Chew on it.

Chances are all we have.

Tag: hope

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.

Inevitability.

The dressing up doesn’t take a lot of time, as much as you expect it to. Before you know it, the dress is on, you’re looking nice, but a little less nicer than your best friend, or the first girl you see at the entrance of the pub. It’s a fancy place, and like all fancy places, this too smells of a generic perfume and has lights dim enough to miss the sweat spots on your dress and bright enough to see that another girl’s bosom is curvier.

Would he prefer to be with her? – you think.

You shake the thought off as you spot your girlfriends over at the table. You smile, not only because you’re happy to see them (after, usually, not too long) but because you realise that you have dressed properly for the occasion. A relief, and now you can seat yourself graciously by the table, avoiding a seat that offers direct communication or eye-contact from the girl who really doesn’t like the same songs you do. A class difference settled between the two of you and even while it’s erasable, you want it to remain.

A general round of admiration for your dress, the cut, the earrings (which someone has definitely spotted at the same store a week, no- maybe 3 weeks ago), the weight lost and at least one other thing passes the group. Soon you’re eating, talking, reminiscing, and as the group slips back into memories that aren’t more than a year old, your eyes wander to the bar, where a man sits with a frown, rolled-up sleeves, and a furtive glance at everything about him.

You surprise yourself when you think of him as a man. The word has more sexual connotation to it than you intended it to have. He could be your age, A little older, judging by the grey in his hair. You stop looking at him, but your body has automatically aligned itself to face him, and you’re embarrassed.

The validation of your thoughts against the boy (a word oozing fondness, ease, love, dishevelled hair, home smells, the shampoo you chose for him) waiting at home makes you uneasy in your seat. You claim your love for him; protect yourself from even mentally wandering and turn to join in a conversation, now having steered to something that you can contribute to (much to your relief.) But your eyes play truant, and you keep checking at him. You strain your neck a little when a group arrives at the bar, louder than him in sound and sight- of course he’s the quiet one, you always magnetically crawl towards those.

Soon, you are irritated by the conspiracy of the world to keep you away from this man who has only perched on a bar-stool so far.  This is your moment of glory. You know you look decent, and of course he’ll have an eye for the curvier ones. So you get off the place, making as much movement as possible, to visit the washroom. You make sure it is in his direction. And if it isn’t, you must ask, of all the waiters and managers waiting to help you with the directions to the desired destination, the bartender.

Leaning forward a bit, as visible to the man as can be. You act as if you can’t hear the reply, lean in closer and when you do, thank the bartender more graciously, in lesser words and with softer expressions than a new actress thanks the audience at the Academy Awards. The bartender, who has seen a hundred and more women act the way you did, smiles and gets back to business. You pass close to his stool, whispering an ‘Excuse me’ to no one obstructing your path in particular, and head to the washroom, determined to not turn back.

In the bathroom, you widen your eyes, wipe the little sheen of sweat from your face with the napkin in your purse (no human with a vagina and a brain leaves her purse back at the table even for the shortest trips) and readjust your dress, showing just a hint of cleavage, and a prominent part of your collarbone. You plan your next move as you set your hair back (not really) and expose an entire side of your neck. Who could resist such a creamy neck, you wonder. The answer is ‘everyone’, and a tinge of guilt breaks open in your gut. You wave it off, because this? It’s not serious- you know, and have read about it in reliable, well-researched and much-vouched-for scientific sources like Readers’ Digest, Thought Catalog and Cecelia Ahern books that reassurance is all a woman needs- the confidence that a man can still want her. You put your scruples off to sleep with the thought of the boy and head back outside.

He’s still there, and you smile to yourself.

Putting your clever ruse into action, you walk halfway to the table, swaying your ample bottom (ever so emphatically that people wonder is you’re beginning to slip sideways within your footwear) and then turn back, to the bar. Leaning over the counter again, a little closer this time, you ask the bartender his name. In that din, he answers you and without a smile goes about his business. You call him by his name, accentuating it (unnecessarily) and ask him to send over a round of vodka to the GIRLS AT THAT TABLE. The sudden rise in decibels makes the man on the stool look up at you and you mouth a worried ‘Sorry’ with your eyebrows knitted at him (with the sincerity of a mother with an infant crying around the sick-bed of an old, old man). He smiles at you briefly, looks at your chest, to the counter and back at his drink.

With the effort and the money for the vodka now down the drain because of the lack of interest in the conversation, you walk back naturally to the table. Disgruntled. Your closest friend follows you back with her eyes and when you sit down, leans over and asks you, in whispers to buy the man on the bar-stool a drink. You tell her about the round of vodkas that you’ve paid for and she pats your thigh with sympathy. You glide into the conversation and participate, accepting defeat. When the vodka comes you raise your glass as a friend makes a toast to how well the group as stuck over 18 months and how some friendships last forever and graciously accept the thanks for the shots. At the back of your head, you say- Thank that guy sitting there and oestrogen.

Soon the party is over and the ladies at the table disperse after long-drawn farewells. Outside, you stand with your friend, hailing a cab, when she lightly nudges you and indicates to the man on the stool waiting for a cab too, as aloofly as he sat inside. You marvel at how aloofly is even a word and smile broadly to yourself, hoping he’ll catch your eye in that moment. An adolescent theory of always bumping into an attractive man a second time after the first comes back to mind and you grin harder. Your friend is about to usher you in the cab she successfully stopped on its tracks when he turns and your eyes meet. You shoot what can only be described as a ghost of a smile at him and get into the cab, partially annoyed at your friend for her inexplicable rush to get home at only 11.45 PM. You smile through the journey home, and by the end of it, you have forgotten his face, his shirt and everything physical about him. The residue of the evening is high spirits and a general smile.

The boy opens the door and goes back to TV. You suddenly like his arse a little more and want to reach out to it. He’s plonked himself on the couch by then, and is listening with rapt attention to how leopards kill their prey. When he asks you how the evening was, with his eyes on the TV, you tell him it was ‘nice’. The food, the company, the place, the stories- all while you slip into a t-shirt and shorts and wash the light make-up from your face. You join him on the sofa, and within 10 minutes all your weight is on him. You pucker your un-coloured lips for a brief kiss that turns into a long one. His arm wraps itself around you and with your head on his stomach- rounder than what it was before- well, before any of this, you drift to sleep.

When he wakes you up to move to the bedroom, you are glad to be home.

Ordinary Lives- 7.

The sofa stood out in his room.

The colour was his choice, and the single seaters that came with it were facing the TV that he had brought in. The off-white was a point of debate because she was scared it may show stains. But he had  insisted.

“Stains are caused by kids, and I don’t see any in the next couple of years.”

He had spilled chocolate sauce that very day on it.

The bookshelf had neat separations. Her fictions were lined along the middle shelves and his reference books along the top. That hadn’t been a debate at all. He could reach the top shelves. The lights were perfectly agreed upon too. As sultry as the amber looked, they’d need the white for reading. They still kept the amber lamps fixed.

The rosewood cupboards he’d picked, the simplistic chairs. The space for another bookshelf.

Signs of him all over the floor. Where he’d stand, where he’d wait.

Where he’d watch her.

It had been a month since he’d laid his eyes on the house. Or her.

It had been a month since he’d picked a book, standing right behind her while she picked hers. Only while she picked hers.

A month since she’d heard the house smile.

She sat on the seat beside the dull brown stain of chocolate. Waiting for the minutes to pass. She could hear herself breathe, and in that sound she waited for the door to open. She closed her eyes, when it dawned upon her that she may miss something.

She waited to be wanted again. To be put in a place that she wasn’t flustered to the point of muteness. Ennui had passed and grown into a coma of her thoughts. She waited for the world to fall into place again.

For closure.

Her dead thoughts scratched her mind. She now heard her heart beating in her ears. Like the pause after a long, long run.

A moment later, as if on cue, as if the universe felt a wave of sympathy on her, and only to drive the listlessness that sunk her away-

He knocked. His eyes on the door-knob, his body completely still. His hand hanging in anticipation to knock again. Twice.

She held back a second, disbelieving her ears. But he was home.

She was alive to it.

Ordinary Lives- 6.

She couldn’t stop giggling.

His exasperation grew. Her dimple deepened with every rush of ideas in her head.

He rolled his eyes.

She took a deep breath and paused to look at him. The smile wouldn’t go off her face.

His familiar frown, the brown of his eyes turning into caffeine. The Silver has just started growing, and years later she’d be tucked in a bed, his cheek in her hand, his nose against her neck, and she’d talk about this night. Not this moment- not this pause between his question and her answer.

His pout began to grow and his hands went into his pocket.

“This is uncomfortable.”

She looked at him harder.

“In what way?”

“I’ve asked you something. You start giggling. I need an answer.”

She bit her lower lip to stop bursting into another spurt of giggles.

“What will I do when you’re gone?”

“What you do at home even today.”

“Dad gives me pocket money.”

“I earn enough to give you that and run the house.”

“And if I forget the keys?”

“We’ll keep one at the neighbour’s.”

What was with her? He was opening the door he’d never known had existed within him, and all she was doing was staring through him.

“Maid?”

“Already there.”

“Cook?”

“I know how to. You should learn too.”

“I don’t want to.”

“But I’ll be away.”

She’s saying a yes.

“Okay Ma said I had to learn any way.”

They looked around for the next question.

“Washing machine?”

It’s a yes.

“Yes.”

She started giggling again. This time, it was deliberate and slow. Like she was trying to say something.

“Don’t go away for too long.”

“I never want to.”

The curve of his lip choked her and she started coughing. He grabbed a glass of water and made her swallow it, rubbing her back, unable to believe his luck. His last straw had stayed rooted while he grabbed at it.

Her chin on his shoulder was the only reminder of anything else in the world existed apart from the light that flooded his eyes, and lit up his face.

He threw away the pills that night. She broke the news to her family.

Mahua

Take a break. Take a trip.

Blast A Trumpet

Slowly making incisions in everything I come across

Raj Sivaraman

Part Time Genius, Full Time Hyperbolizer

THROES OF LUNACY

Don't expect brilliance. Mediocre at best.

Chew on it.

Chances are all we have.

Immature Fruit

Poetry, Travels, Sketches, Writings and a Sip of Inspiration with Passion.

A Dowg's Life

I’m a dowg. Woof.

Smoke Signals

Life, et cetera