The coffee spilt on the book that Shantanu was reading. The book was drenched in brown and the clean white pages looked soiled. He reponed the first page of his book only to see that the dark blue ink encrusted on the pages and the words after ‘from’ barely visible. He looked out and saw that it had stopped drizzling. ‘Good time for coffee,’ he thought. He put on his windcheater since the Mumbai rain was always unpredictable and also it was bit cold outside.
As he walked by the narrow lanes, he saw a group of women going inside a club. He saw a tall, dusky and slender woman entering with them. His heart stopped. His mind blurred. He looked intensely at her trying not to blink. She turned around. He looked at her again and his heart started beating again. It was not her.
He went to the usual coffee place. He had been going there from the time Deepika had left him. It was one of the quaint coffee shops which did not manage to get great ratings in the top food mobile aps which made the place quite peaceful for Shantanu.
He went inside and the waitress smiled, “Hi Shantanu. Shall I get you the usual?”
“Yeah, the usual Liani.”
Liani came back with the fresh expresso which she poured carefully in the cup. She had been serving coffee to Shantanu every day from the last six months. They generally greeted each other and at times Liani gave him cookies which used to be on the house by the owner. The owner at times smoked with Shantanu and discussed about his mundane life .
Shantanu saw Liani putting down her apron and walking out.
“You are done early?” He asked surprised.
Shantanu came to the cafeteria in the evenings and usually was the last customer on weekdays. He always saw Liani and the owner closing the coffee shop together.
“Yeah!” she smiled again. “Umm. It is my last week.”
“Yeah I got a job with one of the news publications.”
“That’s so great.”
It was then he realized that Liani had a very expressive eyes. He always saw her as one of the northeastern well-dressed waitress and wondered from where she was. She had long straight hair and bright skin.
“Do you want to have coffee with me?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said and disappeared behind the counter.
“Why are you a waitress?” asked Shantanu. He tried not to sound racist.
“Because I needed the money to survive. Isn’t it obvious? My father is a farmer in Sikkim and he somehow managed my college fees. We get jobs as waitress or beautician or receptionist very easily.”
Shantanu noticed that she had no make-up on her face except her eyes. She had thin soft liner on her eyelids.
“Why are you still miserable?” she asked.
“You think I am miserable?”
“It is very obvious,” she smiled again. This time his heart did not stop but skipped a beat.
“Well, I take time to get over things,” said Shantanu.
“I see,” she said and looked down and rolled her eyes.
“What? Are you being judgmental?” he asked
“Well, I think six months is too long. Maybe you are being stubborn.”
“Whoa! Isn’t it too quick to come to a conclusion for…”
“For a waitress?” she asked. He looked at her. She did not look angry but her eyes looked as if she was tired and had too many battles. Maybe everyone else had been bigoted as he had been.
“I mean for someone who does not know me”, said Shantanu softly. It had started raining again. Drops of water fell from the thatched roof on the huge hibiscus plant outside the window.
“But I do know you. I have seen you listening to Metallica and Ghazals which means you have proclivity towards music. You don’t like garlic because you took out all the garlic and placed it neatly in the corner of the plate when I once served you aglio-olio pasta and you are working in a startup because you said it yourself many times over the phone calls that you keep getting. You drink coffee in your house and you come here and again order an expresso which means you don’t like changing your habit. But I do not know why you are being so stubborn about her.”
“Maybe because she did not give me an explanation before she left me which leaves me nothing to hold on to.”
The rain was pouring by now and they both looked out. People have started running towards shelter even when they had umbrellas. The young hibiscus flower could not bear the weight of the water and fell down on the puddle.
“I tried holding on to my values which my father had taught me. When I came here it was like a foreign land and my classmates were oblivious to the life we lived in that part of the country. But, I did not change but at the same time I let go. Maybe you could let go a part of her?”
Shantanu looked at her intently as she sipped her coffee lowering her eyes.
“I know you too. I just realized that I do,” said Shantanu
“What?” laughed Liani.
Shantanu closed his eyes and said, “You don’t like Hindi item song because you cringe at times, which also makes you a snob. You like dancing because at times you twirl when you turn around and you like chocolates. I have seen you nibbling them many times.”
When he opened his eyes he could see her bright cheeks had turned red. He looked away.
“Well it is time for me to leave. I don’t know when the rain will stop,” said Liani.
“Yeah. Good luck! I am sure you will do well.”
Liani smiled and Shantanu’s heart skipped a beat again.
She opened her huge blue umbrella and disappeared on the street. He paid the owner of the coffee shop.
“You must be bummed. She was a good employee right?”
“Yes she was. But I will not be the only person who would miss her,” winked the owner.
Shantanu smiled and walked back home half-drenched. He sat down and looked at the still drenched book. It was Deepika’s favorite book which he had also read man times. He placed the book back in the shelf.
He put on Cole Porter on his laptop and closed his eyes and thought about what Liani said –Why did he go back to the coffee shop every day? He took out the receipt of the coffee shop to call the owner, he received a message – “Actually you don’t know me that well.”
“What? How did you get my number?”
“Feedback Form. You reluctantly filled it two weeks ago.”
“Well I know one thing for sure.”
“That you have beautiful eyes.”