Monday, June 27, 2011

A Cup of Coffee

As he steps in the coffee shop, a strange kind of heaviness falls on him. It is something which happens almost every time, but he is still not accustomed to it. Some times when his mind is occupied in some or the other thing, he would not really think about it…but when he is planning his next story or poem or when his mind is not preoccupied, like today, he feels the crushing weight of this heaviness as it descends on him and takes control of his thoughts…even before he has taken his seat, he sighs.

It is a busy evening, he can see. Almost all the tables are occupied. It is the typical crowd that he always wants to avoid…young couples sitting opposite each other, or sitting together, a small baby with some of them, sleeping peacefully in its push car. He settles down in the chair a little uncomfortably. He always has this thought that people are watching him…eyeing his every action…how he sits, the positioning of his legs, his posture, his style of keeping his hand, the clothes he is wearing, his hairstyle, the way he looks at the menu card, his style of beckoning the waiter and so on. I observe too much, he thinks regretfully. No one is looking at me. No one cares about how I am looking and what I am doing…they are busy looking into the face that is opposite their seat. But he can’t shake the thought away.

He focuses his attention on the couple sitting somewhere ahead of him. It’s a window seat, his favorite. Especially when it is raining, he likes to sit by that window and look outside to the world as it is engulfed in the myriad of shades of gray. It’s not a busy street and that is how he prefers it. It almost irritates him to see the world go past at a fast pace…he prefers to see all of it slowly…observing and drinking it all in…he especially likes to observe the empty house that is just across the street and visible from the window seat. It fills him with a sense of ecstasy and melancholy, both at the same time. I have always been fascinated by abandoned homes, he thinks. They always have a story to tell and he can let his imagination run amok as it twists and builds story after story about those who dwelled there before and what would have made them leave. In the eye of his mind, he can see the empty home just as if he was sitting on his favorite seat.

The girl is dressed in a black dress. She sits with her hands on the table, fingers clasping each other while the boy is relaxing on the comfortable sofa, legs spread in both the direction. His hair is laden with gel and is wearing shades. They are young. Probably college going, he guesses.

“Last night my mom caught me talking to you on phone”, she says shyly. He shrugs his shoulder and lets out a slight grunt. “I thought I was doomed but I covered up…” she adds, looking at him with imploring eyes. Gently her fingers let go of each other and slide towards his hands but before she can reach them he has removed them. He looks outside the window, detached. “I am sorry”, she implores but he is not looking. He adjusts his shades when a girl passes by, on her way to the ladies room. Tears well up in her eyes and she puts her handkerchief on her mouth. “For Heaven’s sake now…there is nothing to cry…” he rebukes her.

“May I take your order sir?” the waiter asks. He gets out of his trance and looks around. A waiter is standing, bowing towards him. “Give me a minute”, he mumbles and the waiter withdraws. He looks again at the couple sitting in front. The girl is not crying and the boy has taken off his shades. They are chatting and her hands are resting in his. She caresses his hand…her soft skin brushing against his tanned hand. What was I thinking, he muses. It always happens with him.

He glances at the menu and calls the waiter, who has been busying himself folding some tissue papers into neat triangles. “A double shot espresso and a grilled cheese sandwich”. The waiter repeats the order and he nods.

As he settles down once again, he feels the same heaviness come onto him again. It had been gone while he was staring at the girl and thinking in his mind of consoling words that he would have said to her…it had been a long time since he had felt a hand caress his. It had been a long time since he sat down with someone for lunch or dinner.

He transferred his attention to a pretty girl who was sitting all by herself. He sighed. All those evenings when he had sat in this very coffee shop, wishing he had someone to share his thoughts with. She glanced at her watch. Not alone, he thinks. She is waiting for someone. As if in response to his thoughts, the door of the shop opens with a tinkle of the wind chimes and in comes a boy, impeccably dressed and sits down opposite the pretty girl. She smiles.

“You are late”, she says barely able to keep her happiness at him having turned up.

“I am so sorry dear…there was this traffic jam just near the…” his voice trails off.

“I am so happy that you are here”, she says. He smiles and his hands gently and slowly tuck a few strands of her hair behind her ears. Then his fingers gently slide down her cheek…she beams. As their conversation rolls on, his thoughts take a different track.

Loneliness…you can’t really learn how to live with it…I have been living alone for the past three years yet it comes down on me like freshly brewed coffee. He recalls his college days. He never really had a lot of friends. He never understood the reason why people did not want to be with him…maybe he was too quiet and thoughtful for their taste. Or maybe they just considered him to be rude. Or maybe a little cynical. He remembered that even during college days he had this tendency to just pick a piece of paper and start scribbling his thoughts as and when they came. Others thought he was either showing off or just too weird. What they did not understand was that thoughts are as evanescent as the scent of someone dead…if you capture it, you will retain it. Once you lose it, no matter how much you try you won’t get it back again. He grits his teeth.

Maybe I was weird. Maybe they did not understand me. So what? Being different than the usual does not warrant him to spend years of life in loneliness. He had spent the college hours, sitting in some dark corner, alone with his thoughts. He sought company but people never gave him the kind of company that he needed. It was during his college days that he developed this weird habit of smelling the perfume that someone applied when they passed by. Whenever a group of girls or a couple passed by, he would take a deep breath. The smell of a girl’s perfume gave him solace and company. He knew it was gross to do so but he could not really help it. He still used to do so. The perfume filled him with a kind of ecstasy. He longed for company and he would not have it. This at least gave him partial company.

“Your order sir”. The waiter is back with a tray. He gets out of his trance. “Huh? Oh thanks”, he mutters. The waiter keeps the tray on the table and disappears.

He sits and waits for the coffee to cool a little. He never likes it hot. Not lukewarm or cold. There is this perfect temperature when the coffee has just cooled a little but is still warmer than being lukewarm…that’s how he likes his coffee. Another strange habit, he talks to himself. He takes a bite of the sandwich. It’s good, he tells himself. The cheese is adequate. Not too much and not too little. Just the way he prefers it. This is why I keep coming back to this cafĂ©, he thinks. Everything is just the way I want it to be. Only the empty chair in front of him bothers him. Wish there was someone there whom I could talk to.

He hates this feeling of desperation that he has. He hates coming to places like this. He hates sitting opposite an empty chair and he hates couples giving him a sideway look before continuing their conversation. Yet he does it again and again. For the sake of imagining. He sits there pretending that he is not alone. He is with a close friend and is in the middle of a serious conversation, over a cup of coffee. Not espresso but probably a cappuccino. And then the image fades away bringing him back to the harsh reality. He lifts his cup of espresso. He has not added even a bit of sugar. He likes his coffee to be bitter. I always have espresso, he thinks. Maybe to balance my internal bitterness with external bitterness, he thinks as he gulps down the entire cup in one go. Bitterness spreads over his tongue and in his insides. He loves it. For a moment he can forget his longing. For a moment he can be at peace with his own bitterness.

He finishes his sandwich and sits there for a minute glancing at the couples. Some are holding hands while some are leaning close to each other, as if afraid that someone might overhear their secret private conversation. He longs to share the moment with someone. If not for a long time, at least once. He gets up and goes to the counter to pay his bill. The cashier hands him the change and says thank you. He says it back and leaves.

As he is walking out, a couple is coming in. He feels his body tense a little and as the girl passes next to him, he takes in a deep breath. Her perfume is like others. The smell is sweet but to him it is one of pain and longing. He sighs and manages a grim smile.

Longingness…he muses…something to write about…

June 27, 2011

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