An Evening in a Coffee Shop

by Anita Menon

It was one of those muggy, uncomfortable afternoons of a weekend. Unable to rest because of the heat and the internal turmoil going on in my heart, I was tossing and turning in bed in a futile attempt to sleep. I could see my child sleeping peacefully without stirring. I envied her. I wanted to sleep like that, talking to angels and smiling innocently. But sleep was behaving like that ever illusive  mirage; constantly appearing like paradise and then instantly disappearing. Finally, I got up, and made up my mind to head out all on my own. I left my monitoring devices such as a (broken) mobile on my dressing table, dressed up in limbo and headed out with a book and a bag in my hand. It was crispy, summery sort of day; less muggy than inside the house. Outside always felt better. Wonder why I didn’t resort to this instant mood lifter more often! I walked with a steady pace with no particular destination in mind and inspite of that headed straight to one of my favourite coffee shops. I entered the cool ambiance of the coffee shop and was greeted with the tantalizing aroma of freshly ground coffee.  The coffee shop had a coffee decor with wooden flooring that didn’t creak surprisingly under my heels, the walls were adored with brown, coffee, beige, paintings and seating was comfortable and inviting. If there was a coffee world out there in a parallel universe, it would look like this.

I settled in the tiny corner seat of the coffee shop, put my bag on the side after retrieving my book on the table. I pulled the chair out and settled down. Instantly I realized, I was in the best place possible; the vantage point. I could see the entire proceedings of the coffee shop from there. The coffee makers and the servers in their white and black uniform tired with the constant smiling they had to do, the family with a rambunctious baby in blue and white polka dot dress, a student on the extreme end, diagonal to me staring into his book, making an attempt to study with an iPod plugged in his ears, a bunch of boisterous men, high on caffeine laughing like the world was about to end and then there was me looking at all of them as if they were some lab specimens.

It was then I realized that I hadn’t ordered anything and found one of the servers smiling at me reminding of the same. I got up and made my way to the counter and ordered a coffee frappe and paid the ludicrous amount and went back to my seat. I opened the book and flipped through a couple of pages.

“Shucks!”. I said aloud. I had already finished reading this book long back. How could I not remember this? Now I was stuck with a already-read book and nothing else to do. I almost felt guilty about being in a coffee shop, without company and nothing else to do but stare at people who were constantly pouring in. I saw a young man, in a low hung jeans, hands in his pocket walking unsteadily and looking around for place to sit. He had a packet of cigarettes in his hand which he was constantly flipping between his fingers. He looked nervous and was profusely sweating. He looked up at the menu on the head-board and made an order of a coffee on the go and paid up. He took his coffee, wiped his brow with the paper tissue that came along with the coffee and headed out. He settled outside the shop, in a chair under the canopy and placed his hot beverage on the table with shaky legs. He lit his cigarette and in that moment all his features rested. He looked calm as if it was only after the first smoke ring escaped his lips that the life outside started to make sense. His mop of brown curly hair dancing in the wind.  I smiled and when he caught me staring at him,  I quickly turned by gaze back to my book, pretending to read an already-read book.

Then my eyes caught a glimpse of a striking lady, her hair tied up, walking in with book in her hand. She was red in her cheeks from walking in the heat. She fanned herself with the book when she entered, with little success. Her eyes swept the room to capture a two-seater near the window. She quickly moved like a gazelle and elegantly glided into her chair. Her flowing, summery dress was slipping off her shoulder, just a little bit. She immediately adjusted it and darted a look at the door as if she was expecting someone to come in any moment. She ordered for a frappe kind drink like mine and pretended to read. She shifted in her seat a couple of times and constantly kept looking at the door  impatiently.  Meanwhile I also noticed that her presence hadn’t gone unnoticed. The student stopped studying and was staring at her, the family with the baby was looking at her too and the bunch of noisy men went silent for a bit. She felt self conscious and arranged her dress and pulled a strand of hair back and tucked it behind her ear.  She slowly sipped on her drink and then with her index finger and thumb tried in vain, to wipe the mark that her lipstick had left on the straw.  She kept looking at the door like someone obsessed and turned the pages of her book, making dog ears on them without realizing.  Her brow creased with each passing second and she fiddled with the ring on her finger, slipping it up and down her ring finger. She sipped some more and by this time she may have looked at the door a million times.  In this time, I had finished one frappe and ordered for another one  because I didn’t want to leave just yet. The story had just got more interesting. I was curious to know whom she was waiting for so impatiently. In all that time, the baby in a blue and white polka dot dress had toppled a drink and wet the carpet, the student had stopped staring at the lady and had got back to his books and the noisy men had left.  There was no one under the canopy too I saw. The young man with his dancing curly hair was long gone. I felt a stab of disappointment for no reason at all. I wanted to know what he was doing all alone in the coffee shop and why he looked so tensed. That story will remain untold I think.  Now I shifted my attention back to the lady.

Finally, a figure cast a shadow into the shop when it was almost dusk. The lady turned her head and in that moment I caught an expression on her face that was somewhere in between jubilation and extreme anguish. She smoothed the imaginary strand on her face and tucked it behind her ear once again. She smiled, a deep, knowing smile. The man who entered was dressed in a casual summer shirt and cotton trousers. His gelled hair gleamed under the yellow lights of the shop. His back was towards me and I couldn’t see his face. He sat on chair with a casualness of someone who always late for all his appointments. He seemed to smile and since I saw the lady’s face change from one that was complaining to one that was being pampered. Innocence seemed to radiate from her face as I saw her transform from a grown woman to a child under a man’s care. He ordered something sitting from his place and seemed to know the people around. The servers nodded and seemed to understand from the wave of his hand that he wanted his regular. It was only a little later that I noticed that he had a bunch of flowers for her. I saw his hands and fingers, beautifully kept, neat and with long fingers. He sported a ring too. Maybe he was her husband I concluded. But their body language displayed the guilt of eloped lovers. This revelation piqued my interest manifold. I perked up my auditory faculties and tried to zone out all the other white noise in the background. But I was sitting too far away, and in the moment, the vantage point didn’t seem so good anymore. Though they seemed carefree, something told me that they were not. Time and again they looked around them furitively as if not to catch the eye of someone they might know.  I wanted to tell them, I know your secret, but don’t worry, its safe with me.

Their body language was the only way to decipher what was going on in their talk. They were nodding, laughing, smiling endlessly. He wrote something for her on a tissue and she read it and she wrote something down and he laughed. They played the game for several minutes quite forgetting their beverages. He took her hand and pretended to looked at her lifeline (probably to see any mention of him on it) and she searched his face for something which is found quickly and smiled to herself. He tried to thrust the bouquet of flowers into her hands but she refused to touch it. My first instinct was to conclude that she was allergic to flowers but then I was proved wrong in the next second when he plucked a singular rose out of the bunch and gave it to her. She took it with much grace and quickly put it safely away inside her purse. Problem solved. Both of them got up and this time I saw the man’s profile and he seemed a lot younger than the lady. He  plucked the bouquet from the table and handed it promptly to the girl over the counter in the most gentlemanly way and told her to accept it. The girl over the counter beamed. She must have kicked herself for not offering him a discount in the first place. The man led the lady by holding her from her back with his right hand and opened the door for her to get out.

That was the last I saw of both of them as they walked together, throwing their heads back and laughing. The sun’s last golden rays falling on their faces to illuminate their features, capturing their joy forever in my mind.

I jolted back to reality after riding the horses of my imagination and I realized it was getting dark. I picked up my stuff and dumped everything into my bag, thanked the still-beaming over the counter girl and made my way out of the coffee shop where I bumped into none other than the guy with dancing curly hair. He smiled at me and I smiled back.

We went our separate ways.

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