So I was walking along to the gym today in the manner of the White Hare. Or was it the March Hare. One was mad, the other was in a hurry. You know, in Alice. Hope you will not retort 'Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?' Anyway I was not pulling out my pocket watch really but was walking fast as I was a bit late for my class. I had strapped on my shoulder my black back-pack (which has proclaimed "HANA" to the world for the past decade, something to do with Hotels and Automobiles). It contained my dumb-bells, forgotten water bottles, towel, shoes, socks, gym card, and some money as today is pay-day. Near the corner, four men were approaching me. Me, as in the road I was on. Now don't worry. This is not a story about a defenseless girl and four lascivious men or any such. Go on now.
So these guys are the gym-minder dudes. Meaning they hang around at the front desk of the gym and look important as you hand them your card. They classify them into sixteen cubby holes. I assume its based on your last name, and for some inexplicable reason, ten of the letters of the alphabet don't count. So, perhaps, if your last name is Quinn (which was the name of a dog in one book I read recently - A Boy of Good Breeding; and the name of the delectable Alec Baldwin in the other - Movie Book of The Cat in The Hat) your card will be returned to you.
These guys also get to choose what music plays in the gym. And boy! they have the weirdest taste. I am just glad their Himesh phase is now behind us, and, apart from a tendency to play the horrendous tunes from Tashan, they are a bit more tolerable now. Sometimes, they emerge from behind their desk and start lifting some weights. They fold up their jeans at the cuffs for the purpose. They stride over and check their weight in the weighing machine. They put away their helmets in a little locker in the back. They grunt, they support each other ('spot' I think its called). They admire biceps (at least I hope thats what they are doing). But mostly, they hang around and look surly. They discourage any form of socialising by maintaining a mean looking frown. They are especially intolerant of us aunties saying anything to them. The young nubile girls of course don't bother with them, adding more creases to their frowns. The only people they semi-get along with are young boys with stars in their eyes who go up to them and ask them for fundas about weights.
To cut a long story short, we know each other's faces really well, having stared at each other for the past six years, but nothing more than that. When I saw them on the street in the morning, it was real strange. As if I did not really expect them to be living walking breathing souls who drink tea in road-side stalls in the mornings. As if their existence outside the walls of the gym was something that I believed in, vaguely, but was awaiting a formal proof, in the absence of which, I couldn't be certain that it was true.
What to do then, in this situation? Do I holler a loud HI to them and wave? Do I ignore them the same as I do inside the gym? Do I walk over to their side of the road and give them a nice whack on their shins? What to do? What? And meanwhile, possibly wresting with similar questions, they kept looking at me, and not looking away or over me, like they do in their lair.
In my growing up years (not that I grew up in the true sense of the word. I don't ever recall an item of clothing that became short for me, like it does for normal people), I varied in my reaction to road-side boys staring at me. Initially, convinced that they were staring objectionably at my comely sister (elder to me), I would instantly go into battle mode. Ready to kick their ass. Hurl abuses at them (as in, try very hard to remember some abuses to hurl. Knew no swear words other than 'bloody'). Then, a few years later, when I was in the adolescence confidence dip stage where you feel your nose is too long your stomach is too big your feet are shaped too funny and, oh my god, are they looking at my chest now, I would look down. I know, regressive and all. Sometimes I would steal a glance back at them, I suppose. I seem to have led a sheltered existence because I don't really recall feeling threatened in any way as I was walking from here to there. Except for one or two instances in Chennai when I was in college.
I would like to believe that in recent years I am a much more confident person. I know my place in the universe's scheme. I have typically little cause for guilt. I am rarely ambling in any case. I am going some place. I know where I am going (in a literal sense at least), and know my way there. So I like to imagine that my steps are rarely faltering, always firm with my feet flat on the ground. I have a system. Ladies in my building that I know through elevator rides, I smile at. People with kids who (a) are of similar age as monster (b) are older but fond of the monster get some smiles and generic cribs about school and children's food habits. My various maid, car cleaner, milk delivery boy, milk money collector, and so on get a smile, a wave, and some words of generic greeting (usually to their extreme embarrassment, like my milk money collector person in a very reserved man of few words who thinks I am crazy when I recognise him outside some place). Colleagues I see while I fast-walk to other buildings get a smile and one or two questions about taxes or whatever is the hot topic of the week. And so on.
But what about the gym dudes? Where to slot them? I definitely was not going to look down. Come on. Thats what they should have done. But they did not. I was not going to give them a broad smile. Puh-lease. They act so rude and cranky I will save my expendable smiles for people with better demeanours. A tight close-lipped smile perhaps? You know, like you give to people you vaguely know. Maybe a frown? To show them how ugly that looks? A taste of their own medicine? Hey, are they laughing at me perhaps? You know 'cause I am walking so fast with this big old bag on my shoulders, a sort of rolling motion. Oh well, even if they were laughing, it did not change the fact that I was running a bit late for the class, so I just gave them a short smile, looked each of them squarely in the eye, one by one, and rolled away. They may have smiled back, I am not sure, since I took off like that. But tomorrow (no, not tomorrow, next week) when I go to the gym, I will see how they behave, better means they liked my attitude in the street, worse means they were offended that I gave them vague acquaintance status despite having seen them so often over the past six years.
As for me, apart from this statement of facts written here, I see no reason to do anything, you know, like change my behaviour towards them. I will still waltz in and refuse to hand over my card because the sixteen cubby holes thing bothers me. I will still go on with my routine. I will still hate the music from Tashan. So there.