It is not everyday that someone walks into your life, changes the very way you view your own life and leaves a lasting impression when they eventually walk away. But when that does happen, you know that you have been truly blessed and that your life has been enriched and will never be the same again. Let this piece below be a tribute to one such person, for making all the difference in my life, albeit unwittingly.
Staring out into the darkness that loomed over the vast meadows before me, I waited eagerly for the break of dawn to bring with it a glimpse of what constituted my sole purpose for living. An orphan, born and raised on a farm as a farm-hand, I had not much in the way of a really meaningful existence. Each day was just another uneventful routine and signified nothing more than back-breaking work all day on the farm, in order to earn my keep. And all of this changed the day I first spotted her. The day that added new meaning to my otherwise dull and dreary life.
It started out as just another ordinary day, with me going about my usual chores around the farm. It was not until evening when my uncle, a distant relative to be precise, on whose farm I stayed and worked, came rushing up to me and told me that Jack, who usually took the sheep out grazing had hurt himself rather badly and thus while he was still indisposed, I had to take over the responsibility. Herding and tending to animals had somehow come naturally to me. Perhaps it was another thing that I had inherited from my parents, who had been farm-hands all their lives, until an epidemic outbreak of influenza took them both away from me. It was nothing short of a miracle that I survived, considering I was a weak and helpless toddler at the time. I suppose that was the first indication that something rather significant was ahead of me and that I had to survive to experience it all.
I set aside the buckets of water that I was carrying back to the farm from the brook and hurried to the pen to guide the sheep to the meadows, before it got too dark to take them out. We had just one sheep-dog on the farm to help with the twenty-odd sheep that we had. But thankfully, he was one sharp and efficient fellow, more than compensating for the lack of more. No sooner had we reached the usual grazing spot on the meadows, at the edge of the woods, all the sheep started dispersing in different directions, each finding its own individual patch of grass to chew on. I sat myself on a rock, not too far away from the scattered flock, from where I had a complete view of each and every sheep. Marshall, the sheep-dog, settled down at my feet, while keeping an alert eye open for the first signs of trouble, should there be any.
It must have been sometime after the first couple of minutes of my getting accustomed to sitting idle, a stark contrast to the other chores back on the farm, that I saw a dark form, at a distance, moving out from behind a clump of trees in the woods. As the form moved closer, and out of the dimly lit woods, it became apparent that it was a young lady, about the same age as me. There was something about the way she carried herself. Something ethereal about her every move, as she seemed to glide effortlessly across the meadow with a bundle of twigs tucked under her arm. I realized that I was gazing at her, oblivious to the bleating sheep around. My head felt light, as a strange feeling I had never experienced before, engulfed me and I simply stood there transfixed, till her beautiful, delicate frame gradually disappeared in the direction of the village.
The next morning I was back at the meadows, grazing sheep again. I fought hard not to fall asleep after having spent a rather restless night tossing around on my hay-bed in the barn that doubled as my lodgings. I was just beginning to nod off despite myself, when Marshall began to bark rather loudly. I sat bolt upright almost immediately, only to find that Marshall was already bolting after what looked like a wild dog, that was making a hasty retreat into the woods. Within a minute or two, I saw Marshall trotting back, looking satisfied with himself, having warded off a potential threat to the flock. Not far behind him emerged another figure, that of a woman. It was the same one that had me mesmerised the previous evening. Again the sight of her had me spellbound and rooted to the spot. At that point, the only sound I could hear was that of my pounding heart; the only sight that filled my eyes was that of her magnificent and graceful form.
The same trend continued for days on end. Each day at the break of dawn and then again at dusk she’d make her way to the woods to gather firewood. I knew not anything at all about her, but I yearned to get to know all there was to her. With each passing day, my fascination for the lass who came to gather firewood grew. Between the time when I took the sheep out to graze at dawn and then again in the evening just before sunset, it became quite hard for me to concentrate on much else and do justice to any other task at hand. I had never been so slack about my work on the farm, but this was something that was totally beyond my control, way beyond my comprehension even. Something had simply taken over the reins of my life and controlled my every thought and resulting action. I’d often find myself lost in my own sweet reveries of the mysterious beauty who had unwittingly added profound significance to my very existence. But most importantly, it was a warm and welcome feeling and for the first time in so many years I was experiencing the deepest sense of contentment and joy and I found myself thanking my stars for keeping me alive long enough to experience and savour such a magical period of my life. Thus, what had started out as just another duty assigned to me by my uncle and master, had now become the only one I ever wanted to do all life long, if it meant that I would get treated to a glimpse of her each day while I was at it. I was now secretly hoping that Jack would not return too soon to reclaim his job of grazing sheep. I now longed to be the shepherd boy I never thought I would one day be.
And today, after almost seven months since I first saw her coming out of the woods, I had my mind all made up to finally speak to her. In my mind, I had rehearsed over a thousand times, the exact words I would say to her. And so I waited, seated on the same rock in the meadows, well before the crack of dawn, alone and feeling all unsure and jittery.
She did not disappoint my keen anticipation of her arrival, for with the first rays of sunlight, she appeared over the horizon, making her way dutifully towards the woods. I rose from my perch, and wobbled for a bit as my legs felt like jelly. All of a sudden my throat had turned dry and my vision was all hazy. It was like I had become numb all over. All the same, I managed to trudge on, as fast as my wobbly legs could take me, in her direction.
I am not sure if she’d ever taken notice of me in all these months, although occasionally I had spotted her looking in my general direction. I wished with all I had, which was not very much to start with, that I would accomplish what I’d set out to do and that it would not all be in vain. A part of me was fighting the urge to turn around and retreat in sheer nervousness. For I had never, until then, interacted as such with any woman, other than with a select few on the farm only when work demanded that I converse with them and the very thought of approaching and talking to one as ravishing and exquisite as her, was simply mind-blowing.
I walked on and soon found myself barely a few feet away from her. I was not certain if she’d heard me approaching, but at that very moment, she stopped in her tracks and turned around. Our eyes met and at that very second, all else around was reduced to just a blur.
I found myself at a desperate loss for words, as my mind drew a blank. I fumbled for words and ended up mumbling incoherently. As I struggled to recall the sentences I had rehearsed so many times over, I realized that my hopeless attempt at finding words, coupled with the very obvious, tell-all expression that I bore on my face, had made it all apparent to her. It was as if she had read me right then, like a book, without me having to help her with words. Almost instantly, there was a drastic change in her expression; I couldn’t quite comprehend what exactly that expression meant. She looked all shaken up in a way but at the same time it could just as well have been plain anguish that I saw on her face. I simply did not know what to make of it. But it did seem like her mind was trying to process a thousand conflicting thoughts, all at the same time. It was as if she wanted to say something and was looking for the right words to express whatever was in her mind, but at the same time she seemed to have opted to say it all through expressions. Sometimes, especially at times like this, a lot of emotions and sentiments can be exchanged between two people without having to say a thing. It’s hard to explain but it’s like you somehow feel and understand exactly what the other person is feeling and thinking. And that was precisely what happened between us, right then. As I stood there motionless for the nth time in her presence, she seemed to hesitate, but only for a moment, before she took a step forward in my direction and took me right into her arms. I must say that it was the warmest, longest and the nicest embrace ever! Some experiences in life just seem to surpass all others and this was one such phenomenal experience of a lifetime for me. I wanted those precious few minutes that we held onto each other to last forever; I wanted us to be frozen in time at that very place and disposition.
But alas, hoping and wishing is all one can do and what ultimately happens is entirely up to that Greater Force that’s overseeing and orchestrating it all. For as abruptly as she had taken me into her arms, she let me go. She then took a gentle step back, looked imploringly into my eyes, again with the same incomprehensible expression on her face and then without uttering a single word, turned around and walked away into the dark woods beyond, leaving me in absolute silence and stillness, feeling dazed and lost in a world of my own, right where I stood.