It's Sept 2008. I am in Shanghai for a short 1 week official trip. My visit coincides with the annual staff dinner for our China operations. I get pulled in for the dinner at a quirky Japanese restaurant (Kimono adorning hostesses, et al). As luck would have it, I get seated across an excitable young girl with an omnipresent smile & a mischievous twinkle (or perhaps naive mixed optimism) in her eyes.
We had got acquainted just couple of hours before (in office). In fact, she had introduced herself to me when our paths crossed across the office bulletin board. I was the odd man out, what with being the only Indian in a predominantly Chinese workforce. Perhaps that piqued her curiosity which made her to walk up to me & say "Hi, I am Luna Z". She wondered if I had joined newly ? & in the same breath she eagerly told me that it was her 2nd week in the job. She was still studying (or rather was waiting for her graduation results) & had joined as a trainee (that explained her enthusiasm alright). Introductions over, we split only to find our self seated across each other later in the evening.
Her first reaction was "It's you, AGAIN!". The very fact that I am a vegetarian tickled her fancy to no end. All through the evening, she kept piling meat based stuff on her platter & each time she would ask me.. "You can't even eat this ?" "So sad.. It's so tasty you know" "Are you sure ?". She felt genuinely sad that I had to limit myself to eating salads, corn , mushrooms & few samplings of tempura. She told me that she was an avid traveller. But being a student, most of her travels were limited within China. In a wistful manner she said she dreamt of travelling overseas, with India & Europe being her dream destination. In the same breath she asked me what are my dreams ? The ever so honest guy that I am, I told her in a matter-of-fact tone - "I am not a dreamer. I don't have any dreams or grand plans in life" .
She seemed genuinely concerned & crest-fallen upon hearing my rather dour outlook towards life. On seeing her stricken face, I regretted not coming up with some fake dreams just to make her feel nice or at least not to come across as a morose pessimistic guy. I rarely get singled out for conversations by young girls. And yet here I was, in intimate conversation with a single girl in a foreign land and I am making no attempts whatsoever to leave a positive imprint about myself.
Anyways, the conversation soon veered to the places to visit while I was in Shanghai. She briefed me on the must-see places. The evening ended soon. Needless to say, it was her conversation & pleasant company which left a lasting impression on me more than the Japanese food or the restaurant ambiance.
True to her words, next day she handed me a hand written note on which she had dutifully written down places to visit (in English - for me , in Mandarin - for Cabbies). The 1 week tour ended & I was back in Sg. We continued to be in touch through AOL. On many a mornings, she was the first person to greet me, as soon as I logged in at my workplace. During some of our recent conversation, she had voiced her frustration on not being able to speedup the steps leading to marriage with her BF (college sweetheart) . Now that she & her BF had settled jobs, she was keen on taking the next logical step. The BF on the otherhand wanted to follow the current trend of marrying after crossing 30. He wanted to cling to his single life a bit longer.
Things started to look up in early December 2009, she mentioned that her parents were coming to Shanghai to visit her BF's parents. The proverbial "meet the parents" anxiety had gripped her. This was a significant step, it seemed that finally things were falling in place with the BF relenting & the parents agreeing to meet. As the year end approached , I got caught up with the year-end closing rush in our office & I didn't get chance to check what transpired at the parents meet.
The new year dawned, and last week I got a mail from our HR based in Shanghai, with the subject line "Passing away of Luna Z" . Knowing the penchant for weird usage of English language by our Chinese counterparts, I thought maybe this is another such case where the writer means something (in Mandarin) & writes something else (in English). I started reading the mail casually. With each successive line I felt a cold wave sweeping across my heart. It was mail informing that Luna Z was found dead from gas poisoning in her apartment over the weekend. Her 2 flatmates also died tragically along with her. A quick google search confirmed that accidental deaths from gas poisoning is commonplace during harsh cold winters in China.
A young life nipped in the bud just when she was on the verge of realizing a long cherished dream. Knowing her, I wouldn't be surprised that she must have been busy conjuring more dreams in her sleep, when death interrupted her cruelly & swiftly. Rest in peace Luna & never stop dreaming.