That first time.
It was 12.30 am and I was in a coffee shop waiting for my fourth cup of cappuccino. Sometimes in my musings, I would wonder if this is what my life is actually worth telling – midnight coffees? A feeling of self pity rushed over me and I turned back to the book I was reading.
‘Sir?’ This time a different waiter served. I murmured a thanks to him without really looking up while placed the cup on my table and left. He must hate me, I thought, but maybe not. He worked in a midnight hub. If not for customers like me, he would probably be struggling for a job with his daily mundane of classes. I am his favourite. Atleast somebody’s. There were five people, all of them men, in that not-so-tiny and well lighted cosy space. Two guys were reading their poems (or maybe songs?) to each other, in a low tone – considering my reading. Sweet. And the other two, middle aged men were in some kind of miserable discussion. Perhaps they lost their jobs too.
As I went back to my book, I did not notice somebody standing beside me. ‘Is that Shashi Deshpande?’ A low voice startled me and I looked up. I couldn’t speak. It was a woman, sorry – a girl? Like every man on earth, in a second I checked her out. No – definitely not a girl. It wasn’t like she was glamorous or something. She was pretty though – simply pretty, maybe in her mid 20’s. She wasn’t fair, but she wasn’t dark either. Wearing casual jeans with her hair tied clumsily with a clip (or what do they call – a clutcher?) and a part of it loosely brushing her left cheek, her hands inside the pockets of her light brown trench coat – she kept staring at the book on my table. ‘In the country of deceit.. Isn’t she amazing?’
I finally spoke. ‘Yea. She’s pretty amazing’.
The pretty woman nodded. ‘Sorry for disturbing. Please continue.’ She smiled and walked away to sit in a nearby booth, took her purse out, fished out her phone but only to check if it was there and called out to the waiter. After ordering a latte and some garlic bread, she looked up at him and smiled. And as he left, she nonchalantly scanned the room and caught me staring at her. She smiled again, a warm one. Maybe she had a good day. I smiled back and in a trying-hard-to-be casual kind of a way, went back to my book.
What was she doing here at 12.30 in the night! I checked my watch again. 1.30. Crap. I am jobless, I realized. Uh whatever, what was she doing here so late? Was she waiting for somebody? Or was she a pseudo-insomniac too? I looked down at what I was wearing – gym pants and grey collarless shabby looking t-shirt. We definitely weren’t on the same page. She looked tired, but the little make up on her eyes was still on. Maybe she had a really long day and was waiting for her boyfriend to drop her home or something. Or maybe go to his place..
I bit my finger and chided at my stupidity. Who the hell was I to even imagine things about her? No. That’s not the real question. Why the hell am I thinking about her at all!? It was one of those strange moments when you want to.. just – know somebody. You know that after knowing them, they might not seem so great, but you can’t help it. Does that mean, I was finding her great? What the hell was wrong with me!? It’s like adrenaline talking. Talk to her. Talk to her! What’s her name!? Fuck.
I looked at her again. She was reading some papers from a file – her hands on her chin, elbows on the table, back straight, face up, eyes down and creased brows. The waiter came back with her order. She immediately looked away from her thin stack of papers and said thank you. ‘Anything else mam?’, he asked. ‘No. But thanks. And hey-‘ She stopped him as he turned to leave. ‘how many times will I ask you to call me Kasturba?’ She smiled at him. No, not the flirtatious type. Just a smile – sweet and brief. She picked up her coffee and our eyes met again. This time I smiled and she didn’t. Maybe she thought I was a creep or something. I immediately looked away. SHIT.
I didn’t tilt my head up for the next 15 minutes. I kept skimming through the pages, reading nothing. And once I realized that I was just reading words that meant nothing to me, I motioned the waiter, from the side she wasn’t sitting, asking for the bill. After I paid, I flicked my book off the table and walked towards the door. I didn’t look back even once, to check if she was looking at me. I was hoping she would. But as I walked out and was shutting the glass door, I managed to have a quick glance at her booth. She wasn’t there and neither was her bag, just some money on the table.