Last weekend, I was sitting by a beach in coastal Karnataka. I had a week of beach-time ahead of me. Or so I thought. The sun settled into a weak haze, overpowered by a full moon that rose angrily to the sky.
The next morning, as I was well into my Sunday long run, my sister called to tell me that my mother was again hospitalized. My dream of a week by the beach sank just like that. And my feelings of anxiety and worry over my mother clashed with the very real feelings of disappointment, a crescendo of emotions that left me feeling exhausted by life.
So, this weekend, as I went to the insurance office to submit yet another claim form, I chose to stop by a cafe. It was just me and my book. A cold brew with orange juice and jackfruit – a combination I hadn’t ever thought I would see in a coffee. I sipped on the drink, ice settling in to calm in my body, munched on a muffin, and nibbled on sourdough while traffic weaved its chaotic way downstairs.
My mind had been all over the place this week. I hadn’t been able to read. I left the Japanese translation I was reading – it was too quirky right now for my mood – and picked up a book by a debutant – Mansi Shah. Blessedly, my mind could focus on the simpler story, the pages and words making sense.
This cafe was busy – people came in and out. A girl by the window who was reading a YA novel left in a while, and I quickly clambered over to her seat. That perch also gave me a vantage spot to observe everything in the cafe.
After a while, the owner came in, looking stressed. I empathized immediately – the sad stress of entrepreneurship written large over our faces. She punched some numbers furiously into a tab, shot a question to the servers about some coffee beans, and left in a hurry.
In walked a couple. By now, I was the only one sitting alone. They sat down near me, next to each other. I heard the guy speak in accented American English, and my interest was piqued. The girl crossed her arms over her chest, looking uncertain, bored, tired, and interested all at the same time. “Newly married,” I surmised while reading about poor Nita, who is now in France, having deserted her family to pursue a dream. Oh! Nita, I empathize with you too.
Why did I think they were newly married? The body language and that neither could keep a conversation going. The woman asked him questions about where he lived. And the guy answered with some pride.
I was by now a shameless voyeur – but this is our writer’s life – we find stories.
They take their time deciding on the food. For almost 20 minutes, the guy read everything with his partner offering suggestions he didn’t accept. At some point, he reaches over and hugs her affectionately, but his wife still looks like she wants to be anywhere but here. They give their orders, and moments of silence pass by. I bury myself deeper into the book, and the silence recedes into the background music. An omelet arrives, which the guy eats with gusto while the girl pokes a desultory spoon into the dish. Another dish is rejected, forcing the startled server to ask if everything is ok. “Just individual choice,” the woman says. Meanwhile, the guy offers his opinion on most of the food. A strawberry pancake. Three cups of coffee. A cold brew bottle. At some point, the woman now reaches over and pats the guy on the shoulder, who doesn’t seem to notice, absorbed as he is in the omelet. She looks almost as if she is patting her favorite dog.
More silence. More random conversation. “Did you see the board?” “Yes.”
“Do you go to Starbucks?” “No.”
What do they have in common? I wonder, staring at the gold on their fingers. I am now 25% into my book, and when the girl gets up to use the bathroom, the guy adroitly pays. She admonishes him when she comes back. “Why you had to pay?” He laughs nervously. She doesn’t look too miffed, though. And they walk out, together, not into the sunset, but a melting afternoon.
Perhaps, years later, or decades later, this couple may find a lot to talk about. We don’t know. We don’t know what drives us to be in relationships – apart from that gnawing loneliness and that need to find that ‘someone.’ We are primally driven and conditioned to look for romantic relationships as the source of all succor.
As I saw this couple out, I nibbled at my muffin and wondered how much of my observations were right, and how I would never know.
This, too, is a story.
With a rueful grin, I turned back to see what Nita was up to in that other world of storytelling, which we dare call fiction.
I send you love and light, peace, and joy. May you find heart in your relationships. May you never lose yourself in the pursuit of one.