This is the niche cafe that I frequent these days, now that I can afford it. Its ambience is subdued without being dull, the music filling the space without blocking the mind. This cafe has a selection of books (not glossy magazines) and a fairly comfortable range of sitting arrangements from the low divans to high backed chairs. My personal favourite of course is the huge single couch by the window, and when I find it already occupied I just prefer to sit cross-legged on the rug, by the bookshelf. And without doubt, they serve the very best cappuccino whose aroma fills my lungs with the love of life. They even do my initials with the creamy froth on top of my favourite beverage.
No-one bothers me here; the service is polite and thoughtful, yet discreet & unobtrusive. Being the loner I am, this cafe suits me perfectly.
As I take my first tentative sip of my cuppa of an Arabic coffee I am trying today, I happen to glance up and my eyes inadvertently & immediately collide with the eyes of a man I know I have seen before. He is amazingly good looking and I wonder why I have such a harsh feeling nagging at the back of my mind. He takes no notice of me and drags his attention back from me to read his newspaper.
I continue my love affair with my Cafe Arabica and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth” but my mind is restless today. Somebody shouts from across the room giving specific instructions for her Eskimo Mocha. This disturbs everybody as such outbursts are deplorable given the overall ambience of the place. Then it strikes me, a gush of memories not so very long ago. Seems like yesterday.
We were doing our graduation and always hung out in a gang. One of our favourite hang outs was ‘Hari Kripa’, a modest coffee joint if you could call it that. It was actually just a shabby garage converted to a tea and coffee and snacks outlet with a few creaky wooden benches & tables without cloth thrown in. The place reverberated all the time with the non-stop chatter and laughter of college going students like us whose never ending appetite combined with meagre pocket money kept them permanently bonded with precisely such a haven.
She was a frequenter too, the girl with the most outrageously indecent sense of wardrobe and the loud irritatingly shrill voice. She would come in flaunting her handsome (too good to be true) boyfriend. It was not meant to be a secret that they were having a roaring affair which was most unfair to girls like me who were still unattached and prided ourselves with better taste in life than that bitch. Well, I say ‘bitch’ because we all called her that behind her back, not just because we were jealous sick (which was true) but also because she deserved it. Not once did she miss a chance to humiliate and taunt us, she would scream and bark orders at the poor waiters all the time and at one instance I distinctly remember her hurling her plate at a trembling new boy whose first day it was just because he had served her table last. So ‘bitch’ sounded good and how we all waited for her boyfriend to finally realise the universal truth and dump her!
Sometimes unspoken thoughts come to life and unbelievable dreams come true, but why does it happen to be the wrong ones? We all had finished our last exam that day, which was statistics practical and had come to ‘Hari Kripa’ to let down our hair, relax, gossip, argue.....the usual. The head waiter Motilal came to our table grinning from ear to ear and barely managing to conceal his excitement; he whispered in a hoarse confidential tone that the boyfriend had at last ditched her. It seems according to reliable sources (this was declared triumphantly as if our Motilal was the only person who had relied on such inevitable turn of events) that he had actually being using her throughout just to entice and seduce her friend ( it seems she actually had one) and having achieved his target, he has forgotten her very existence and did not even think it necessary to inform her. He belonged to a different class, a league above her. She had served his purpose and he had no further use of her.
Time passed. We saw no more of the girl or her Greek God (ex) and found new ways to entertain ourselves, new people, events, and ideas to talk about. One day, around three months later, while waiting for a bus, I saw her again at the bus-stop. She had been crying. Since she was alone at the stop before I came, she had made no effort to conceal her tears, and even after I arrived, and stood silently praying and willing my bus to arrive fast, she still cried......like a baby. I don’t think she was even aware of my presence. I followed her gaze inside the gift shop window across from the bus-stop and saw the handsome face weaving his charm on a petite girl with lovely hair (I could just see her back) I don’t know why my heart broke then. I guess I had not realised that she had been actually in love. Just because she was cheap, promiscuous, ill-spoken, ill-mannered, it had been very easy for me to discard her affair, very difficult to accept that love is, after all love, no matter who feels it. This girl did, with her heart and soul. Her man clearly didn’t. He had opened the envelope and discarded it without thought, once its served its purpose.
I drain my Arabica and get up. I drag myself back to the present; I have a client to meet in half an hour. As I pay my bill and get up, I feel his eyes look me up. This time, he does notice me, he smiles......charisma overflowing. I am sure he attracts many others who are mesmerised by that charm. They stare at him, waiting to engage his look. I head for the door and just as the attendant wishes me a good day (which he always does), I am driven by a deep primitive impulse and throwing away in one shot all the accumulated esteem and affluence of the intervening years which had made me graduate from ‘Hari Kripa’ to 'Cafe Sunshine’, I turn back and looking straight into his eyes I yell out ‘Fucking bastard!’
As I walk out into the blazing summer afternoon, leaving behind forever a shocked, scandalised sanctuary, I am sure I hear that innocent girl sitting by the window mutter under her breath “What a bitch”!