The lights were dim. The band had begun to strike up a slow song… their song.
Peter looked around the crowd. A few couples were on the floor, dancing slowly, looking into each other’s eyes and smiling. Others were seated at the many round tables that were scattered around the ballroom, and catching their breath after the fast number that had just finished.
But his eyes sought only one girl. One who wasn’t there as yet. His eyes searched for the girl in the maroon mask, the one that was had just a dash of cream above the right eye. He never knew the girl’s name, and she always laughed when he had asked her… the kind of laughter that continued to echo in his ears even after she had stopped. Even her blue eyes had that twinkle in them, and at every weekly masquerade ball that the school dance club organized, she came like a mystery; one that he wanted to solve with every moment he spent with her. She wore dresses of maroon or black every time.
But she didn’t come that night. Peter waited, till the band played the closing song, and then with a sigh, left the ballroom. “She didn’t come. Why didn’t she come tonight?” he repeated under his breath till he reached home.
The next morning, he took Paula, his sister, to McManus mansion again. She had to practice her lines for the upcoming play. He never could quite take in the grandeur of the place. Marble floors, crystal chandeliers, velvet couches and carpeted flooring… even the bathrooms were so elegantly done. He felt it was a miracle that Lisa McManus, his sister’s best friend and the drama club’s lead actress, was one of the most down-to-earth girls he had come across. She was kind and helpful, even making her father sponsor another child’s schooling.
As they waited, he heard hurried footfalls on the stairs, and began to turn, just as a girl collided with him with an almighty thud.
“Oh. I’m so sorry, sir. Clumsy me can’t seem do nothing right today,” she said in a worried, almost tearful voice as he picked himself up.
When he looked at her, he stared into the most beautiful blue eyes. When she saw him look at her, a distinct tinge of pink came on her cheeks. But she sneezed, and put a hanky to her nose.
“Why? Of all the people I can run into … literally! … why did it have to be him?” she thought.
“No… no… that, that’s quite fine. I’m okay. Never been run over by such a beautiful train,” Peter mumbled, still unable to stop himself from staring into those blue eyes. He now knew why she hadn’t come the previous night.
She couldn’t help herself. She laughed at being called a train. And Peter turned even paler than he had been. It was that laugh. That ringing laughter… here was his girl… his mystery.
“Peter, are you okay? Daisy, you clumsy oaf, what did you have to run down the stairs for? I only wanted a glass of water. I didn’t need it in a minute,” chided Lisa, coming down the stairs quickly.
Before Peter could reply, Daisy had mumbled, “Sorry. I’m glad you are okay,” and ran off.
“Why? Of all the times she chooses to tease me, why must it be in front of him?” she thought.
“Who is that?” he asked Lisa.
“That’s Daisy, my cook’s daughter. Sweet girl, but a little too volatile. She’s in our school as well. She helps me out during the weekends. Sometimes we study together too,” she replied.
“Where does she stay?”
“In the chef’s quarters behind the house… but why?”
“Think she felt bad. I’ll go tell her it’s okay,” he said, and ran off, leaving Paula and Lisa alone.
The outhouse door was open. As Peter was about to knock, he saw her sitting on her bed, holding the mask… the maroon mask with the cream splash… and looking at it with almost expressionless eyes.
“It’s okay. I understand. I wouldn’t have found you without that mask,” he said, and before she could reply, went to her side and pulled her to her feet.
She looked at him, but the twinkle he knew was not there anymore. She just looked fuddled.
“Let’s go get some hot chocolate at the corner shop. We both will feel better,” he said.
As they walked to the corner store, they didn’t see that they were being watched.
“They’d never have found each other without the mask,” Lisa laughed and said to Paula, as she removed the blue contact lenses, and saw her shy best friend Daisy walk away with the boy she loved, but never could express her love to.
(15th April 2014)