Perhaps it was that charm that made me notice things that I hadn't noticed before. The "Principal" board nailed to the door was a bit uneven; it tilted a bit to the left. I tried to straighten it but it refused to budge. Perhaps there were others that went through the same ritual before giving up, like, I just did. There was tiny crack in the shape of a smile at the bottom the "Principal" board. I guessed that neither the crack nor its shape were intentional.
To the right of the door, just beyond the door frame, there was a door bell. On the two prior occasions I had knocked, never realizing that there was a doorbell there. A few inches to the right of the bell, someone had scribbled something illegible the wall. At least, it was illegible to me. I could have been anything from "fuck you" to "god bless". I didn't want to care.
To the left of the door, there was a desk, old and battered. On it were four plants, each in its own clay pot. From the look of the pots: green water streaks along sides, chips on the top edges, muddy bases, it seemed that the pots were put to good use. Perhaps that was the reason why the plants seem healthy. One of the plants, I knew, was a rose bush. The others, I had no clue. They felt rustic to be in the middle of the city.
I turned around to look behind me. My Jeep was still there. I wondered what I was doing there. I didn't know. Was there any need for me to be here? I didn't know. What am I trying to get out of being here? I didn't know.
For a moment, I felt like walking back to the Jeep and driving away. I wanted to forget that I had ever been there, let alone three times in less than a month. But something made me stay back. Something inside me longed to be here. For no logical reason, in particular.
I turned back to the door. Took a deep breath. Composed myself. And knocked.
"Hi again.", I presented myself.
"Oh, hi. Good to see you.", she responded.
"I called you a few times earlier today."
"Oh, did you?"
"But you didn’t answer."
"Oh, I didn’t?."
"It was probably because you were in your class."
"Right. That may be the reason as I switch my phone off when I am in my class."
"No ‘oh’?", I asked noticing that all her previous responses had started with ‘Oh’.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing", I said. "I was just being silly."
Her latest ‘oh’ made me chuckle. And before I could stop myself, I had a silly grin on my face.
"There’s the ‘oh’", I said. And, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off my face.
"Oh?", she queried not quite aware of what I had meant.
I couldn’t help myself any longer. I just laughed out loud. And continued to laugh. The more I tried to stopped myself from laughing, the more I laughed.
"What is so funny?", she asked perplexed.
I shook my head but continued laughing. I wanted to say something but couldn’t through the laughter. I laughed and laughed some more. She kept looking at me as if I were crazy.
A second or two later, without herself knowing it, she had a smile on her face. Then, the smile grew into a chuckle. And soon, she, too, started laughing out with me. She kept her gaze on me and laughed; she didn’t know why we were laughing. It seemed that she didn’t need one. She kept laughing and so did I.
Soon both of us were laughing silly.
I had to hold my stomach as I had been laughing so much. I took a step back and leaned against the wall to support myself. I looked at her and she looked at me. She was roaring with laughter; she had her palm on her mouth but that did nothing to suppress anything. Tears danced their way, down her cheeks, gleaming against the light, and, aided her smeared mascara shone in stark contrast against her fair skin.
"I … I … I can’t", she stammered in the midst, when she paused to take her breaths. "I can’t anymore. Oh my goodness."
She sat down, clutched her belly and coiled inwards. But, her eyes looked up towards me. I was glued, mesmerized, to that sight even though I was laughing like an idiot.
After what it seemed like a long time, some semblance of calm started to come for both of us. We were able to wind down long enough to take proper breaths. Then, finally, we stopped laughing and took a few full breaths.
She was the first one to speak. "Oh my goodness. That, I had no idea from where that came."
I looked at her. I was trying hard to stop another chuckle from escaping. She realized it and before things started again, she got up from her chair and came towards me.
"Oh no no no. You are not going to start again", she said and spun me around making me face the wall. "You are going to turn around and look at the wall instead. That will stop this silly giggling."
She was right as the blank wall made things no longer funny. It took me a minute to compose myself. My stomach and my throat still ached and my eyes remained blurry. When I knew that I regained control on myself, I turned around.
Only to lose my breath again.
She looked divine. Strands of her hair bounced in front of her glistening eyes, which themselves danced around the dark seas of smeared mascara. Radiance beamed from her face, as if intending to light up my whole world. A barely discernible smile formed on her lips, a smile that I could tell had bloomed in the depths of her heart.
I stood transfixed in my spot
A moment’s eternity later, she titled her head to her left and, with her gaze still locked with mine, she raised her eyebrows as if asking me the reason for my existence.
"You", came the answer from the deep inside me. Though, sadly, neither I nor she heard it. The answer remained muffled inside me, echoing through the empty chambers of my soul before dying away. On the outside, my turmoil was different.
"What?", her voice sailed over to me.
"Oh", it was my turn.
"Oh?", she asked.
"Nothing", I lied.
She looked at me as if, rightly so, she didn’t believe me.
"Earlier, before we started laughing, every answer you gave started with ‘oh’", I explained. "That was what made me smile, and before I knew it, I was laughing. The more I tried to stop, I harder I laughed."
"I don’t get it".
"Initially when I greeted you, you said ‘Oh’. Then, I informed you that I had called you and you said, ‘Oh, did you?’. After that I mentioned that you couldn’t take my calls and you said, ‘Oh, I don’t know why’. And so, the other statements from you went".
"That is what made you start laughing?", she asked with a big smile.
"Yeah", I confessed. "It is a stupid reason but I just couldn’t help."
She looked at me. Differently.
"Whatever be the reason, I should thank you.", she said after a few seconds. "I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. So, thank you."
"You are welcome", I said smiling back at her.
"Are you blushing?", she asked making fun of me.
"The case.", I changed the subject. "We have a lead."
"Are you really trying to find my purse?", she asked, still wondering whether this is some sort of a gimmick.
"Yes.", I answered. "We know the ones took your purse."
"Did you catch them?", she asked.
"Not yet", I answered apologetically. "We will. Soon."
"And then what?", she asked.
"That depends.", I replied as I really didn’t know what happens after that.
"Really?", she said.
"Yeah", I said. "I came here to inform you about the progress of the case." I looked around and continued, "I will leave now. When there are more updates, I will let you know."
She looked puzzled by my abrupt change in tone. Even I was.
I walked towards to the door. I apologized for taking up her lunch hour with nothing concrete to show.
"It’s OK", she mentioned. "I don’t have any classes for the next hour. I can have my lunch after you leave."
I opened the door and walked out. A few steps later, I turned around. She was standing at the door. She was looking down, staring at a spot near her feet. She seemed immersed in a thought.
"Thank you for making the time to meet with me.", I broke her reverie.
She looked up at me. "No, thank you for trying to find my lost purse.", she said. "And for the laugh. It had been ages that I laughed so hard. I was trying to remember the last time I laughed that much."
"Glad", I said realizing that I may be blushing again.
"Do you?", she asked me.
"Do I what?"
"Remember the last time you laughed so much."
"In fact, I do."
I just smiled and walked away. I didn’t want to answer her question. I just wanted to let the feeling linger a bit longer before I muddied it with my past.