Chew on it.

Chances are all we have.

Tag: friends

Dog days – Caffeine

By the time you get to the café – three shops to the left – your hair’s caught some of the rain. Maybe it’ll fall flat now. Maybe you’ll catch a cold, though a few drops never killed anyone. The door opens inwards and you’re gripped by the smells of coffee, sugar and vanilla. The temperature inside this café of 4 tables has shifted north just a little, but enough to make you notice. Have you been here before? Probably not. Cafes mean speaking to people and the accidental eye contact and god knows you’ve spent a good part of your life avoiding both.

But you’re here now.

And your companion from earlier has settled into a table, dwarfing it. Settled well in, as he’s using the time looking at you. You would too, had someone stood at the entrance of an empty café looking at nowhere really. And now you’re looking at him. Start walking, idiot.

Why are you here anyway?

Did you want coffee?

When was the last time you had coffee?

Did you blank out back there?

Did he hypnotise you?

Is this safe?

Why isn’t there anyone else in the café?

“Nobody really notices this café, probably the sign. Doesn’t glow. So we’re usually slow.”

Oh.

“Loyal weekend crowd though.”

You’re in the booth already. Why does this place have booths? But it’s lit up. So it’s not absolutely the 70s.

“Do you work here?”

“Yes, also own it.”

You like the seat, feeling it on your fingertips. “So what’s good?”

His eyebrows scrunch themselves up. That’s a lot of scrunching. Of course. Listen to yourself.

“What would you recommend?”

Ah. Scrunch resolved.

“Well,” – is he assessing you? – “Cappuccino.”

Frankly, that’s a let-down. You always assume your tryst with strangers will mean they will have some secret knowledge about you, intuitively. And a cappuccino is far, far from intuitive. Masala chai would be nice, although he did say coffee. An espresso just to get out of the funk. Or an iced americano. So that the ice melts into itself and you can stay in this warm seat, sipping on the reincarnation of your original drink.

“Cappuccino’s great.” You’re not a monster.

He’s off the table and into the kitchen, and you take a moment to sigh into your crossed arms on the table, keeping your head down just to stop it from trying to desperately process and execute everything you’re feeling.

Sadness. A shade less than the morning, but sadness alright. Apprehension of opening the door to your house. Guilt for what you did. Guilt some more for being in this seat not because this man gave you his phone and help, but because something shifted in you after years when you saw the fabric of his jacket taut against his back. Guilt for making this man brew you a coffee you don’t even want. Guilt because it’s raining outside and you’ve never needed alcohol – you’ve only needed the right rain. And this is the right rain at the wrong time.

Guilt because his sideburns have a shade of grey in them.

You aren’t worried though. Somehow, safety is the least of your problems today.

Something moves on the table and you snap up.

“It’ll help.”

He’s made himself an espresso, but you’re not going to whine now, are you? The cup’s wider than you’re used to, so there will be a moustache. But it’s pretty, the whole thing. Some kind of leafy design made of fine, slightly reddish coffee powder on the froth. It’s not coffee powder though. It’s cinnamon.

He’s put cinnamon in your cappuccino and now you want to snuggle against his shoulder in the rain and smelling of cinnamon.

Fuck this.

You stare diligently at your coffee because clearly you need something stronger and drink up. The plan is to finish this as quickly as you can but your tongue and lips are off to mutiny. This is good, warm coffee. The spice stirs something, and the sip had the most subtle aftertaste. He’s made art in a cup.

You look up and catch his eye.

“Thank you. It’s quite lovely.”

This is the first, decent, non-pathetic thing you’ve said to this man. Almost ladylike. He nods and the light catches the scar under his eye and sideburns. A knot you didn’t know you had in your gut tightens. You want to touch the smooth, pink scar with the pads of your thumb.

“What happened to you?”

“I had a bad start to the day.”

“And it nearly ended with your card being swallowed?”

“Nearly, yes.” But thanks for this.

“I’ve seen you before.”

Of course, he has. A few weeks ago, you had that showdown around this corner with a cab driver who wouldn’t go a few hundred feet further on a rainy day. It got loud and horrible rather quickly. That was another bad day. Several people from stores and restaurants had tried to intervene. A cop had to step in.

But you hadn’t seen this one. This one should have stuck in memory.

“I had the morning shift so I was watching from inside here.” Ah.

“I won that day.”

“What did you win?”

“The argument. He had to drop me to the vet’s clinic ahead and he refused to. I made him.”

“Good start to the day then?”

He’s talking about that day, not today.

“No, not really.” You like that he leans in, urging you to share more. “My dog’s scan. Tumours in the lungs.”

He’s scratching his hair; you want to do it for him. “That’s bad. Yeah. How’s it now?”

Dead.

The spell is broken. Binks’s shiny eyes and the whine that’s caught at the back of his throat since 4 am this morning and how his coat felt course as you piled him alone in the cab. You want to say with a straight face that yes, I decided that I can’t treat it any more, that I have to take this decision for him. So, as of this morning, I turned into a god, and had him put down, because I’m omniscient and I can tell is there’s no hope and no cure.

I heard him howl in pain through the night and in one irreversible decision, I killed the one thing in the world that loved me.

Now the coffee tastes salty and you’re a swirling mess of tears, snot, dread and darkness.

Dog days

“Should I get the door?”

You look up, uncertain about the sounds you’ve just heard.

“I’m heading home now, should I leave the door open or are you staying the night?”

The implications of all she’s said may not have dawned on her, but you know now is not the time to mull over each of the tributaries of your thoughts. You nod, and thankfully she intercepts that as a “yes, leave it open” – because you’ll be stepping out of the office and locking up behind you, and trying, trying hard to get some of your old self back.

20 minutes later, the only force driving you out of the door and your reverie of self-pity is that you have to water the plants in your house the next morning. It’s a house now, you notice – it’s not a home. It’s a place where things you own are kept, not where you live and make things happen and cook and feel calm. You wonder when the difference set it. You know when.

Of course, the elevator has a couple of stops to make before you can get in. There’s Anita from upstairs repeating into her phone that, no she can’t hear you. Can you… can you please wait? She’ll text you back. You smile at each other, and in other circumstances you’d have asked her if she’s still planning on negotiating her yearly package with Nadira. But she’s too busy and you don’t care for small talk today.

The street outside is filling in. Friday evenings in this part of town mean that you have to be in the right place at the right time to be able to get anywhere. It wasn’t this way, you note – or perhaps it always was and you’re just in a place to really observe it. There’s a non-threatening drizzle in the air and you know that once it would light up your face and make the world spin with excitement around you but today, you note it as mild precipitation. The walk to your ATM is lined with restaurants. What is this love for Asian food that’s permeating the world? You’re more of a continental food buff but really, these many outlets? And always full, at that. What are people celebrating all the time? Is everyone just a terrible cook when left to their own devices? Is corn syrup really all there is to it? You don’t even know what corn syrup really does.

You pull your coat a little closer to your body having admitted not knowing to yourself. Maybe I should try more of these truth telling moments. Embarrass myself around me. That’d be a change.

The ATM’s a little dark inside as usual, so you peek in to see if there’s a light on the screen… and yes there is. You step in and wait for the card to process so you can get the month’s cash in hand and transfer the rest to your savings accounts. The screen flickers a little and your irritation with the world as it is spikes – irritating because now, your card’s stuck. Irritating because it’s been a relentlessly bad day. Did your tone show on the phone call? Let’s leave that for Monday, but right now, the card’s stuck in the slot and you need to calm down.

You wait for the screen to come alive, but this is it. Of all days, after months of slowing down in function and luminosity, this ATM machine has picked the day you had to put your 13-year-old dog down, to crash.

Of course.

You shrug, set your glasses back, and remind yourself to be objective about this. The ATM machine did not know about Binks. Cannot know about him. You need a solution. Is there a helpline on the machine? Ah yes. You wait for it to be answered. But the call disconnects of its own accord. Try again. Nope. And again and there’s no network, as if there’s a finite quantity of network and today you’ve used up yours. After a little juvenile push to the machine, you step out looking for distance from the issue and help in case anyone can lend you their phone.

The drizzle has taken the time you were in the ATM room to turn into a light shower. For the first time today, you smile. Or you don’t frown. Well, something in your face changes.

There’s a chap smoking a cigarette by the store display to your left. Shouting across a few feet isn’t nice, so you glance back into the ATM and run the distance of a few feet to ask for his phone. When he turns, however, you want to ask him a whole lot of other questions.

What’s your wingspan?

What happened under your eye?

Can I put my fingers in your hair?

You’re about to cross the line of polite staring-going-to-letching so you quickly blurt out something about the ATM-card-phone-yours.

“Is it stuck inside the machine?” Your toes need not have curled at that baritone.

You nod.

“Cancel the card. Sooner the better.”

He punches in a password as the two of you walk towards the ATM. He hands you the phone.

A conversation filled with a lot of verification details about your account and about the problem and about the card and about the ATM and about if you’re sure later, you stare at the phone in your hand. While the relief of the card being cancelled settles in, you realise that the phone owner is still inside the ATM space. His attention, however, is outside and on the rain. It’s even heavier now.

For a moment before you take in the updated meteorological status, you take in the muscle of his back. His grey jacket is stretched over the scapulae and his slightly unruly hair has a sheen of droplets. The ATM must have stilled because phone man turns back inside then.

Look up look up look up.

“It’s coming down heavy, isn’t it?”

Fuck your small talk. To add insult to self-inflicted injury, phone man grunts.

You stretch your hand with the phone in it. He takes it back and your breath gets caught in its shoelaces, so your thanks comes out too raspy.

That, unfortunately, gets him to look up.

“It’s alright.” Why’s the ground rumbling to his voice? “You look unwell” – uhm, okay, but now he knows this isn’t your usual face? – “Do you want to sit down?” –  there’s nothing to sit here but thanks for the suggestion, stranger – “Maybe have a coffee with me?”

“Yes, sure.”

What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?

“There’s one place, down the road, same side, needn’t cross. Three shops to the left. Don’t slip.” He opens the door and makes a dash for it.

 


Next in the series.

Dear Shri

Shriya’s birthday card, for her 19th birthday. Published December 29, late in the evening for her birthday the next day.

 

Remember about a 100 years ago?

When we used to fight and keep doing kaandi to show off?

I’d never Imagine we’d land up even talking. But haven’t I told you this about a hundred times already?

It’s also about those times we’d drag the mothers into the fight (tolerant, loving, doosre-bacche-ki-side-lenewaali mothers) and our brothers would equally participate in further dividing the C- Wing B-Wing rift.

Of course, like we’re doomed to never forget- the times I spilled J&J baby powder all over the bathroom, and WE spilled J&J Baby oil, and MY mother had to clean up.

Also the day we put those red seeds into MY fishtank – now I think all the damage was done to MY property.

The hundred thousand times we said we’d never ever EVER (This time mother promise) talk to each other, and then we virtually killed our mums every other week.

The window conversations. I’d give anything to transport you back to C-11 and talk nonsense (define sense?) on rainy days when we couldn’t hear what the other one had to say, and invariably landed downstairs.

Somewhere in the middle of all this- came in Maanty- the third lost musketeer- and unknowingly, we wrapped her up in us. Have we ever been separated since?

I couldn’t buy a birthday card for you (I’m obviously paying for your gift :P) but I hope you’ll forgive me for never having done that one thing.

Birthday parties at 6 in the evening and being the first bum at the door is eons ago- but I’d still line up first at your door, for any occassion, or any time you need me.

From boys who broke hearts, to ones who chased you to those irresponsible bums who came, took a walk with the hopeful hearts, and then went off with other prettier ones, to the ones where we thought we’d never stay with- but landed up with infinitely.

I’ll be there for everyone of those episodes.

And a promise renewed.

If you get pregnant before you’re wed, and if you don’t have anywhere to go- I’ll bring you in. Slap you 50 times a day, but bring you in. You’re my friend, and I’ll never leave you. Even if you get married to someone I don’t like and then mess it up or if you’re tired and need coffee and your mum isn’t at home- I’ll bring you in.

If you lose out on my number I’ll kick your protruding behind till it’s sore, but make you memorise it amnesia-proof.

If Nishi and you have a fight, and Nishi is right, I’ll yell at you, and never once let you feel like you’re right. But if it’s the other way around, we’ll both tear Nish apart and break her knees and make her apologise. Deal?

Even if I don’t like Hrithik, I will never morcha against him (unless he cuts trees and litters).

If Gautam grows thinner and gives you a complex, I’ll steal your money and feed him till he gets back to std.10 ka size.

If Bryce cracks private jokes with me, and we’re laughing at you, I’ll tell you what it was about after he goes. Ussko bhi thoda badhaayi maarni hoti hai na. Chadhaane ka. THEN we’ll kick his butt.

If Manasi’s filtration system fails at the last moment and she says stuff you could kill her for saying- well, there’s nothing I can promise you know, I have no solution to that.

If Clarie doesn’t shut up about stuff you don’t want spoken about, we’ll boycott him.

If Vivek and Deepa don’t keep in touch, we’ll send them hate mail.

If Collin gets too sarcy and funny and his jokes hurt your intestines, we’ll takle a scissor and chop his mane off.

And if I don’t stick to these promises, you’d better find another friend. Because, I am replaceable.

You aren’t.

Happy Birthday :)

Mahua

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