Forty eight rupees, seventy five paise...All in assorted notes and coins.. She emptied every compartment in her purse and re-counted them again, this time coins first..The total was still the same. Visibly disappointed, a frown appeared on her brow. Pulling herself together almost immediately, she casually picked up a carte du jour and quickly glanced through the list. "A Capuccino please". This was perplexing. She had barely taken 10 seconds to decide...which by itself was very unusual..And then, it wasn't the usual Tropical Iceberg. Was it raining outside ? Hell no ! In fact, the sun was beating down so much that even at around 2 pm, it was close to a full house. I use the term "full house" very loosely here..The truth is that all the tables save one were taken.. Of course the tables were not full. There were probably around 15 people which is still a far cry from the 2 or 3 regulars I get at this hour.
Acknowledging the order, I requested her to be seated till we served her. She walked to her customary triple seater sofa at the corner, the only empty space in the cafe picking up a magazine along the way. Now this was getting stranger by the minute. The youth magazines had never interested her the whole of last week. And today she seemed to be extremely restless, alternately darting glances at the door and the cute cuckoo clock near the entrance. I was now sure she was expecting someone to join her.
A small group of customers had just made their way in and there was no place to seat them except at the corner sofa. I quickly stole a glance towards her and to my surprise found her staring anxiously at me. I seemed to sense in her eyes a looking pleading privacy. I understood and motioned to the group to please wait. She managed a shy smile whilst her eyes offered a silent thanks. There was a Request-a-Song show going on in the radio and the RJ was flirting with some caller on the line. The new group who had apparently come down to celebrate a Birthday were now laughing loudly at some joke the RJ had cracked. Desperately preoccupied with thoughts on how to accomodate them, I seemed to have missed his entrance.
He had slipped in noiselessly and was now calmly surveying the surroundings. Wary of the noisy group and the lack of seats, he had turned to leave when he noticed the sofa in the corner. With a mischiveous smile, he moved towards me at the counter and ordered the usual. Ahem. Just as he was about to pay, I directed him towards the sofa and offered to bring his drink there alongwith the bill. As he walked towards the sofa, i noticed her feigning sudden interest in the magazine and realised that a cat and mouse game was afoot. I had to turn my attention to some other people but from the corner of my eyes I could observe that he had started humming alongwith the song being played on the radio acting oblivious to her existence. A few minutes passed. Seeing that this was going nowhere, i ventured to drop in at the sofa with his Tropical Iceberg and politely asked her if she was through with the magazine. She knew exactly where this was going and held it out to me. And then without any notice, she grabbed her purse and followed me towards the counter. This was all going horribly wrong and I had no clue how to turn things around...And then it happened..
Smiling enigmatically, she threw all the notes across the counter and told me she was picking up the tab for him too. The bill came to forty eight rupees. She passed on a small chit with a message scrawled inside and requested me to pass it on to him. I was bewildered. I had a million questions in my mind. I was curious. I could hold back no longer. Choosing my words
carefully, I asked her why she had not had her usual Tropical Iceberg. Winking slyly she confessed that the ATM had broken down and fled from the scene. I was still confused but noticing that he had also decided to leave, rushed over and passed on the small chit. He opened it with increasing excitement and then broke into a big smile. Realising the role i had played in
this incomprehensible game, he showed me the contents of the chit.
Happy Birthday - Hope you enjoyed your drink. And yes, please do listen to the radio at 2:30.
The cuckoo clock struck once.
The RJ droned on "Hey now for the first email request of the day...and u bet, this is one crazy dedication...This one goes out to the Guy-in-the-cafe from the Gal-in-the-Cafe...from the movie LAKSHYA - Agar main kahoon....."
I was speechless.
But he had a huge grin on his face. He said "I hate cold coffee and more so, Tropical Iceberg...But she's worth it."