Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Cafe Evening

The music melts into the ears as an integral part of the decor. The lights seem to reflect my moods, or does it define them? The sunlight which comes through the frosted glass panes, that open up to the busy thoroughfare, is the only sense of time, that one can feel inside. Twilight seems to stretch infinitely, even in the cold wintry evenings, slowing down time, as if the laziness inside seems to affect the celestial order.

The large porcelain coffee cup stares into my face. I always love my coffee dark. That's the way I have always had it, since my awkward "fresh off the boat" experimentations. The waitress knows this. She never asks. Her warm smile has a familiarity that separates her from the tons of other smiles that one encounters at the more big, professional stores.

I never put sugar in my coffee. It somehow gives me the odd feeling of trying to artificially sweetening the bitterness. Is coffee bitter? or probably its the inner bitterness that just talks to you in your most solitary moments. Have you noticed your coffee speaking to you? Doesn't it taste different on drowsy weekday mornings, when the dread of the impending work, as well as last night's fatigue, fights against the caffeine in your mind? Or when the day's 7th cup on the "day before the deadline" suddenly gives that odd feeling making you want to throw up?
But this coffee is different. It seems soothing. The fatigue of the weekdays melt away as you feel the evening is going to last for ever. The quiet sips, and the words of your book, they will go on and on. Neither sleep, nor the watch will intrude.

The white porcelain cup is stained with coffee drops, creating strange patterns. The fluid dynamicist in me is amused. I gaze into it for some time, then go back to my book. Tension is building up within the characters in my novels. I look up again. I need a break. I turn my head an notice my neighbors. The strange unfamiliarity that surrounds unknown faces, the blankness that reveals nothing, makes me think, if they can ever be characters in a book? If they can ever express the variety of emotions, if their lives were ever touched by most incredulous people, the most weird events, if their eyes can tell stories of lands far away?

The girl beside me is typing away in her computer, what is perhaps a school assignment. She never does the occasional "looking up" act. Her eyes are staring at the screen intently, from behind those nerdy,minimalist glasses, that you often encounter in engineering grad schools. Her nails are unkempt, and her dress seems so hastily put up that you would imagine she went out of the house in a great hurry.

There's a woman at the table to my left. Her thick glasses and age that speak through the wrinkled patch of skin around her eyes, tell of a life spent in intense scholarly pursuit. I take a peep at the book lying in her table. Its the obscure stuff that is the holy grail of liberal art academics, and wannabe intellectual parties, where they are blurted out with little understanding. Beside her is the so-familiar "Shantiniketan Jhola", that great hallmark of Indian intellectual tradition.

The chair beside that hosts an younger man with a athletic build. He is the adventurer guy, the one who hikes in mountain trails, goes to unknown arid lands, and would probably tell you tales of his treks in mount Kilimanjaro or about smoking grass somewhere up in the icy confines of the mighty Himalayas, if you strike up a friendly conversation with him. The very light hint of the golden beard gives a certain softness to his face when the light falls on it. He is sifting through a book of photographs. Its like the ones you see in National Geographic magazines. He has a camera beside him, on the table, the one whose complicated design assures you of its infinite powers of optical trickery.

There's an young couple to my right. Dressed immaculately, both of them have a glass of hot chocolate in the table. They talk softly, as if of great secrets, and carefully hidden wisdom. Their hands often touch, hinting at that charming unfamiliarity of strangers just fallen in love. A pair of sleek mobile phone lie on the table, its screen brightening up at intervals, announcing ethereal communications, from acquaintances elsewhere.

My eyes travel again to my book. I take a sip at my coffee. The last sip is all that is left. I always take the last sip, unlike the "tea tradition" that I had learned from my father. I get up ot order the second cup. The waitress' familiar smile welcomes me.