As soon as I entered the cafeteria, the time came to stand still. Everything has been same since last 10 years at this place.
The only thing which has changed is couple of faces & their expressions over the years. I still remember when I used to come over here during my college days with my friends & we were not so welcomed guests in this busy cafeteria.
I made my way through the busy tables and arrived at my corner table next to window. Why this table? Well let’s not get into details of that… but I have never ever in last 3 years I have rarely sat on any other table expect this one. If the table has been occupied I would have perhaps waited for the table to be freed before I could occupy the table with plain white cloth & red borders & a flower vase with lilies exactly in the center of the table.
But it’s not the table which brought me here always. The reason for coming here always has been personal & special. & today it is even more special.
I ordered a soft drink with one plate of French fries; with my current health conditions, these were not the ideal snacks for someone, but today I chose to take a little liberty; hoping that neither my body nor he would mind
I took the first sip of drink & I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, and seven…” & by the time I reached one… he was right there on opposite side of table, smiling at me & that smile… I tell you… was something to die for…
“Happy anniversary”, I was the first one to break the silence,
“Happy anniversary dear”, he responded.
I tried to avoid the topic of oily French fries, but he was not in a mood to let it go without a complaint.
What are you doing? Do you realize how unhealthy it is for you? You are not at that age to have such stuffs? When will you grow up?
Well I guess.. I’m still young enough to be proposed by you once again.. I tried to counter his allegations.
He smiled, just smiled looking continuously into my eyes. It’s like he said thousand words without saying a single word.
Every time we made any arguments.. he always won with his smiley silence, resulting a whole new record of not any winning conversation from my side. So I guess nothing was new this time & he again won my heart with his smile.
“What would you like to have”? I asked him, pushing the crippled menu paper
“Nothing, I’m already done & obviously I’ll not have whatever oily junk stuff you are having right now”.
I pretended that his voice did not reach me in the noise of the cafeteria & continued to enjoy the taste of fries with sauce before the plate was snatched from me.
He looked around; “Nothing has changed in this place? Do you remember the day when I proposed to you? We sat right here on this table in silence & anxiety”
I smiled. “Of course I remember… you were so nervous that you nearly dropped the flower vase twice & spill the glass of water & completely drenched yourself in the process”
He laughed, “Oh yes, and I stammered twice while saying the three golden words.”
“Thank God that I managed to say those three words; & I was nervous because I realized that you already knew about my feelings.” – He said.
I said “From that day, we kind of created a relationship with this place. We have celebrated countless events of our life over this table since years; like our anniversaries; when we had our kids; when we had our first fight, when we got our first home and so many.”.
“Well actually not all events were celebrated… have you forgotten what happened to our first anniversary?” – he said
I smiled, “Yes I do. I waited at this table for three hours here; and you didn’t appear. I then went back home; thinking that this marriage was a mistake”
“And later I realized that you were busy searching streets for my favorite single red rose; which you could not get because of curfew in the city. I was so ashamed of myself that when you called me I couldn’t even say ‘sorry’; & more embarrassing was when you saw my personal diary in which I wrote about divorce thing.”
“But after that day although you have been late… but never forgot our anniversary.” – I said
“do you remember my goa trip?” – he teased me. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing so loud that people around the table started watching me.
“ofcourse I remember…I packed your luggage & went to drop you at the gate”
“yaaa…. Ok… I forgot to put your tickets & you had come back from airport to collect the ticket & to add spice to the wound, you saw me smiling & you thought I did it intentionally. it took my quite a while to convince you that it was not a practical joke.”
“but seriously you looked like a joker that day when you came back!!!”
“seriously.. you want to bring that discussion once again right here.. right now…” he tried to put some serious tone in his voice… which he always failed to do over these many years.
I laughed again…”Honestly no matter what you tried to hide… it was always visible on your face. When you had your first bachelor night now post marriage & you tried to hide your drinking experience…. It was clearly visible from your face…. But I didn’t say anything because I knew that you always knew your limits & I just smiled when you said…”
“Honey… you know that I don’t drink…:- He said smiling. He remembered exact words he said.
“You knew back then…?” his facial expression turned pink… this usually happened when he was caught red handed.
I smiled with a winning attitude. “Of course I knew… I had known you for 10 years…? You think you could fool me… Darling… getting fooled was my choice…. Fooling me was your option… you choose yours & I choose mine”
He grinned trying to hide his embarrassment, “Honestly, speaking… I always feared when I came home after having drinks with my friends & never had courage to speak up the truth. It’s not that you never gave me a choice of telling the truth, but I always wanted to maintain the good boy image”
I couldn’t stop myself from saying this…“You were, are & will always be a good boy for me”
“Have you forgotten the car driving learning incident?” – he tried to find my weak points in the middle of the discussion.
I said” Of course how could I forget that… it was because of you I could never learn to drive again. You created a phobia in my mind for driving”
Now it was his time to be embarrassed. “Only If knew that for you neutral & zero are different meanings, I would have never done that…. We nearly were on the verge of collision with police vehicle”
“ Yaa… and you scared this innocent lady by screaming on the top of your voice…” I said
“Innocent…..Look who is talking…who sent my resignation to my boss from my laptop to make me April fool? And not only that you also told my colleagues about my new car because of which I had to treat them, that dinner cost my diamonds. Can you explain that please… innocent lady” – he said in the naughty tone.
I smiled with my lips between my teeth… “Of course I can…you were not getting me my favorite jewelry…. So what I could do…I loved to put in situations where you had no way to run….”
It had been already 2 hours & the evening crowd was arriving the cafeteria, but who cared… we had met after so many days & we had tones of things to talk about.
“How’s our daughter?” he finally asked.
“Good that you asked…She is fine; doing well and she is getting married soon.”
“Who is the boy… the guy from his office whom I met 4 years back?” – he enquired
Yes… I said
“That’s great news indeed; I wish her all the luck she needs.”
“You will come at her marriage, Won’t you?” I asked.
He smiled…. & held my hand and I could see tears in his eyes… & he said to me,
“You know I can’t come… not in the situation we are today…After being so many years together, you don’t need me to be physical present there to give my blessings. There has always been a connection between us which has bound us together over these many years. Physical presence has never been a bounding factor for our relationship we have had over these years…
I’ll be there at the ceremony; but through you.”
Tears rolled out of his cheeks, & I bet those were out of happiness. So I just lay my cheeks on his hands & said “ I miss you… I miss you a lot…I wish we could have been together…” & tears rolled down from my eyes.
It was a busy Friday evening at the cafeteria & being in the prime location of market place the cafeteria was doing a decent job in terms of customer inflow. Michal joined cafeteria very recently as a waiter & has been doing quite well. Being a new guy, he was very enthusiastic & made sure that he addressed maximum tables to get extra tip because of his prompt service.
He made sure customers were addressed during the meals with any specific requirements. But During past three hours he watched this table quite a few numbers of times, but he made no efforts to approach this table. He did not know what stopped him, but somehow he did not.
After the day was complete, all the waiters of the cafeteria sat to have dinner & drinks together.
This was the time when cafeteria was not a work place, but a home for these waiters. They had a lot of fun together after 10:00 p.m., where everyone shared their experience of the day.
Today was no exception; except that Suresh was a birthday boy today & he was suppose to give party. So he managed to get some local drinks from nearby shop. Eventually the party started & drinks in glasses rolled on topped with ice cubes.
But Michal was not in his sense today. He seemed lost; he made a good tip today with that foreigner who gave him a handsome tip for his exemplary customer service.
Michal was sipping from his glass but his mind was somewhere else; he was not even listening to the conversation going around.
“What happened brother? Where are you? Did that foreigner gave you her number before leaving?” Suresh tried to break his thoughts… by his poor Joke
But Michal replied with a question to Suresh, “Have you noticed anything strange today?”
“Yes?” Suresh said… you are running my birthday party & insulting the drink of the glass, he said in anger.
“No… it’s not about you or me….”
“It’s about the old lady in the cafeteria today. She was sitting at the corner table for almost 3 hours & the only thing she ordered was a French fries & cold drink.
She took 3 hours to finish that & the strangest thing was she seemed to be talking to herself all the time.
At first I didn’t notice; but when I was serving the foreigner with sweet dishes, then I overhead her speaking about her daughter marriage..
Initially I thought she was ordering something on phone about her daughter marriage; but when I looked at her , I noticed that she did not carry the phone at all & Infact her both hands were entangled on each other & she was constantly looking at her hands & then she placed her cheeks on her hands & she started crying.
I tried to talk to her a couple of times, but somehow she was not hearing to me. Isn’t this strange?”
“You must have seen Mrs. Srivastava” Suresh replied.
“Do you know her?” Michal asked
“Everyone knows her…She has been our oldest customer & a good friend of our cafeteria owner. Infact her husband was a dear friend of our boss., but her story is very sad. Mr. & Mrs. Srivastava have been the best couples we have seen in past 10 years. They used to come here very often. Three years back Mr. Srivastava died with a heart attack. At the time of his death he was out of town with Mrs. Srivastava was not near him & all she heard was a call from Mr. Srivastava with pain in his voice…
His last words were… “I miss you a lot…I wish we could have been together”
Mrs. Srivastava couldn’t bear the loss & she also had a heart attack, but destiny did not favor them in death. Mrs. Srivastava survived & as per doctors she developed some kind of mental problem.
People say she can still see her husband & talk to him anytime she wants. Her family tried many remedies, but nothing seemed to work on her.
All doctors said Mrs. Srivastava want to live that life & hence she should be allowed to live that life.
A life which is based upon a lie that her husband is alive & away from her. This gives her a reason to live with a hope… at the end hope is what helps us survive through all the rough times…right?
Since then it has been 3 years she comes here once in a while; sits at that particular table and talks to herself under the impression of she is talking to her dead husband.
“She is mad…. But she is the friend of the boss, hence we don’t say anything”- Suresh Said
Michal looked at him with a blind expression… and asked…
“Are you sure it is not Love?”
Are you sure…..it’s not. …
As soon as I entered the cafeteria, the time came to stand still. Everything has been same since last 10 years at this place.