June seventeenth was a memorable day for Sena. At the peak of mid-summer, the sun was majestically radiating heat having won the battle against clouds to literally melt the London Streets.
Coming out to balcony window at his office on the fifth floor Sena looked at his cherished number plate every now and then which proudly stood on his Alpine white S- Class, Mercedes Benz.
To fathom Sena was a difficult task mainly for his fiancée Marlene. He always gave the impression of one of those Lankans who was disillusioned and one who did not know exactly what to do in life - as far as making a final decision in getting back to Sri Lanka to settle down!
The amount of money he had wasted on that jumble of metal was seen by some as a positive reading of Sena's character! To Marlene, particularly, who wanted to escape from the London rat-race-life style, it was very difficult to understand Sena's ways of thinking.
‘Couldn't he have converted all those thousands of Sterling Pounds, which he had spent on the Benz motor car, to millions of rupees and live like a king in Sri Lanka ? Although he didn't have a pricking conscience of having received a free-university education in Sri Lanka he could have easily given his free-services as a doctor to his countrymen and helped the poor in his motherland ! Why does Sena want to stick it out in the miserable weather in England ? Is he carrying on life aimlessly ? Does he think he would be a misfit in Lanka, after all those years he had been away ? Or is he trying to prove a point now by living an extravagant life in London that he was not a dud, an inferiority complex he suffered from being the black horse of a good family of professionals’? All these were pressing issues to Marlene, although she never uttered a word about those.
On this warm June 17th , Friday, afternoon, Sena left his London hospital early to get to Marlene. As the Mercedez Benz was gliding along the Hyde Park, suddenly the motor car came to an ' emergency stop'. The music on the car stereo drove him to a more than unusual happy-go-lucky frame of mind ! However, if Sena didn't stop, then no doubt, someone else surely would have. After all, it wasn't every day that such a delightful upturned thumb would signal to a motorist for relief from the obvious fatigue of a long journey by foot !
" Where do you want to go " ? There was a mischievous smile on Sena's face.
"Hemel Hempstead, how far are you going" ? Optimistically she asked.
"Same place, jump in" !
On the pavement, in front of her there was a small hold-all. Her blond hair cascaded attractively down to her shoulders. A blue pair of tight-fitting jeans showed her shapely curves of her body. She threw her bag on to the rear seat and settled herself beside Sena in the front passenger seat. He turned the music down and the Benz started to glide again.
"Don't you think it's a bit risky these days for an attractively girl like you to hitch hike ?
" I never think about it". She looked at Sena .
"Allow me to introduce - I am Sena".
"Do you live in Hemel Hampstead, Natalie"
"No, my mum does . I live in London.
"Where do you come from Sena "?
"Oh ! Sri-Lanka ! Really" !
"You have heard about Sri Lanka then" ?
"Why not, why not, at first with Ceylon Tea and then with the terrorist war!
"But you don't sound nor look English to me, Natalie".
"Of course, I'm British. My grandparents immigrated from Israel".
Sena quickly winked at her and set his eyes back on the motor way again while overtaking all the other vehicles at speed. Suddenly something made the Benz swerve and Sena fought with the steering wheel and managed to stop the vehicle on the hard shoulder of the M1 motor way.
"Blast! I've copped a ruddy flat". He groaned inspecting the limp rubber of the rear wheel. Sena then went to the nearest 'sos' telephone to call the AA rescue service.
"What's up Sena? Can't you change the wheel”?
"Why should I ? I pay good money for the AA for things like this, my dear".
"How long will it take for them to come"?
"Under one hour, that’s what the operator said. You know how these guys work, don't you ? They only want your money as subscription on time, but never return the service at the same speed" ! Sena muttered while adjusting his seat to reclining position.
His mind was active. Sena shouldn't want to have anything to do with this stranger. He was to marry Marlene soon. All along their friends had expected them to settle down long ago, but knowing Sena Marlene knew how difficult it was for him to make a decision.
Natalie was watching him but Sena hadn't noticed before. There was a hint of a smile on her lips. His hands brushed hers quite accidentally trying to hold the gear lever. He held it warmly for a moment and she greeted him with a friendly grin.
In an attempt to distract himself he tried to tell her how he came to England and his achievements from a student to a surgeon. Sena was always proud to talk about his past - no doubt, it was a great achievement from scratch – ‘O’ levels in Sri Lanka to FRCS in England!
The silence which filled the space between them as the Benz raced again along the motor way once more was relieved only by the cool rush of evening air. There were no suitable words to be spoken during those fleeting minutes as they steadily approached her destination.
Sena couldn't start to imagine the thoughts passing through the mind of his passenger. He knew so little about her, one that must be forgotten and sooner the better. But it wasn't easy as that. He became attracted to Natali physically, that was all, but was it still dangerous !
"Oh! What’s the use. This just happened like an unexpected ray of sun light on this June 17th ! The clouds would soon once more obliterate the memory. ' I will be married to Marlene soon and this June 17th would pass away into the subconscious. It will be submerged by thousands of other meaningless & insignificant events stored there from the past! Marlene, no doubt, had a similar collection of forgotten trivia, which she would always keep away from me" Sena thought.
It was utterly unaccountable to Sena, therefore, that as Natalie stepped out of the Benz, he should find himself asking her telephone number and promising to contact her again. Life was like that, surely ! he thought. He left until Monday to see Marlene again and he had no idea what to say as an excuse for seeing Marlene at the week-end as he had never missed a single Friday evening in visiting her.
"I'm sorry Marlene, I had an emergency last Friday evening and I had to be on call the whole week-end at the hospital".
Sena saw Marlene’s change of countenance as she tried to formulate the correct words to speak out.
"Do you think Sena we are really suited for marriage"......?
For a moment he was speechless.
" After all these year Sena, don't you think we are gradually drifting into marriage? she repeated the question.
"I suppose that's what your friends prompt you isn't it? Haven't you got a mind of your own Marlene without having to listen to the whole world" ?
She didn't answer.
" I have been thinking a lot over the week-end Sena"
"So you said"
" It's ridiculous even to think" . Sena sounded angry.
That evening lying in bed, however, Sena thought it wasn't ridiculous at all. They had met each other at a dance few years ago in a tourist hotel in Colombo. His mind turned from Marlene to Natalie and he recalled how he had jotted Natalie's phone number on a piece of paper. It was a restless night for Sena and he found it difficult to get to sleep. Some of his important decisions had taken place like this and they usually proved to be the right ones. He knew he had to see Natalie again.
Natalie's voice sounded different over the 'phone. ‘It is probably my imagination’, he thought. However, he put the receiver down and looked pleased because Natalie had agreed to see him again later that week after a lot of persuasion. Nevertheless, he was left with a strange and a nagging feeling that she had been reluctant to do so.
"So, if she was not keen on meeting me again, why didn't she just say so", Sena thought jotting down the time and place on the same piece of paper which carried Natalie's telephone number. He placed it in his breast pocket of his jacket.
Out Of The Blue
Marlene was not so lost in thought the following evening. She looked a picture sitting opposite him at the Sri Lanka restaurant. Her dark hair was shining, her jet black eyes were penetrative than ever. Her infections laughter told him she was in a relaxed mood till Sena splashed his tie with some gravy.
"No! Don’t use that, use one of the paper napkins", he said smiling as she plucked his handkerchief from his breast pocket.
It was too late. His smile suddenly turned into an uncomfortable grimace as he watched the piece of paper landing beside Marlen's plate which carried telephone number and meeting details.
"That's the ideal place to put things, if you want to lose them", she laughed picking it up and while trying to return it to him.
Her eyes met his and she noticed him suddenly becoming rather guilty. Before he was able to take the piece of paper away from Marlene, she withdrew her hand and read Sena's familiar handwriting on it.
"Who is Natalie" ?
"Just a friend"
"You have never mentioned her to me before "!
"Well ! there was no reason for that "!
"Come off it Sena, that won't do".
"There's nothing else to say, really"!
" I should think that there must be quite a lot if you are meeting her next Thursday at the Hyde Park", she barked.
Sena was silent. He knew he was playing a dangerous and a meaningless game.
"Perhaps, until you decide there's something to tell me, you'd better take this".
Marlene twisted her diamond ring off her finger and thrust it down on the table in front of him, got up from her chair and whisked off out of the restaurant.
What amazed Sena was his almost complete lack of emotion at that moment. Perhaps, his feelings were benumbed by the sudden shock or perhaps it was for the best, he thought later. In any case, he had made up his mind to meet up with Natalie.
Hyde Park couldn't have been quite so deserted on that day. Sena seated on a bench was looking out for Natalie and his watch, every now and then. Almost one hour passed the fixed time and there was no sign of Natalie appearing on the scene. Instead, Sena caught the glimpse of a girl walking up and down with an enquiring look. He watched her carefully as she came towards him again stopped to ask something from him.
"Excuse me, Are you Sena by any chance" ?
"Yes, Sena de Silva, as a matter of fact".
Sena was searching for some further clues as to her identity as she stretched her hand to give him something.
" I'm Jennifer, Natalie's friend. Natalie could not make it today and she asked me to give this note to you. Thank you. Bye.......!
Sena opened the letter impatiently and it read:
"Sena my dear, I'm really sorry I can't meet you today or in the future. Please forgive me. Thanks a million for the memorable lift you gave me on June 17th evening. By the way, I am getting married on Saturday and would you believe that having met you it made me choose our honey moon destination as Sri Lanka ! We will be flying Sri Lankan Airwaus on Sunday and I'm really looking forward to see the paradise Island you described to me, with my own eyes ! - Nat".
Sena folded up the sheet of note paper and looked up muttering to himself.
" I.... I ...!! " he started to mumble but emotionally he was stunned. He thought for a few seconds and rushed back to his car, opened his brief case and looked up his diary. The ignition key turned in, and in a jiffy the Mercedes Benz zoomed away like a rocket towards Marlene’s flat!