by Bob D’Costa
That evening he calls her. As her cell phone rings on the other side, he nibbles his lower lip, turning his head from one bookshelf to the other with quick looks. Impatience glows in his eyes as he switches the machine to his left ear and back again to his right. Where is she? Why is she taking so long to take up the call? He begins pacing about.
“Hello.” Her voice sounds after some seconds but to him it’s been hours.
“Hi. I was wondering what took you so long?” he makes an effort to control his anxiety.
“No, I was feeding clothes into the machine. And it took some time to realize the phone was ringing.” Her voice is slow and measured.
“Did you reach home on time?” he doesn’t know what to say but says something, anyway.
“Yes I did. Though quite a lot of traffic was bottle-necked at the Park Circus point of the A. J. C. Bose Road flyover.”
“Oh, is it?”
“Yes. An accident. Another youth committing suicide. It disrupted the entire traffic system.”
“Rachnee, let these not bother you too much, you know.” He allows his words to sink into her mind. Perhaps this way she will feel at ease. “By the way, can you keep some time free tomorrow?” Then without waiting for her to answer, he says, “Actually, I was wondering if you could come to this side of the city and join me for coffee.”
“Umm…” A lot of umms later she asks, “What time do you think would be good?”
“Let’s say ten, if that’s okay with you.”
“Umm,” as she weighs the time, he pictures her looking out of her window and considering. “I think that should do fine.”
“Then meet me in Café Coffee Day at Ekdalia’s.”
He can hardly get healthy sleep at night, what with the picture of the bother in her mind standing out in his mind now. And along with this, the coffee-meet tomorrow.
He tosses and turns from one side of the bed to the other in excitement. Then he sits at the edge, looking out through the window at the street ahead. The street lamp has shone on the quiet street. He can see the yard of the house across and exactly opposite his. On the sky blue tiles he thinks he sees a shadow, no two shadows – that of a man and a woman. No, how can that be? It’s all in my mind – the smoky beings. The male with a silver stud and the woman with earrings and a choker gently clasped around her throat.
He lies down in a short while.
When he wakes up, light is streaming into the room through the curtain.
The coffee shop at Ekdalia is situated at a side street and is a some kilometers away from his town house. He decides to walk all the way. If he feels the weather is his friend, then why not? The air is light and crispy, quite strange and contrary to the April month. Perhaps the smoky beings have conjointly decided to grace this day. His and her day.
Yes, Bruce and Rachnee’s day.
He feels light-hearted. He sees his heart flying.
Cars zoom past. Most shops are yet to pull up their shutters. Smart young men with gelled hair and young ladies with smooth faces and striped shirts saunter out of the HSBC Bank, files in hand. A middle aged lady, attractively confident in her walk is being checked with a metal detector at the entrance to the Pantaloons store.
Young working ladies in white tops and black skirts six inches above the knee wait for the air-con buses at Gariahat crossing. Above the roadside eatery to the left, its name – China Town – appears in red. It is only occupied by two ladies sitting on red blow-plast seats, with the same kind of dress, having noodle soup. Their mouths move more with the conversation they are involved in than with the food. One of them picks up a sauce bottle with her left hand with precision and Bruce observes, gently taps it above the spoon on her right hand, as if throwing a spell, Only two drops, only two. But three fall, and her friend produces a full-throated laugh, loud and clear.
A light laugh escapes from him at the sight as he crosses the eatery. Ahead the pavement turns to Ekdalia Road. He must enter the CCD ahead.
Save one lone man with salt-and-pepper hair with his nose into the T2, the café is empty. Light music emanates from the four speakers, the sound of the kettle drum followed by the rhythmic strikes on the cowbell distinct in his ears.
At the door, he debates whether Rachnee would prefer the chair or the cane couch. The couch would be cosier. He takes the double one at the corner with the glass door hidden from view, yet the entire café within one sweep of the eyes.
It’s nine fifty-eight by the digital clock on the wall when the door opens. Someone with a white sleeveless dress and black roman sandals; someone with a light streak of kajal on the edge of the lower eyelids; someone with straight open hair till the shoulders steps in.
A light smile plays on her parted lips and the teeth sparkle as, locating Bruce, she comes and stands in front of him. He rises, offering the empty place next to his. The smell of wet hair lingers in the air around her. She is a lily bathed by sea water watched by the moon shining on the rocks.
“It was by luck the air-con bus arrived on time.” She sits. “If not I would have been late.”
“That doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s not school.”
She smiles at his remark.
Confused as in how to start the topic, he allows the conversation to drift in its natural course.
“It was quite depressing yesterday.” She is looking at the poster on the wall.
He nods but waits for her to continue.
“The ghastly news of Samita, followed by the suicide on the road.”
He nods again. “I know. It’s quite shocking. What a loss for her parents.” He visualizes the old lady, with hollow looks. “There was this old lady, perhaps Samita’s grandmother. She had this sorrowful look. Mingled with this sadness, was certain pain etched on her face.” He pauses, then looks into her eyes. “How painful do you think it is for a grandmother to see her grand-daughter’s dead body?”
Rachnee discovers his face too is filled with pain. “I understand,” she says. “Try to forget it.”
He gives a slight nod, his eyes at the LED screen on the wall. “You too have to forget all this, Rachnee.” He looks at her. Think of all the good things life has to offer.”
“Yes, I know. I’m trying to.” She stops.
The waiter is standing.
“Yes, what would you like to have?” Bruce asks and slides the menu towards her.
“An apple juice.”
“Anything else? A Black Forest or something?”
“A brownie is fine, but it will be heavy.”
“No worries, we’ll share it.” He turns to the waiter. “One apple juice, one cappuccino medium and a Brownie.”
“I’ve almost forgotten about mother. But it’s so difficult at times.” She looks away, staring at the opposite wall.
Bruce shifts his leg and straightens them under the table, finally leaning back on the back cushion. “You may not tell me anything if it makes you uncomfortable.” He pauses, looking at the wall too. “But if you think it will lighten your burden, I’m always there.”
She coughs, and when she turns her face and her eyes meet his. They are misty. “The best part of mom was her voice. It had all the medicines to cure you.” Her mind is trapped in her eyes, and they take her to an earlier landscape. “I remember I was six years of age. I came back from school feeling unwell. My mom checked me. High fever. She called up the house physician. He checked and found I had chicken pox. My fever rose to nearly 102 that day. Medicines brought down the fever, but the headache remained. I lay in Mom’s lap and her fingers ran through my hair, as she said, Rachnee, I’m here. Everything will be okay, Baby. I didn’t know when I had fallen off to sleep. When my eyes opened, it was night. Some faint murmur reached my ears. Turning my head, I found I was still in mom’s lap. The murmurs were emanated by her as she continued repeating, Rachnee, I’m here. Everything will be okay, Baby. It was like someone was constantly praying to God, like a monk telling the beads of rosary, but repeating the same mantra over and over again at every bead, determined and fiercely confident that the prayers will be answered.” Rachnee stops to look at her hands. “The medicines and rest cured me of the chicken pox. But the strength I received from Mom’s words was incredible. So,” she looks at Bruce. “I always tell myself, everything will be okay.”
She looks away again. Bruce rests his hand on hers and gives a gentle squeeze.
“If you know someone close to you has passed away is something,” her head is still turned the other side. “But to know someone has left you and gone, and has not contacted you for the last nine years is something else. You don’t know whether that person is alive or not.” She blinks, and tears roll down her eyes. Bruce, overcome with emotion, puts his arm around her, and she rests her head on his shoulder. “But my dad is a cool dad. You know what I mean. He’s so patient. He tells me, ‘Rachnee do what you think to be correct. Use your rational senses. You are nineteen, and I’m sure you will take the correct step.’ When I told him about my staying in the condominium to save my time and energy, he simply told me to go ahead. Isn’t he a cool dad?” and she looks at him.
“Of course he is, without a shade of doubt.”
The coffee, fruit juice and the Brownie arrive with melted chocolate sauce dripping from the little brown mountain. The music and the snack ease the atmosphere as Bruce and Rachnee dig in.
She looks up after helping herself two spoonfuls. He watches her take the paper napkin and move it at the corner of her lips. Her right leg crossed over the left and the right foot tapping the air. The muscles of the face are relaxed, her hands loose on her lap. All in all, her eyes radiate a warm glow of peace.
“And what about you, teacher?” she asks, putting the spoon on the plate. “How many siblings?”
“I’m the only one in the family. I mean I stay on my own.” He relates about the tiff with his father and leaving home.
“And how are they now? I mean your parents.”
“I left home seven years ago, and haven’t contacted them since then.” He takes a sip from the cup, then adds one more sachet of sugar. “I’ve thought at times to visit mother.” He sips. “My mother was an excellent cook. My favourite dish is vindaloo. Have you heard of this dish? It’s a Goan dish, made with meat. It’s the vinegar that gives it the speciality it is so famous for. What’s your favourite dish?”
“That’s a good idea to go pay a visit to your mother. Mother is always a mother. I think I know it better than most people.” She looks out. “And yes, we Sikh Punjabis have a variety of tastes. But personally, chicken bharta is my favourite. So also is makai di roti.” She pulls from the straw. “And your other favourite will be composing poems I’m sure. You must be planning on your fourth book.”
He smiles at the way she puts it. “Sounds like family planning. Married to a woman named Writing. And now planning for the next child. In that case, the list of children will be endless.”
She smiles at this man next to her. More of a friend than a teacher. A special friend. He stirs in my heart a strange song with raw grammar in it.
As if he could understand her thoughts, as if the two smoky beings take charge in his head, he says, “There’s so much to live for, Rachnee. Every day is a new day.”
He wants to say You make a new day newer. But all of a sudden his eyes fall on the table across. The pair of shadowy beings he had seen the first day and last night is playing a game of cards. The same accessories adorn their bodies, and the tattoo of a brief on the male’s chest and that of a panty on the female’s right breast.
Bruce turns and looks at Rachnee. She is staring in front at the table too.
“Did you see?” And she looks at him.
“But… it’s us.” Rachnee gapes. “Their faces.” She speaks out so loud that the man at the other table turns his head towards them. Rachnee lifts her hand. “Sorry.” Turning her face to Bruce, she whispers, “Look at them.”
The smoky twosome rests their cards on the table. The woman touches the man’s cheek. The man smiles and puts his arms around the woman; and he touches her lips with his. She responds and wraps her hands around him and very soon both are closed in a warm embrace, kissing each other, looking into each other’s eyes and kissing again. In a moment too soon, the smoke around them begins fading. The figures, still holding each other in an amorous embrace and still kissing, become invisible. All that remains is the empty table and the empty cushion.
Bruce and Rachnee look at each other. Realizing her mouth open, she closes it but the language of surprise is still painted in her eyes.
Bruce rests his hand on hers. “Rachnee, you know what we have discovered?” He whispers with excitement and waits for her face to fill with more surprise. “Rachnee, I thought it was only me who has been seeing this. But now it’s you too.”
“What is it? Who are they… and we there?”
“Those two are the projection of our thoughts. Yes. And it simply means we can understand each other. We can read each other’s thoughts.” Seeing her leaning back but with the same surprise on her face he says, “Not always, though.”
Things seem to fall into place. “Your dream of the pair of jeans. And my dream of bits and pieces of your jeans falling in my palm.” Rachnee is in a daze.
“Yes. That’s the common connection.” Bruce’s words come out in a trance. “But I don’t know what is right and what is wrong. All I can say is now you too have seen the smoky beings.” He places his elbow on the table. “Only the other day I saw these two beings in the CCD of the Race Course. It only shows that our minds are somehow connected.”
“You saw them earlier?” Her eyes widen, and her mouth opens. “What did you see?”
“They were playing cards, dressed in the same way.” He pauses. “The upper portion of their bodies bare, and with only a brief and a panty.”
“Did they remain quiet?”
“They simply looked at me. And of course playing a game of cards.” Bruce doesn’t desire to leak out their predictions. If she has to, she might hear them talking to her.
In the quietness that descends between them, the only sound is the thump of the octo-pad from the speakers. The horoscope forecast in the television is filled with so much loud colour that it seems to audibly hit out and fill the café with cacophony. Rachnee too is glued to the screen. Then she smiles at him.
He is conscious of something, she thinks.
She is conscious of something, he thinks.
And both smile.
“You are thinking of me?” she asks.
He nods. “And you of me?”
“Conscious of something?” Both speak the words together. And they smile.
“I can’t seem to get over this,” Rachnee is still in a daze. “What are we to do now?”
“Well, I think we should continue with our normal work. I mean not do anything challenging as in run up to the Gariahat flyover and jump down as if to grow wings.”
Rachnee nods, adding after a while, “What do you think I thought a moment ago?”
“Umm… you first of all said everything will be okay; then what to do next?”
“Right.” A big smile of triumph lights up her face.
“And what did I think we should do now?” Bruce smiles a little.
“Go for a walk to the Dhakuria Lakes.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
He pays the bill and very soon they have crossed the side streets and turned right at the next crossing.
“It beats me why the weather is so cool today,” Bruce says to Rachnee and also to himself, but still looking at the ripples sparkling.
“I think,” Rachneeturns her face towards him, “it’s because we were destined to meet the God and Goddess of Love… I mean the smoky pair… called… do you know what I intend to name them?”
“Um… Brief and Panty, that’s what you thought of right now, didn’t you?”
“Yes. And yes. And yes. Yaaaaaay!” The last expression is controlled, meant not for anyone but for the two of them.
“We are the thought readers.” He smiles at her reaction. Pure. Simple. And spontaneous. “But why such a name?”
“Because whenever I picture them ever since, their inner wears stand out in prominence.”
A boat comes sailing by. And they stop to watch it. Two rowers move their oars in unison, their bodies arching forward, their hands in a firm grip on the oars. When they pull at the oars, they push their bodies back with all strength.
“It’s concentration, and unity. These are the twin factors married in this case,” he says. “See how the legs are bent at the knees, but they loosen up when the punters bend forward, and they tighten when the oars are pushed backwards.”
Another one comes a little behind. It’s a group of four ladies. They too move well, the concentration on their faces appearing on their firm jaws as their minds listen to the caller calling out the numbers to heave and push the oars.
“See there.” Rachnee’s eyes are at the water. “Concentrate at one ripple from the bank. See how it goes all the way up and touches the greenery beyond.” Bruce watches her eyes. They have caught one ripple, and as the ripple moves, so do the pair of eyes, following it. The eyelids raise themselves with the ripple moving further away. “It has gone all the way to the trees ahead.” She gives a running commentary in her South-East Asian accent. “It reaches further ahead, moving close to the trees standing all alone as they wait for their friend, the lonely ripple to take itself to them.” Rachnee pauses. “The trees can’t wait for their friend any longer. And now the excitement builds further. The ripple gets mingled with the other ripples and they move along in unity towards the trees. And, yes the trees, arms stretched towards the water, hold the ripple and wrap it to themselves.” She looks at Bruce with triumph on her face, similar to a mountaineer reaching the summit.
They don’t realize how two and a half hours have passed.
She is looking at the island ahead. “I think it’s time I proceeded homewards.”
He nods at her.
They cut through the grass and out of the gate close to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium crossing from where Lake Gardens neighbourhood falls to the left. At the bus stop, her phone rings.
“It’s dad,” she looks at him. “Yes dad… Should be home in an hour at the max… Okay.”
She turns to him. “Dad is an expert cook. I mean for us, so he’s making Rogan Josh and prawn fried rice. He hardly gets me at home, you know with his night shift and my leaving in the morning and returning after dusk by which time he already leaves for work.”
“But once you’ll shift to the condo, he won’t get to see his daughter much.”
“Yes, I know.” She bends her head sideways for the oncoming vehicles but none of them is her bus. “I’ll have to go back on Saturday evening, or Sunday early in the morning, I guess. Sunday is dad’s off day. So I’ll leave for school on Monday straight from home.”
The air-con bus arrives by then. “See you soon,” and she smiles.
She is in the bus in no time, waving at Bruce from her seat, her teeth a sparkle, her beautiful eyes watching him standing as she continues waving and craning her neck when the vehicle moves further away from him.
Editor’s Not on Café Coffee Day:
This is an extract from Love Story of Bruce and Rachnee by Bob D’Costa. This remodelled version will be soon out from Amazon.com via Bangkok Books
Café Coffee Day is not the first piece by Bob D’Costa published in Eastlit. His previous pieces are: