and even…death! She made up her mind to visit him tomorrow, on a Friday. She was already familiar with the route!
“It is really nice to see you,” said Claire as she let Julia enter.
“So have you been sent here on behalf of the company? I can assure you, it’s nothing serious.”
“No. I just came on my own.”
Claire smiled. Just then, Elena came in to the living room.
“How are you doing, stalker girl? Have you come to see Richard?”
“Yes I have. But I came only after office hours. No loss of work,” beamed Julia.
“Relax girl. What happened that day was just a mock interrogation. In any case I’m convinced of your high work ethics.”
“Let me show you to Richard’s room,” said Claire as she stood up with Julia following her.
“Look Richard, who has come for a visit,” said Claire as she let Julia into his room. His room was a neat and tidy place, with a window at one end looking out into the garden. The walls had interesting pictures pasted on them. There were pictures of a pride of lions, of lush wilderness and a picture of all of their colleagues at the company. Curiosity made Julia advance towards the pictures a bit when she realized that they were sketches. All the while Richard had been lying there on his bed in a bit of a light-headed, feverish state.
“Did you make these?” Julia couldn’t help but ask — considering that a ‘How are you feeling?’ might have been more appropriate. “They are wonderful.”
“Yeah I sketched them. When I have the spare time I indulge in a little something. Thanks for the appreciation and…thanks for visiting me.”
And he dozed off.
Julia wondered what to do now that he had fallen asleep and decided to marvel at those pictures on the walls. As she was walking from one corner to another, her eyes fell on a large envelope kept underneath his study. The unusual size caught her attention and keeping it out of the field of view of the bed-ridden Richard; she opened it and found a portrait of herself in black and white. She turned it over to realise that even her back had been sketched.
Though the portrait was devoid of any sleazy elements, Julia was a little abashed and thought of Richard as an obsessive stalker in the least- much like herself-and at worst, a silent pervert. As she was hurriedly keeping it back inside the envelope, she found a note inside it. Picking it out from the envelope she read it. It said, “Happy birthday, Julia.”
Her birthday was due next week. She carefully kept the note and the portrait back in the envelope, with a warm smile across her face and feeling somewhat flattered. She then left for home leaving behind a bouquet of flowers and a ‘Get well soon’ card.
Indeed Richard gave her the same envelope in the office. She already knew what was inside it but managed to express some surprise while receiving it. “Say Richard, would you mind coming over my place tomorrow, in the evening, after work?”
“What?” asked Richard, appearing visibly stunned.
“Do you mind coming to my place tomorrow, after work?”
And so Richard and Julia set off for the Fischer household. Along the route, which included a bus ride, Julia was extremely calm but couldn’t understand why Richard showed a facial expression that seemed to vaguely represent happiness.
“You seem really happy, I’ve never seen you like this,” said Julia.
“Well…it is not often that I’m invited over to someone’s place…mostly it is just weddings and funerals…to be called over casually is making me happy.”
Julia smiled. “You know, if you interact more with others they might also invite you over. Just try it. Even if you don’t want to say anything just stay listening in the background…when anything triggers you, then join in.”
“Yes…I’ll try that. Thanks,” said Richard even as Julia wondered if it was really something that hadn’t been told to him in the past.
As Julia opened the door the two of them found Julia’s father sitting on the sofa. He was as surprised as them. As they sat down, Andrew began to speak.
“I got a little spare time so I came here for some rest,” he then turned to Richard, “So, you are Mr Ford. I have heard quite a lot about you and your professionalism. It is nice to meet you. My name’s Andrew Fischer, professor of philosophy at University of Westminster.”
“It is my pleasure.”
Richard had after all made a correct guess regarding Andrew’s profession. That carefree appearance and sedate eyes can only belong to a philosopher.
After having a sip of coffee, Andrew resumed, “Well, I will be leaving for an important guest lecturing session in an hour, so I guess it will be proper if we keep up the pace of discussion. I am not as carefree as I look!”
“Yes indeed” chorused Richard and Julia.
“By the way, fully appreciating the fact that you two are adults and free to do as you please; were you planning to become physically intimate here?”
“No way dad! We are just colleagues as of now and I just brought him in reciprocation.”
“Of the time I had visited his family when he was ill.” Richard was relieved when he heard that…he had been thinking along the same lines as Andrew.
“Oh! I was just joking” said Andrew, secretly repenting over the line of thought he had developed over the years from experiencing a perverted world. He then began to narrate his family history; about how Julia’s mother had died in a car accident when Julia was two years old while they were living in Bristol, then about their moving to London, his various struggles in raising Julia as a single parent and of course, some embarrassing anecdotes featuring Julia.
Richard too recollected his own memories of the death of his father when he was nine and how his mother had worked hard to get Elena and him educated.
“Oh! Look at the time. I must be going now. Goodbye.”
Richard was feeling very awkward now that the he and Julia were the only people inside. He looking around the room for something, anything. Any minor detail that he can pick up and start a conversation with.
“Hey Richard, would you like to watch a little TV?” asked Julia.
“Yeah sure. What do you prefer?”
“Let’s see…it is difficult to find good entertainment these days.”
After a few minutes of surfing she settled on a romantic comedy. The story wasn’t anything novel, just the typical plotline where the boy and the girl fall in love, have an argument over a situation, break up painfully and later unite tearfully; leaving the faithful viewer in tears and the others with migraine.
As the end credits were rolling, Richard and Julia stared on blankly.
“It was…a great movie wasn’t it?” asked Julia.
“I suppose,” said Richard. “It is getting late. I’ll see you at work Julia. Good night.”
“Yeah…take care on your way home.”
Richard left for home, leaving behind a perturbed Julia.
That night, neither of them slept peacefully in their rooms. What the movie depicted was not something new but it prompted them to think about the sustainability of their yet-to-begin association, simple-minded as they were. Julia was pondering alone in a dark, quiet room.
“Must relationships be so complicated? I thought it was about finding a resonant person and everything else would work out. Would circumstances make me doubt him…resent him…hate him? But Richard doesn’t seem that kind of a person…will I turn impatient for every little thing…will I lose it?”
Meanwhile, Richard’s meditations were taking place as Elena was discussing with Claire about a divorce case in another room.
“Will my ego get in the way of my love? Will I not be able to stomach my wife’s success, her independence? Would I be able to be support her even if our desires clash with each other’s? Would I take Julia’s love for granted…it isn’t like this in real life, is it?”
Three months passed by. It seemed that personal cabins for staff were not going to be rebuilt. Richard and Julia continued to work silently in tandem. The two of them used to occasionally have a chat during the breaks although now there was a little reluctance from both ends. A common joke doing the rounds of the office corridors was that Julia had contracted Richard’s disease. Contrary to that, however, these ‘unwilling’ conversations were more frequent than they were when the two of them had been clubbed together many months ago.
It was during one of these conversations that Richard finally asked Julia out for a date. They had been of late going on many mock dates, like going together till the nearest bus stop and perhaps even having an occasional roadside snack. They did not wish to compromise on their work and so decided to go out on a Sunday! I have been told that the sight of a jittery Richard asking an equally hesitant Julia out remains one of the most memorable spectacles in that place till date. It appeared like a conversation between two twelve year olds rather than that of two adults but it has always been agreed upon that innocence has a maturity of its own.
Richard picked up Julia from her home in the afternoon and the two set off, walking towards the bus stop. The sky had been overcast since morning and a chilly breeze was blowing. Walking past the rows of suburban houses, with their lush gardens and the trees and a few odd residents passing by either on foot or on bicycles their smiling, flushed faces suggested they were enjoying each other’s presence but were too shy to speak. At length, they boarded a bus and were off to downtown London.
It had started to drizzle by the time they were seated in a cafeteria and were having a sip of coffee. Both of them were seated facing each other. It was after sometime that Richard began.
“Fine weather, isn’t it?”
“The coffee is good.”
“Yes; and the ambience here is good too.”
After that there was another long pause, until Richard began yet again.
“What is it for?”
“I have been a recluse for most of my life and although I still immensely like the time I spend alone, it hasn’t been so bad being amidst other people. You can be social even without being chatting up with people. And it would not have happened if you hadn’t tried to spend your time with me.”
“You are most welcome. To be honest, I always was a bit curious about you, about the fact that you always remained so withdrawn. And then as I got to talk to you I felt that you are quite a fascinating person. Say, about that sketch of mine you made. How did you make it?”
“Well it took a lot of careful observation of you from the front and back. In fact, I had to observe you for four days straight before I could begin the sketching.”
“Oh! That’s fascinating.”
As if suddenly realizing the lateral implications of what he just said, Richard’s face turned a slight red. “Please do not think I am an obsessed deviant! I just did it as a necessary requirement to prepare a present for you. I have great respect and regard for you and for all other women.”
“I understand. In fact I liked it a lot. It was a most realistic portrait and did not appear to be the work of a deviant.”
Richard heaved a sigh of relief. “I have never before done such an elaborate sketch of people. Even the group sketch of all the office employees was copied from a photograph.”
“Why for me?”
“It is simple. You have been one of the few people to have come out of their way to interact with me. Someone else might have given up thinking of me as an arrogant jerk; but you still persisted on to befriend me. And I am grateful for that.”
“Really…I am glad that you appreciated it. Honestly I do not know what drove me to do it either.”
“And…because I love you.”
“I love you. I had been meaning to say that to you for a long time, but couldn’t gather the courage. Today I have finally managed it. I love you.”
Julia was taken aback but then composing herself back, she smiled and said, “I love you too, Richard. I had been meaning to say that to you too for a while” and she grinned.
“Miss Julia……uh…Julia, will you marry me?”
“Yes, I will.”
They stood up to embrace each other and then retracted after fifteen seconds upon realizing that they were the centre of attention of at least twenty smirking glances; all of whom were now witnessing the pair hurry outside with their blushing faces!
One of them said, “I was expecting them to do more than just a hug. So juvenile!”
“And they say public display of affection is the order of the day” said another, “but they sure made a cute pair.”
The sun had set by the end of this affair and the two decided to take a long, slow walk towards the bus stop. As they passed by the amber-lighted streets of the city with its speedy cars and pedestrians, they appeared very odd. In the city that reeks of sentiments of ambition, solitude, impatience and disunity; we were witnessing affection and an attempt at unity as they walked slowly, hand in hand through the sea of humanity, with no one sparing them a second glance, unless of course they bumped into them.
The two of them continued to date each other for two years after which they married, with Elena, Claire and Andrew as the spectators. The conflict of desires was inevitable, but they were ready to face it head-on and yet be together, embracing the best and worst of each other. The legal registration of this union was actually carried out by Elena, which happened to be her first.
Hoping for their better future would be a futile exercise—the future being wrapped in uncertainties—but still hope we must and here’s hoping they lived harmoniously ever after.