Tuesday, 2 February 2010

CAFÉ COFFEE DAY

“Do you still remember the school days?” Tia asked, the oh-so-familiar infectious smile adorning her beautiful lips; her hair falling in coloured streaks behind her shoulder contrasting her beautifully carved face. This was something new because in school she was a revolt against hair colouring and now after just four years she was flaunting it as if portraying her new found independence. Tia was gorgeous in her own right but never exploited it. It was for that reason she resembled a wallflower, yet she was still too distinct to go unnoticed.
Tia paused for me to reply but when I kept staring and grinning at her stupidly, occasionally sipping coffee from my cup, she whispered: “I’m sorry Rohit, I really am.”
I was seated beside her on the cozy sofa but still couldn’t make out what she had just said. Actually I didn’t want to.

It was the third Saturday of chilly January and I was supposed to catch on the afternoon show of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, the first blockbuster movie of 2006, with Sonia, but as the temperature dropped I thought about having some coffee before picking her up from Exide More.

But now, after just fifteen minutes since entering the café, (and meeting Tia) I was consciously willing to forget everything about Sonia. I was willing to forget the days we had spent together. I was willing to forget the boisterous nights we had spent at Tantra. I was willing to forget the countless rides we took at Nicco Park. I was willing to forget the number of times we kissed while watching movies between infuriated aunties. I was willing to forget the evenings we spent watching television in her apartment. I was even willing to forget her name. But memory isn’t short-lived like the nightly companion who leaves you in the morning without even caring to say goodbye. It sticks by leaving its shadows forever.

The ambience at the Café Coffee Day, situated a few blocks from Inox Forum, right in the heart of Kolkata was in contrast to its usual self. Though it was a weekend the tables weren’t occupied and even the jukebox stood in defiance to the sudden turn of events. I was seated alone criticizing the lugubrious mood of the café, thinking why suddenly had the Kolkata crowd disowned the winter, when Tia dropped in, right back into my life without any sort of invitation, just the way she had done four years before.

“Hi, I’m Tia, where is Class X D?”
That was the best excuse she could come up with (four long years before) so as to indulge me into speaking with her, breaking my code of shyness. At that moment I had thought about pinching myself to make sure it was real, but her elegant figure just a few inches from mine grounded me in reality.

Tia and I studied in the same school, Kendrayalan, Himati being the name of our town, but hardly crossed each other’s path.Himati was a nice town located thirty kilometers from Kolkata. The place was interchangeable with almost any other small town surrounding Kolkata. Himati had the usual main street strip with the post office, hardware stores, the town hall and playgrounds sprouting every few blocks. The same families have been in the town for generations. The high school Kendrayalan was as generic as the town. It had the clearly divided social (congenial) groups and the big events at the school included football games, dances, fests, and the annual talent show. Everybody knew each other well enough in our school, which had its disadvantages. It was difficult to change yourself and you were stuck where you were in the social scene practically bound to stick with the same bunch of friends. I wasn’t particularly fond of the school and like most students, I couldn’t wait to get out of the town and head to the city.
Tia was the most sought after girl in High School and I the never-existing one.Well I still don’t understand why she had picked on me out of the innumerable interesting types. Literally I never started with the mushy gossips that we had, I was always lured into them by her animated sweet-talk. I was too conscious on those days and maybe that’s why I missed out on proposing her. I should have realized then that there is always a tide in the affairs of men.
Our friendship was limited to frivolous coquetry, always trying to impress each other but never aware of the true sensation. Maybe my usual laconic nature prevented me from reaching out but then I never regretted my decisions, until now.

“Rohit, are you listening,” Tia raised her voice a bit, her soft hands caressing my rough ones. A bolt of thunder swept through my body and I pulled back my hand in protest, startled out of my reverie.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “What were you saying?”
“Oh! You have not changed a bit, still being the overly-thinking type?” Tia giggled and spoke sipping into her cup of cold coffee.
I usually don’t understand why girls laugh at such stupid thoughts but with Tia I had always thought otherwise. I had always felt vulnerable in her presence and still fondly remember the times I stammered while speaking to her in school.
I was embarrassed to have startled to her touch, but Tia didn’t mind, after all we had never touched each other or even cared to during our school stint.
“Would you like to have something other than coffee?” I blurted out trying to keep up the conversation.
“No, thank you,” Tia replied, cleaning her lips with a tissue paper, “I’m full. I just had dinner at my aunt’s place. Anyways tell me how your life is going, how many girlfriends did you make within these four years?”
“Well…not many, just a few here and there. You know how I am.”
“Oh really! That’s great! I mean, I never thought you could go up to a girl and ask her out, you know in school, how you used to be and we used to make fun of you saying that your wife would have to make the first move on the first night.” Tia giggled once more. This time her laughter was accompanied by a smirk as if she was trying to say that she didn’t buy what I had just told. She snuggled her arms around mine, getting cozy ignoring my discomfiture.
“You don’t believe me?’ I said, literally trying to convince her, and then added as an afterthought, “You never told you discussed such gross things about me.”
“Oh just don’ mind. Those are usual girly stuffs, nothing serious.”
“Would you mind giving a sneak-preview of your so called girly stuffs and describing what else you discussed about me?” I tried my best to keep up the conversation but ended up asking stupid questions.
“Umm…nothing much, you never featured in our to-do list,” she replied coolly.
I was flabbergasted to hear this. I never thought sub-urban girls did such things, but I hid my amazement and tried to drift into serious talk.
“What about your studies? Where are you studying?” I asked.
“I’m doing my graduation from Bhawanipur College,” she replied, “Actually I wanted to take up Mass Comm…but then…anyways what are you up to nowadays?”
“Well I’m looking for a job, there are some interviews lined up next month, let’s see if it works out, till then I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” I said, feigning the fact that I had left my studies long time back and was now working at one of BPO centers, precisely Globitech Call Center.

“Wow that’s great news!” Tia was ecstatic, throwing her arms around my neck so as to congratulate me. When’s the party?”
“Oh don’t get elated ‘bout it, there’s still a month to go,” I replied skeptically. Being the same old apprehensive guy.

Four years before when I had landed in Kolkata trying to attain higher studies to fulfill my parents’ wish, it had never occurred to me that I would end up at the call center, flogging late nights, trying to lure strangers into buying stupid products. Now, after four years the all-nighters seem to have strengthened me into…umm…nothing much, but at least I’m now capable of paying my bills and leading my life with some amount of responsibility and freedom.

“So, bal aar ki khobor?” said Tia, a faint smile endorsing her dimpled cheeks.
I was suddenly struck dumb by this switch of language. Working at the call center had stripped me of my mother tongue, to an extent that even my parents had difficulty conversing me.
“Bhaloi achi, kono rokome kete jacche. Hey would you like to drop down at my place sometime?” I replied, adjusting to the language shift.
Tia glared.
“What? Are you insane?” she exclaimed, “What made you think that?”
“Wow…Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for a night stay.” I replied hysterically.
An unprecedented silence took over.

What had happened to me, why the hell did I ask her such a thing? I remember four years back when I had asked her out, she had replied in almost the same line, she always excused herself saying that her parent’s wouldn’t allow her to go out.

“Rohit, you know I’m sick of my life, everything’s getting unbearable,” Tia started, a deep frown appearing on her forehead.
“Why, what’s wrong with life, you don’t look depressed?” I said bluntly, adding, “I know life’s tough, but you never complained till now. Remember in school how optimistic you used to be and…”
“I know, I know, and forget it I’m not asking for help it’s just that I feel a bit depressed nowadays,” Tia sniggered.

I could swear she was hurt but Tia would never let a person know her true feelings and always acted stubborn, showcasing her buoyant mood.
“Would you like to tell me ‘bout it,” I said, concerned but just that wee bit.
“No, I’m okay,” she replied. “Besides, I’ve learnt to live on with it. Anyways are you still into singing?”
“Not much, its tough getting hold of the music business,” said I, “Besides, I’m looking for a job. I still have my band but now we only perform at friends’ parties.”
“Rohit, I’m still a big fan of your songs. I still remember the songs you used to sing at school. Would you sing a song for me, please?” Tia pleaded.
“A song…now! You are so good at malai-maroing,” I exclaimed, I wasn’t prepared for this sort of a request. I once more fell into her trap.
“Why, am I asking too much?” she bemused, “Come on pull up your pants, don’t be such a sissy.”

Sissy: An effeminate man or boy. That’s what the Oxford Dictionary says and maybe that’s exactly what I’ve become to her, a sissy.”

“Umm…okay,” I looked around to see if anyone was watching, the cafe looked in its forlorn best, “This is a song by C21, it candidly describes my feelings towards you, do you still wanna hear it?”
“Go on, I already know what you feel,” she snapped back.
“What do you know? But I never told you anything!” I was stunned to hear her.
“Now don’t get me late, I have a date lined up, get on with the song,” she replied, her voice striking a high note to acclaim its authority.
“Seriously, I don’t think it’s a good idea singing out here…”
“Rohit…” she shouted, staring at me as if to devour me whole.
“I mean,” I gulped, my viewpoints mixing and dissolving with the saliva, “I mean there’s no audience to applaud my performance.”
“You sing or I walk out that door never to return back,” she stood up, her face flushing with fury.
“No, no, I’ll sing, please sit down,” I pleaded, oh gosh I was giving into her just like the thousand previous times, she sat down and I stood up.
“Okay here it goes. Aahmm, Aahmm (Voice check).

Say … say it ain’t over,
‘Cause my heart is crying for you.
Down … deep down you know that,
So can you forgive me the truth?
I kept my feelings inside of me,
But now I can see.

Don’t wanna lose you.
I’m here to stay.
Did I confuse you – girl?
Believe when I say.
I never meant to,
Oh … hurt you that way
Coz I can’t take a day without you.
Here by my side.”

“Wow, you’re superb! That was amazing, thanks,” Tia exclaimed.
I sat down and said: “Tia, now that I’ve satisfied your request, you’d have to promise something to me.”
“Umm… I can’t promise anything but let’s hear your proposition,” she replied.
“Would you like to join me in the afternoon show of the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’?” I asked, cautiously.

Sorry Sonia I totally forgot about you at that point of time.

“Rohit I told you I’m out on a date, I’m here to meet Pete,” she replied, “You know Pete? He’s…”
“Ya, ya I know him,” I snapped back unable to suppress my annoyance, “Anyways I’m sorry I asked, you’d better be going, even I need to pack up ‘cause this café is freaking me out.”
I got up to pull out my wallet but she pulled me down, I stumbled back on the seat with a jolt. Her grip on my hand seemed much stronger than what I had expected.
“Rohit…Are you still angry with me? I’m sorry. I never thought we would end up this way,” Tia sighed.
“No. I’m not,” I replied loud and clear, “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with myself, I’m angry with the situations I created, I’m angry with the surroundings I created.”
“What do you mean?” Tia asked, her voice wavering with distraught.
“Listen I’m sorry,” I said, suddenly the number of sorry that we spoke were getting uncountable, “I should have told you about it long time but I never had the guts to, I Love You. I always thought you knew ‘bout my feelings but myself couldn’t express it.
As I spoke a sudden sense of calmness filled down my throat. I felt jubilated and renovated as if I had solved the greatest mystery of the world. I felt like throwing my hands up in the air and embracing Tia to make her believe. She was still, her face bored, hiding her inner thoughts. Girls are always manipulative, most of them are.

“No Rohit, it’s not possible anymore. You missed the bus long time back,” she said with the same sort of indifference.
I was stunned and stupefied beyond imagination. I seethed with disappointment but nothing could be hidden from her. Tia had this incredible ability of reading my mind. She replied: “I too had felt something for you in school but you never proposed. I always wanted our relationship to work out but it never took off. I’m sorry, now it’s too late.”
“Why would you be sorry when I’m at fault? I shouldn’t have surmised from the outward appearance, anyways I respect your decision.” I paused to regain breath. “Can we still be friends?” I asked tentatively knowing it would be of no use. I didn’t have the power to confront her decision.
“Of course we can,” she replied, her vivacious smile returning to its lost abode, “Give me your cell number and from now onwards we could constantly be in contact. Listen, don’t sulk, it wasn’t your fault, and, we both are at fault.”
“Thanks, I thought I had lost you totally. A friend like you would be truly valuable. Take down my number its 9009081111,” my heart ached with pain but my face told a different story.

Suddenly the awkwardness we had felt four years before buoyed up, formal dialogues filling the air, as if adding insult injury.

“I don’t have my cell right now, I would give you a call and let you know my number,” said Tia, taking down my number on a piece of paper. “Okay I would have to rush it’s almost three now.”
“Bye,” Tia gripped my hands for the last time, her velvety touch brushing my skin for the last item.
She left the café as swiftly as she had entered, depriving me of either inviting her or bidding her adieu. She left behind her sweet memories and the pungent odour of the deodorant, memoirs to last my lifetime. I stood up lingeringly and arched my back, paid the bill and walked out of the café.
Jon Bon Jovi had once said: “No man is an island.”
But in ‘About a Boy’ Hugh Grant says “Every man is an island, some are free others are linked on the ocean surface by island chains.”
I would go with the latter statement, we are basically islands, sometimes we are just lucky enough to meet the neighbouring island and form island chains, and some times no matter how hard we try the current just drifts the fancied island apart. But inherently we are always on the lookout to form island chains, after all we are human beings; we need backup.