Friday, 7 August 2015

The Steamin' Mugs Part 1


Chapter 1 : The Morning At the Coffee House 
Chapter 2 : Up Until Then

chapter 1 : the morning at the coffee house

He walked on the cluttered footpath in vain not to wet himself. Hard as the task was, he kept up to it until a school van splashed mud water as high up as his face. That did it. He was no longer in the shape and mind frame to go sit in front of the publisher and convince him about how good or decent enough, his work was. He made the call and excused himself. Having taken care of that, he thought of might as well enjoying the showers after all! With that, he switched off his phone and set off, no longer cluttering but trotting. He could barely see with showers becoming heavier and people scurrying for shelter. It was unbelievable to Sid as to how and why he had never enjoyed this mist before! A roadside ‘tapri’….he asked himself  “what in the world is this guy doing selling cutting chai right now!!!”….."To hell with it…” but he held on to the idea and decided to pamper himself on this day.

As he sipped the hot (!!??? To his amazement!) ‘adrak chai’, he missed those moments where he used to dance around like a little child with his gully friends. Hamirpur was a small town nestled in the Himalayas and the growing up-part of his childhood never harbored dreams of becoming partie to a corporate culture. Destiny albeit had different plans. Sid got reminiscing and a sudden realization dawned upon him. How much had he stopped admiring those little ‘joie de vivre!’ Joys of living?? What are they for you Sid? Ananya had asked him. Ananya, the love of his life, the most charming and intelligent a person could ever get and that he had ever met!! He had once told her “Travel till you meet yourself, travel for want of more and travel to grow. That’s what I want and if there is anything more I would ask for, it’s your company”. 

Her thought stifled him a little, even to this day and he walked along. A fond memory, a beautiful past, worth a smile. As he did, he promised her “so what if we could not go down the road we had thought of, your presence in my life will always bring a smile to my face!” With that thought on, his heart found content somewhere and he walked along the street. 

Sid could barely hear anything now as it continued to rain relentlessly. What came as a turning point was something Sid would never have imagined! As he began appreciating the French windows and the get-up of the coffee-shop, his eyes fell upon her. Fluttering around with a huge tray in her hand, he saw her carrying books and giving away that mesmerizing smile as her hair gently flopped across her face only to reveal it for just a second! It was a surprising sight for Sid, to catch in this weather in a way that he would never have expected! For the next few minutes, he just stood watching by the window as she poured another cup of coffee as rain had blessed this placed with customers! The cotton and the ethnic jewellery made her look so elegant that it drew a smile on Sid’s face! He had all the time in the world today and board games on all tables saw him calling. As he entered the coffee-shop, the chime gave a warm welcome that did not go amiss even with all the noise outside! As he approached the counter, he saw her fervently making entries on the log machine and tearing bills. A small Thank You note stacked by each tray made him wonder who was thankful to whom! “Must be in her mid 40’s I guess” Sid thought to himself and waited for her attention. She took off her glasses and finally looked up. The same unmistakable broad smile and she said “You need something to dry yourself up? Or should I just fix you a coffee?” The words registered slower as Sid gained his senses. He had to. She was probably one of the more striking women he had seen in his life and yet he could not come to think of how beautiful she must have been, 20 years younger! 

“Just a coffee Ma’am. Thank you!” Sid managed.

“You can take a look at the menu. It’s up on the board there!” She pointed. “And bless yourself with whatever you might like to read!” She showed him the stack of books by the wall facing the entrance.
“I sure will. The weather is crazy today. Caught me off guard and it’s a forced holiday!” Sid tried to make a conversation. 

“Happens! Which is why we are round the corner!” She showed him to a table and continued with another one of her customers. 

Sid finally pulled himself up and looked around. The place was abuzz with such positivity and calm that it was a perfect contrast to the weather outside! And ironically enough, there was yet as much sound around. Sid found himself at ease with no one really bothered as to what his next-table counterpart was up to. He picked up a coffee book on travels in the North East and began reading. The collection of images astounded him. He got so engrossed in reading that he did not see her coming. There was nothing in particular about this morning that he had seen coming anyway! 

She put the coffee mug on his table with a Specials menu and declared “You are drenched to the last bone son. Why don’t you use our washroom and I will hand you a change of clothes! After all, the couch is getting wet too! And besides, you are welcome for a coffee again when you will return them!” 

Sid sprang up in utter embarrassment and ran to the washroom. Minutes later, he found himself fresh and dry albeit, in a rather loose cotton kurti. He was not going to complain though. This seemed like a Hindi film to him. It was still pouring and he was simply enjoying the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee and quick glimpses of her as she paced up and down busy serving the people around. It was beyond any doubt that she owned the place but what amazed Sid was the warmth and the passion she displayed, whilst at it! This was going to be an interesting start to his day!

Cuddled up in his bed that night, Sid could not imagine what was the better part of the day. Was it Ananya who was there but still wasn’t and him remembering her was now a fond memory or was it the spiced up adrak chai that made him do a little trot in the drizzle? Up until then anyway, he was enjoying on his own. The fact that his eyes got transfixed upon Pritha (he was yet to know) was a matter of pure coincidence. He had washed the clothes she gave him and hung them dry. The images from the North-East reminded him that that too was an interesting part of his visit. He promised he will go again. Not for the pictures or the book or the clothes, he would go for he wanted to see her. The next few days were going to be hectic with a few visits lined up. But he would take time out. Having lived in the city for over 5 years now, his loneliness had never bothered him as much as now. Was it age? Or was it the desire to just about have someone in life? He was almost there with Ananya. Almost. A crazy fairy-tale love story that could have ended like one but for a minor hiccup. Someone else. Not in his life but in hers.   

It had all started a year back when she started sounding a little resolute. Sid always knew what he wanted. To be with her ever since they got to know each other. She was a counselor and certainly not a girl-next-door. With dreams aiming for the stars, her pursuit of the smallest things in life had struck a chord somewhere deep within him. Beautiful, dusky skin and those expressive eyes. It ached when even today, upon eyes closed, he could see her. A year of acquaintance that quickly saw sparks flying around in all directions, he had told her that he was in love with her. So was she. She loved his writing, was galore about it and it was her idea to venture into story-telling. He did. But what he did not know was that she would not wait for his story to finish. So, things were okay..

...Up until a year back. She had become a bit of a recluse and he could see the spark fighting for life. Sometimes he felt that his conversations were not good enough for her because for him, she was the best. She had started telling him that something had begun to feel amiss. He always knew that she was too dynamic and vibrant to hold on to things that no longer interested her but the thought of her going away scared the daylights out of him. Although, he had not confessed this to her. Mature, balanced men who could take care of themselves were her kind and he was trying hard to fit. 

“Maybe we should talk”, she said. They were resting on the window pane at her apartment, a coffee cup in hand. Any other time and he would have enjoyed it, it was his favorite but today, this was his second cup and he had no clue. 

“Anything I should be worried about!?”, he quizzed. “Maybe.” She said avoiding his gaze. Those long eyelashes flickering nervously and avoiding contact meant trouble. Sid knew where this was going. He was just not ready to acknowledge and accept. “It’s been a while and I feel that maybe, we should move on. What we have……was…great!” She managed to stammer. Damn, past tense? Already? Sid thought and got up. He could no longer sit and have a coffee like tomorrow was going to be a bright morning. Mourning of some sort?? Maybe. He began pacing. 

“Look Sid, I have really loved you from the bottom of my heart and what we have is great. But the charm of it…well it feels like something somewhere is going wrong…koi train choot rahi hai..” He looked at her as if she were joking or something. He knew she wasn’t but the choice of words actually made him chuckle. That was her! That was what he was going to miss so dearly. He let her continue.

“I just don’t feel like it’s going anywhere Sid and I don’t want to hurt you. I know how you feel and you deserve someone who is more like you! Who will love you as much as you do.” She began tapping the mug with her right hand nails. The grip of her left hand on its ear tightened. Sid looked at her with piercing eyes now. He knew something was wrong. Koi train chooti thi shayad. What the hell! He thought. He had started thinking in her language. This was going to be a disaster.

She finally looked at him and took a deep breath. Her gaze was so direct and sorrowful that he stopped pacing, placed the mug on the coffee table and with both hands in the air finally dared ask “Someone more appealing?” She pursed her lips and looked at her hands. Her eyes fluttered at such glacial pace that this would have been a perfect take! 

She let out a sigh and began “You know I would never do that to you. That’s why I am confessing. The fact that this felt like going nowhere has been a sentiment much older and you have to trust me on that. I was going to confront you a while ago. He is one of my patient’s brother. We got talking as we needed to discuss the case and…well…I don’t have to get into details, there aren’t any…I mean…consequential.” She was still standing transfixed by the window all this while. Suddenly she walked towards him, placed her coffee mug on the table and in the process, knocked his down. That needed some hurrying and scurrying into the kitchen. Paper napkins, blotting, cleaning, apologies. This was all slightly blurry for Sid. He finally sat down on the couch. She sat next to him and placed her hands on his knee.

“Sid, you knew this was coming. Believe me, it has got nothing to do with Samir.”

 “Ohh, it has a name!” Sid thought. 

She continued “I don’t even know what I feel for him or for anyone else. But the fact that I don’t feel the same for you is what the trouble here is Sid. You are freaking me out by not reacting. Say something, I hope for you to understand why I am saying what I am saying!”

“There is someone else, that’s what you are telling me.” Sid thought. “Would we be having this conversation if you hadn’t met him?” He need not ask her that. The answer was a yes.  

They talked for a while after that and things were pretty clear. His initial inhibitions and reactions were justified but eventually, Sid wasn’t particularly hurt about “the other one”. Honestly, he trusted her. He knew her and the fact that she would never solemnly hurt his feelings that way. But how she felt for him differently now was also a stark reality. Acceptance was the only way out. So he did. The goodbyes were difficult. It wasn’t particularly a happy moment for her either. Deep down, she was broken too. But this had to be done to avoid a worse confrontation later. This way, they hoped to at least stay in touch.


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