Translated By Priya Arun
The name displayed on my phone was enough to wipe away the slightest hint of sleep in my eyes. I grabbed the phone, sat up in a hurry but answered the phone with a pretense of coolness, “Yes Shraddha!”
“Are you in love with me?”
Now, that was something I hadn’t expected from her. I didn’t know what to say. Before I could realise, I had blurted out a ‘yes’. Woah! That was quite fast. There wasn’t any response. I kept calling out, there was complete silence. I knew she hadn’t hung up. I then heard a crackly voice, “Let’s meet tomorrow evening at Nungambakkam... Coffee Day,” she said before hanging up.
I was thrilled to bits. My heart was in my mouth. Tomorrow evening...that was a good fifteen-plus hours away. What would I do until then? I couldn’t go back to sleep after the phone call.
I did go to work but couldn’t really get much done. Her name was booming in my head with complete stereophonic effects. Her lovely curls, her over-sized earrings made dreamy appearances in my mind. I couldn’t wait till the evening. I landed there way before the fixed time.
Found a nice corner table and looked around. The place was packed with young people—large groups and couples. Cuss words flowed around the boys as easily as coffee. Did I hear someone say “Oh fuck”, really loud? The girls laughed louder, yet there was a finesse in the way these people ate and drank. Some of them went out for a smoke. There was an uninhibited, public display of camaraderie and affection between the boys and the girls—warm hugs and back-slaps. That was the first time I’d been to that place and I was transported into a whole new world. I browsed through the menu. Man! 50 bucks for a cup of coffee? I discreetly checked my wallet. I had 300 bucks with me.
My cellphone beeped with a text.”Are you in CD?”. I replied in the affirmative. Within minutes she appeared there, looking gorgeous as ever, in figure-hugging jeans and a loose fitting tee. The giant loops had given way to tiny ear-studs this time. In a seeming victory against the wild curls, she had managed to bunch them all up. (Wonder how she really does that.) With a snarky sounding ‘Hi!’ she came towards me and filled my space mercilessly with her mint fragrance, as she sat down in front of me.
She pored over the menu as if it were a research paper on coffee, while at it, I caught her snatching a glance of me now and then. I didn’t know what to say. I have never been so tongue-tied. I asked “What shall we have?”
“Cappuccino?” she replied. “I think you should get one for yourself too. It’s really good here.” She didn’t wait for my response and placed an order for two cups of cappuccino. Aha! She was bossy! But I didn’t seem to mind much. I rather seemed to like the attitude...it conveyed a sense of belonging, perhaps? She started drinking the coffee as soon as it arrived. “Have you ever had cappuccino before?” she asked. I kept looking into the cup. The froth on the mug had a lovely heart-shaped pattern. I didn’t want to stir the coffee up and upset the pattern. She peeped into my cup and sniggered, “Getting all mushy-feely is it?”
She continued, “I know these things. Only those who claim to be in love feel sentimental about these silly things. Are you in love with me? Oh yes, you already said you did. But tell me, how did you manage to do that so soon? Especially after our first meeting ended the way it did? If we were characters in a movie, yes, we’d both be madly in love by now. But you know what...Indian men only want to get physical with girls. And especially if a decent-looking girl like me is a little friendly, all that the men think of is taking it to the next level. They think love is all about getting intimate. As if just one night together would solve the great mystery of love once and forever,” she said with a sarcastic giggle.
“Umm..look, I really like you. But I don’t think it’s romantic at all. I don’t want to avoid you just because you are in love with me. The moment I have the same feelings of love towards you, we will be a couple. But until then, let’s just be friends. Okay?”
I looked at her in disbelief. What the hell was she saying? One night stands, is that what men thought of? “Look Shraddha. Your beliefs might hold good for the people in your USA. But such things don’t happen here. There are men who wait for their woman all their lives. They will do anything for that woman. You might not understand these feelings now. You can’t even imagine the power of true love. I don’t need a lifetime. Even a day is sufficient to prove how much I love you. I don’t know about you but I’m very sure about my feelings for you. Fine, for now, let’s be friends like you suggested. But then I will continue to be in love with you. You can’t stop me.”
“Great! Sounds like a deal! Yes, if I end up feeling even the slightest tinge of romance, you will be the first to know about it. Until then, friends,” she said and quickly asked, “Will you please drop me in Annanagar?”
So, we went. She casually held on to my shoulders. It felt good but I ensured a decent amount of distance between us. She started talking about herself during the ride. She said she’d lost her mother at a young age, that she grew up with her father and her older brother, that they own a pharmaceutical firm in the US and that she lived alone in Chennai. She also spoke at great length about her love for cinema, Kamal Hassan, Manirathnam and went on with a long list of her likes! It felt nice to see her that excited about so many things. And a couple of times, In her excitement, I found her coming really close to me and speaking into my ear! It felt magical to feel her that close to me, her lovely curls brushing against my cheek. I don’t remember me being so quiet ever.
As we reached the round-about, she asked me to stop and pointed towards an apartment. “F-4, that’s where I live,” she said, hopping off the bike. “Fine, let’s catch up tomorrow.” Without warning, she pulled me close and planted a quick, tight kiss on my cheek and rushed into the apartment building. She turned back, flashed a huge smile and waved me goodbye. That little imp!