The Day Coffee Wasn't Bought
Standing on a balcony is never a boring endeavour. I stood, in what people say is my usual pose while having coffee, with both my elbows on the ledge, the left hand propping up my head while being balled into a fist, and the fingers of my right, curled around a cup, leaning against the wall of the cemented barrier between me and the sky. I always enjoyed these moments. Regardless of the world’s reprehensible mood swings of inflicting insufferable weather, this was an act, which never lost its charm. Today, particularly, was a warm, cosy day on the verge of turning gloomy. I always found the beauty of nature in change. Think about it. That moment when evening perks into the night or when the night finally makes way for the day. Dusk and Dawn. Twilight. The beginning of a rain shower on a sunny day or the emergence of the sun after one. The view from my balcony was not worthy of inspiration though. It looked out towards the parking lot of an apartment building that opened onto a closed street, and even on the most exciting of days; failed to evoke an inspiration in Hemmingway’s soul. Don’t get me wrong; it was a quaint, nice view, but nothing worth the ink it would consume on paper. The best thing about it probably would be the view of the open sky, which never fascinated me. Isn’t it the same old sky everywhere? Sure, the clouds and their patterns are different, but essentially it is the same, isn’t it?
The smoke rings curled up, and disappeared, as things always did. I smiled as I saw the source. A couple was standing in the middle of the garden slightly to the left of the building, making something that would barely pass as a bonfire. They waved, and I waved back, and immediately forgot about it. I returned to my musings, and sipped my coffee. Perhaps it is the aroma, or the caffeine itself rather than the aroma of exotic Java Chip coffee, that made me notice her. A girl, barely 14 years past her first word, was walking across the dull, parking lot. I was immediately bewildered, and I couldn’t place the source for it. In an instant, my mind made way for my brain, and the rowdy game of analysis began. The brain is an insane computing machine. I do not necessarily mean that in a good way. At its whims, it can process thousands of different information pieces in less than a second, and at times, it struggles to comprehend even a singular piece of data. For now, it was struggling to trace my bewilderment. Was it the girl? No, a girl walking across the parking lot is hardly bewildering. Her age? Definitely not, given that my brain already knew that the apartments in this street were mostly residential apartments meant for families or married couples. Accounting for a total of 822 apartments and an average of 3 people in each, a healthy figure of around 2500 is reached, and it is hardly a shocking occurrence to see a girl in her early mid-teens in a group as diverse as 2500 people. Suddenly, it hit me. The bewilderment presented itself not because of anything off about the girl, or the location, or the environment of the occurrence, but rather myself. I was bewildered by the fact that I had noticed the young girl.
Curious, I observed the girl. She continued walking across the parking lot, when suddenly, she stopped. She quickly slipped a hand inside her jeans pocket and fiddled for a bit, before extracting her mobile phone. If I had to guess, she received a call, as she proceeded to go stand by a car, slightly leaning on it, while she answered the call. Clearly, she knew the person, as her immediate answer and slight smile on her face betrayed, and she clearly wasn’t expecting to hear what she heard as she suddenly fell to her knees. The suddenness of the act was debateable as from where I stood, and from the observation I made keenly, I detected a hint of wobbling in her knees as the call progressed which progressed into a literal knock from an invisible hand, not the one Adam Smith spoke of, though both had the same effect viz. knocking out the very props that kept something up, albeit in a correcting manner. As the economy corrected itself, she answered while on her knees, crying. Again, it was perspective that mattered, as for an average passer-by, it could have easily been the pain of hard yet soft knee caps bumping on the cemented road, but only an observer who had insights into the moments leading up to the incident, or even had seen the girl in the moments preceding it, could swear that the first tear drop hit the ground before the girl’s knees did.
The teardrops never stopped, as the girl’s voice cracked, for she was wailing, and in a moment, her persona had changed. No longer was she an average person walking down the road, with an air of careful dressing up, slight cheerfulness and purposefulness. No, she had suddenly become one with the wild climate, as her hair turned slightly frizzy and her face betrayed the darker spots. Maybe it was the light playing its games, I would never know, for that very moment, her tears disappeared into the sudden outburst of rain. The moment was rich with clichés and ironies as the girl sat on the cemented ground, on her knees, one hand holding the phone to her ear, trembling all this while, as the other ventured through her hair, grasping at nothing, venting for a frustration that was still born. The wailing of the heavens brought her to her senses, as a strong wind buffeted against her face, and the rain splashed against her. She quickly pulled the hood of her jacket over her head, and made a dash towards the entrance of the apartment building, but all this while, one of her hand remained on the phone, and the phone on the ear, as if glued together by the conversation she was having. She disappeared into the lobby, and that was the last I ever saw of her.
It has been 4 years since I went back. 4 surprisingly long years since I saw home. That was always the last thought I had before I fell asleep. Always. Every day, for the past 4 years. Something had always come up. Work, travel, engagements, something. It was an unfortunate thing, but just like all other things human, and all other things unfortunate, couldn’t be helped. It just had to be dealt with. It was an odd feeling, the longing to be back home. It gnaws at your insides, but soon morphs into an itch that just stays. The year was 2004, and mobile phones had just gained immense traction. Only last week, I purchased one and had performed my weekly ritual. Every Friday, as soon as the sunset, I would walk out of the apartment and approach the nearest calling booth. 326 steps was the distance I remember, because I remember each step, each pace, with each beat of my heart. The mechanical art of dialling the number which magically connected me to someone thousands of miles away, was dull, yet I suppose, when the ends matter more than the means, the means gain a charm themselves. The conversation was never anything special, a casual conversation with my parents, just as the one you have at the end of the day, when you get back home. The only difference was that our day lasted seven days, and of course, the distance factored in, but the love, the magic, remained the same.
Sundays were always hard for me. Waking up alone, in a place that is not your own, neither in terms of belongingness nor in terms of how much at home you felt, nor in terms of the familiarity that hung in the air, nor the awkward silence when you woke up in a room with shut windows. One would expect to find peace and tranquillity in silence, but I found chaos. Mad, pathetic chaos. The mind is a strange tool in that regard. A perfectly normal, silent moment can be the worst situation your mind can be in. Over the eons, the greatest minds of the human civilization have postulated that mankind seeks order from chaos. The implied underlying statement is that chaos exists, and has to be cleared. It has to be fought, it has to be tamed, it has to be handled, it has to be undermined, it has to be won over, it has to be defeated, it has to be lost to. But all in all, it exists, and therefore is. Therefore, I was slightly taken aback, albeit in a good way, when I woke up on 7th November 2004, not to the chaos of thoughts and everything hence, but rather the order of silence. A smile adorned my face as I woke up and splashed some warm water on my face, and looked at myself in the mirror, and the image of my ghost stared back. I was past the point when my haggard look shocked me. But for some reason, it made me realise how people are. Each human being is different, and reacts to different actions in different ways. We are a culmination of each moment of our life, and ergo, since it is impossible for two humans to have exactly the same moments for the entire life, each human is different. Yet, for a reason that I never understood, we seek to establish uniformity. We want people to be the same. It is a constant battle actually. Everyone should be dressed in the same fashion, according to what is the latest fashion trend, yet the latest fashion trend has to be different. We want everyone to behave in a set manner, governed by rules of the society and etiquettes and categories, yet each one is encouraged to be individualistic. The very idea is self-contradictory in itself, yet our world loves to engage perpetually in this insane chase.
I walked over to my kitchen, to make my usual cup of coffee. Yes, I was a coffee person, and it was what started my morning. I opened the cupboard and saw an empty jar, and for the second time in two days, I realised I have run out of coffee. Determined to not ruin my Sunday ritual, I decided to quickly head down the road and purchase my drug. A quick look outside the window, and the slight cool breeze made me grab my jacket from the back of my chair as I quickly dashed down the stairs. As I exited the building, I saw a couple standing at the back of their car, unloading groceries from the trunk on to the floor of the parking lot. They noticed me and waved, and I waved back, and immediately forgot about it. Today was a good day. Sunny, slight breeze, actually the perfect amount. Cold enough to warrant a jacket, yet warm enough to not zip the jacket up. I hummed a song as I walked, feeling the sun getting heavier on my head as I started perspiring. Abruptly, I stopped as my phone rang. It was my mother. The smile on my face grew wider, as I slowly leaned by a red car, with just the slightest apprehension at the unexpected call. The cold, broken hearted voice which came through could not have been my mother’s as no mother can ever say her son’s name, and make him feel dead. Yet that voice did. My name is barely two syllables, but those two were enough to break me. I asked her what’s wrong, and all she could do was cry. The sound wrecks you. It always does. I felt my legs begin to lose the strength to stand as she spoke. I couldn’t process a lot, but I understood what she said, and with each moment, my face drained away the red liquid, which keeps us alive. Sudden cardiac arrest is what they called it. He was barely 55. He calmly finished his tea, she told me, and suddenly his left hand clutched his chest and he fell on the bed. In my head, he fell with a grace that I had associated with him in the 23 years of my existence. In reality, he had lost all sense of grace or etiquette or any other human social construct. Hell, he lost his motor skills, and drool pooled over next to his face, as the odour of urine arose, mixed with something else that my mother couldn’t discern. It took 3 more years, and another encounter with death to gauge the quaint, horrifying scent of death. Without me realising it, my legs had given up, and I was on the ground, on my knees. The rough concrete scuffed through the jeans and hurt my flesh, but the tears in my eyes were not a result of exterior pain. I am an atheist, yet my creator was dead today, simply snatched away from me, without as much as a farewell. A sudden splash of water on my back made me turn and I realised the sprinklers had been switched on in the park, and I was on my knees, in a drizzle meant to invigorate life, yet life is what I felt leaving my body.
I don’t know how long I was there. The phone had long slipped my hand and fell on the concrete ground, exposed to the elements. A decade later, or perhaps, a second later, I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. I tried again, and was successful, albeit a bit shaky on my feet. I craned my neck and looked towards the sun. The blinding light of the sun directly in my eye was disorienting, but as I saw the building directly beneath the sun, I swear I saw a girl, barely 14 years past her first word, nod at me, with a cup in her hand and a sad smile on her face. I nodded back and headed my way. Needless to say, coffee wasn’t bought that day.