Artificial Flowers

She made artificial flowers 
Artificial flowers 
Flowers for ladies of fashion to wear 
She made artificial flowers 
She made artificial flowers
Flowers from Annie’s despair.

Bobby Darin, Artificial Flowers.

She sat alone at the bar. With a drink that lay untouched for a long time. It was a Thursday night which meant it was retro night at the bar. The oldies kept flowing like vintage wine. From Connie Francis to Pat Boone. Elvis to Ella. Belafonte to Bassey. The songs kept playing. Her drink remained untouched.

Her appearance belied her age. There were streaks of silver prominently shining from the otherwise brown wavy mane. Her complexion had just started showing signs of ageing. A tad premature actually. Her eyes were slowly losing that twinkle, burdened with the sadness of time. Her fingers trembled slightly as she held on to her glass looking at it intently. But she still didn’t take a sip.

She remembered old times like it was yesterday. They had been fighting a lot of late. The smallest of disagreement would result in huge fights. And the passion that they shared, even translated to these fights. Nothing was spared. With each knockout punch both felt hurt, tired and fed up. They both knew this couldn’t continue for too long.

Each fight they had, would end with them coming back together with renewed gusto. Their love-making was more passionate. Their dinners more romantic. But somewhere there was a tiredness creeping in with the regularity of it all. It had to give in.

The smokey bar seemed less noisy to her today as she could hear the music better. As she sat there and reminisced, Bobby Darin was singing Artificial Flowers. She smiled to herself, a tired and resigned smile.

She remembered their last fight.

It had been uglier than their usual fights which were pretty nasty in any case. She’d seen him smiling and hugging the new girl from his office. She knew that smile. She could almost feel that hug. She was livid. They had a major showdown at her apartment that night. He left, vowing never to come back. Actually she’d thrown him out.

A couple of months passed before both realised that this was it. There was going to be no more get-backs. This was the final split. As in all relationships of this tumultuous nature, it took them time to get used to their new status. They both handled it their own way. He, by leaving town for good. And she, by leaving men, after as little as a week. Sometimes it didn’t even last that long. Recovery was hard. For both.

Then one fine day she received a bouquet of flowers from an unknown source. She recognised the sender from the handwritten note.

Together or apart 
My love will die 
Only the day
The last flower here dies.

It was a lovely bunch of yellow roses. Mostly buds. That he remembered her choice of flowers made her smile to herself. She kept them in a vase next to her bed. Every night she’d look at the bouquet as she saw the flowers bloom fully. Then gradually they began to wilt. By the third day most of them had wilted.

As she came back from work one day she looked at the vase. All the flowers had wilted excepting one yellow rose which stood out. Fully bloomed and beautiful. She was amazed by it. She came closer to feel it and then she realised…it was the only artificial flower in the entire bunch. She looked at the note which still lay by her bedside once again. That was the night she finally broke down, unable to hold on to her feelings anymore.

As the Bobby Darin song ended, she was jolted back from her thoughts to the present day. She finally picked up her glass with her trembling fingers and downed it in one go. She put the money under the glass and she got up picking her overcoat up.

She put her hands in her overcoat pockets as she felt the cool breeze sweep across her face, caressing her untied hair. She kept walking by the pier singing  Artificial Flowers to herself on that cold Thursday night.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Last Ranges

“You still snore”, he said. “Even after all these years”.

“And I still don’t believe you”, she replied, irritated.

He was walking ahead of her and she was finding it hard to keep pace with him.

“I thought we were to walk “together”” she said, panting as she struggled to walk steadily on the uphill track.

“Yeah right, I didn’t come here to crawl with you, you know”, he smirked. He knew his comments on her snoring had gotten to her.

“We came here to…”, .her voice trailed off and she didn’t complete what she wanted to say. He looked at her, turning his back, and then continued walking forward.

Finally they reached the resort where they were staying. “Want to have the tea outside, instead of sitting in the room”, he asked. She nodded a yes as she sat down on the log chairs.

The resort had a beautiful view of the mountains. In winters they’d be absolutely milky white draped in snow. But summer time was glorious too with lush greenery adorning the gorgeous hills. She sat on her chair and looked aimlessly at the hills as memories played hide and seek in her mind.

He ordered tea and cookies and came and sat next to her. He was looking at her face, lost in the mountains. He remembered the time they had first come here. For their honeymoon. She was still as pretty as she was then. 12 years ago. At least to him.

“Stop staring at me like a gawky teenager”, she admonished him lightly, as he was lost staring at her. They both laughed together.

“You know we’ve had good times together”, she sighed, as she continued to look at the mountain range while she spoke. “Yes we sure have had. But then we also…”, he stopped short of what he wanted to say. He didn’t want to spoil the moment. She looked at him once and quickly turned her eyes back to the ranges.

The boy brought tea and cookies shortly. As she poured tea into his cup from the pot she looked at him properly for the first time that day. His face had wrinkled and his salt and pepper hair was thinning too. But most of all his eyes which used to sparkle once upon a time now had bags of sadness around them. They looked tired. “Let’s make this a happy one”, she said, as she handed his cup to him. She was surprised that she still had certain feelings. He didn’t say a word as he sipped on his Earl Grey, looking at the mountains.

“It’s always about you isn’t it”, she snarled at him. “Your work,your stress, your life. Everything is just about you. It’s never “us” anymore. Do you realise that?”

“Yes it’s about me. I’ve come back from a hard day’s work and I don’t want to be caught in your complaints and allegations and accusations, from the moment I walk in. I am sick and tired.”

There was hell that night. Neither of them would give up and the fight continued. Old skeletons were dug up as they hurled accusations and abuses at each other. Neither willing to back out. It was like this most of the nights.

It had always been like this since their college days. From being friends they had turned into close friends and then lovers but the aggressive streak in both of them hadn’t died. Like everything else in life they were passionate about their fights too. And both were experts in sticking to their points. Not giving an inch to the other.

“Ohh we’ve had such terrible fights”, he said, as he came back from thoughts of the past. “It’s funny how we fight with the person we love the most and eventually turn that love to poison”. She looked at him directly in the face as he spoke. She could feel the tears swelling up in her eyes.

They finished their tea and neither said a word after that. They sat together as the evening sun said goodbye and then slowly got up to head towards the room.

“I don’t want to have dinner”, she said, sounding tired. “I just want to have an early night”. He looked at her as she sat on the single bed towards the French window and then curled up turning her back to him.

He dialled room service for a sandwich.

He sat on his single bed scrolling through his phone searching for his favourite playlist. He didn’t realise when his eyes shut. The sandwiches lay uneaten by his bedside.

When he got up next morning, he saw that she was ready. Dressed in a denim top and blue jeans, she looked just like she did in her college days. And he always loved the way she would tie her hair up in a simple ponytail. Made her look really sweet he thought. He kept looking at her as she packed his bag, arranging all his clothes. Her bag was packed the night before. Wear this tee”, she said, as she kept a dark blue t shirt out for him. “And give me your night clothes once you go for a shower. We will go down for breakfast and head straight for the airport from there”. Like always, she had everything planned meticulously. He smiled to himself as he observed her going about the room, tidying up, packing and generally checking if they’d taken everything they had to.

“You didn’t snore last night”, he said.

She looked at him from packing his bag, and smiled. “I never do darling. Now hurry up”.

They finished a quick breakfast and then headed towards the airport. Throughout the journey which was close to an hour, neither of them said a word. She kept looking out the window of their SUV taking in the natural beauty that was all around. She kept staring at the ranges one last time before they disappeared from her sight. He had his headphones on as Dylan played on. His eyes stared vacantly out in front.

Their silence continued in the flight too. He had his eyes shut through the flight, whilst she browsed through a paperback she was carrying.

As the flight was landing he felt her hold his hand tightly. “Still scared of landings”, he smiled at her as her eyes were shut gripping his hands tighter and tighter.

As they walked towards the airport gate carrying their respective duffle bags he kept looking at her. Her oversized sunglasses covered more than half her face.

Walking out to the parking area, he unlocked his car. Hers was parked next to his and she unlocked her car too. Finally she looked at him and dropped her bag. He dropped his too.

They stared at each other for what seemed an eternity. Eventually they hugged. “I will always love you”, he whispered in her ear, loving the smell of her perfume as always. “We will be in touch”, she replied not looking at him anymore as they broke their embrace.

“The divorce papers should reach you by this weekend”, she said as she was getting in her car. “I have already signed on them and have ticked the places where you need to sign”. She was glad she chose these sunglasses as she felt a tiny tear trickle down her face as she turned the ignition on. He kept standing outside her car looking at her as she reversed. She rolled the window down and waved him goodbye as she drove off.

He kept looking at the car till it disappeared from his sight. He picked his bag up and got into the car. He kept sitting inside without starting the car.

They always did feel the same

They just saw it from a different point of view

Tangled up in Blue

Dylan was singing to him, as he finally started his car to head towards an empty home.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

White Rose

He felt a strange sense of calm as he sat on the top level of the bajrah. The Ganga seemed to echo his serenity, flowing with an easy calm. Dusk was setting in. The birds were flying homewards and the lights were coming on along the banks of the river. The evening aarti was about to begin and strains of bhajans and other devotional songs were wafting to the bajrah. His 16 year old daughter sat next to him in silence, both father and daughter taking in the ethereal atmosphere.

He was coming back to Banaras after a gap of nearly 30 years. He was his daughter’s current age when he had come to the city with his parents. It was one of his first trips to a city outside his hometown and he was mesmerised by the sights and sounds of this wonderful city.

He remembered everything about the city. The temples, the narrow lanes, the wooden toys, the sweets, the savouries, the music. Everything seemed magical to him. And of course, he remembered her. How could he ever forget her.

He saw for the first time when he and his parents had been invited to their place for dinner. Her father was assigned the task of looking after them, during their seven day stay at Banaras. Because his father worked in a fairly senior position, they were always invited over for meals and parties, wherever they travelled. His parents were used to this treatment, but since this was his first visit along with them, he was overawed by the royal treatment they were getting. He remembered that dinner very well. The hosts were an elderly couple maybe a couple of years older than his parents. But he was bowled over by their humility and hospitality. They personally served all of them food and drinks. And they played the most exquisite music he had ever heard. It was the Santoor he was later informed by his father. The snacks were really tasty as was the main food. The elders spoke amongst themselves and he sat there alone, a tad bored. And then she walked in. She would have been around 17-18 maybe, just a couple of years older than him.

“Hi”, she said, with a smile on her face that seemed to light up the whole room. He was mesmerised almost immediately by her beauty. Her skin was like porcelain. Delicate and soft. Her brown eyes twinkled every time she spoke and her auburn hair was neatly tied in a simple pony tail. Her laughter echoed through the room like the sweet sound of a hundred Banarasi glass bangles. And her perfume!!! He could never that scent off his mind. It was deeply entrenched in his soul.

She sat next to him and spoke very freely. He was never very comfortable talking to girls, especially those of his own age. And so very beautiful on top of that. Being from an all Boys School, his interactions with girls was limited to family friends and irritating cousins. But the way she spoke to him, made him feel strangely comfortable with her. There was no awkwardness when she spoke to him. Or when he spoke to her. They discussed mundane things like school, studies, teachers etc till she told him how she’d show him around Banaras in the next few days. Strangely that sent a shiver of happiness down his spine. He knew he was going to enjoy Banaras even more now, because of her.

The next couple of days were sheer bliss. They visited temples, did the mandatory Darshans, took boat rides and went to special places for food. The elders were together and the two of them spent most of the time together. Be it at the back of the colourful rickshaws, or the front seat at the top of the Bajrah boats, or even in eating houses, they were always together. She spoke most of the time, and he simply listened to her. Absolutely mesmerised. He felt a funny flutter inside his heart every time they sat next to each other. He took in her intoxicating fragrance as they sat together. His eyes shut automatically as he was transported to another world, whenever she was with him. Once, just once, he sniffed a tad too obviously as she sat next to him, leading to her to smile that dazzling smile of hers at him. “You like this perfume”, she asked him, much to his embarrassment. Before he could gather himself to frame an answer, she said, “it’s my favourite, White Rose, you get it only here in Banaras.” He smiled back shyly at her. “Want to take one for your girlfriend?”, she laughed as she enjoyed teasing him. A highly blushed face was his only response.

After spending four lovely days in Banaras, it was time to go back home. His father had invited her parents for a dinner at their hotel, as a thank you gesture for all the help and hospitality they had been offered. He wore his best shirt that evening and combed his hair with utmost care. His bad-hair days had a knack of cropping up at the wrong time. Fortunately that day he managed to do a good job. He was happy with the way he looked. He was dying to ask her for her telephone number or maybe her postal address. He definitely wanted to remain in touch with her. He practised asking the question a couple of times in front of the bathroom mirror and was satisfied with his performance. He wanted to appear cool and calm and not flustered. After all it was going to be a last dinner. For a while at least. Maybe later something could crop up but as of now…

He kept looking at the wall clock more frequently that evening than he ever did. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, her parents arrived. He kept looking behind them to see if she was there with or not. And then he saw her. She was looking absolutely gorgeous. Of all the days they’d spent together and he had seen her carefully and closely, she appeared to look her best that evening. Her eyes were shining as was her delicate fair skin. Her hair was done in a fancy way instead of her usual pony tail. She wore a pretty black dress and her walk and gait that evening seemed even more ladylike and beautiful. And of course there was the fragrance of white rose.

She looked at him and smiled, raising her hand very slightly to wave a “Hi” to him which she simultaneously mouthed silently. He responded with his usual awestricken silence. She softly smiled back at him.

For some strange reason she spent most of the time sitting in between her parents that evening. Even while they had dinner they sat opposite each other instead of next to each other. Both of them sitting in between their respective parents on opposite sides of the table. After dinner they all spoke for a while and then they left. He felt a sudden twinge it sadness as her father got up and said they had to make a move. After all they stayed a good forty minutes drive from the hotel. Thank yous were said and they left. As they were leaving, she turned towards him and shook his hands. He loved the way her soft hands enveloped his hands as she gave them a slight squeeze. “Bye”, she said softly bringing her face close to his ears. The smell of white rose stayed on his face for some time after they had left.

As they headed back to their room, he overheard his father tell his mother, “Lovely people. They seemed so happy now that they’ve got their daughter’s wedding fixed up”.

“But she’s only 19, isn’t that too young”, his mother voiced, what he was feeling from inside, on hearing the news.

“You know them, they always believe in getting their daughters married off sooner than later, and moreover the guys seems to be a good catch. A doctor”.

That night as he slept alone in his hotel room, he felt as if the entire trip had been ruined. He felt an inexplicable sadness inside him as he tossed and turned around, trying to sleep.

“Papa, isn’t the aarti beautiful”, his thoughts of the past were broken by his daughter. She had snuggled up to him as the evening aarti was in its full glory. He was so deeply lost in his thoughts, he didn’t even hear the music. It was like coming back to the real world as his daughter spoke to him. Father and daughter sat on top of the bajrah in silence as the aarti reached its completion.

“Let’s go and have chat from the chowk, “ she said, as they were making their way down the bajrah and stepping on to the ghat. He nodded a yes to her as they walked hand in hand towards their car which the driver had kept on the main road.

They were walking towards the car when they were knocked down by what seemed like a group of young boys. Both he and his daughter stumbled down the narrow lanes. Fortunately he held her before she could fall flat on her face and hurt herself. He too didn’t get badly hurt fortunately. He looked up in anger at the children only to realise they were three girls. They would have been between the ages of 13-15. Giggling away and racing to a nearby car. By the time he and his daughter got up, a lady, presumably their mother, came up them apologising on behalf of her daughters. “I’m so sorry sir”, she said, in a voice that he found very familiar. “The girls have just got their father back after 3 months of being out of town. So they’re racing amongst themselves to reach the car first to sit next to him.” He looked at her and he saw those twinkling eyes. She waved a hurried ‘bye’ to him as she too ran towards the car to get to the back seat. It took him a little while before he realised what had happened and he ran towards the car holding his daughter’s hands tightly. But by the time he reached the car, all he could see was the Doctor’s Cross at the back of car which drove away.

Only that familiar fragrance of White Rose remained.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Songs of Love

Is that what you wanted?

Songs about love?

Is that what you hoped you’d find?

When its burning inside

But a song about love’s not enough

Jake Bugg, A song about Love.

She saw him sitting on the square as she strummed on her guitar. Her face lit up for a split second seeing his old familiar face in the midst of a regular crowd of strangers who walked past the city centre everyday. Office goers, housewives out  shopping with their kiddies on prams, tourists in garish clothes, waifs wandering aimlessly. People passed by as she played her songs. Sometimes pennies dropped sometimes a pound and on rare moments a two pound coin. Sometimes a few people would stop if the song caught their fancy and listen. At times there would be a clap or two, at times a request or two would come. She took it all in a detached manner. She played mainly for herself and very rarely did she let her surrounding affect her.

As she continued playing her Gram Parsons song, an old favourite of hers, she wondered if he had spotted her too, or whether he was oblivious to her presence in the square, sitting and sipping on his bitter. His face looked aged, a few years more than it ought to have been. He was wearing a dark overcoat, a posh one, and had a couple of carry-bags placed next to him. They were the branded ones she oh so hated. Big corporations fleecing the poor consumer of their hard-earned money. Or actually not so “poor” as she reasoned, if they willingly paid absurd amounts for such crap. Wasn’t it just apt that he should be carrying such bags. After all now he was a ‘part’ of those million idiots who sucked up to the glamour and glitz of the corporate world. Almost instinctively her strumming pattern changed to a bit harder than it should have.

They had so many dreams together when they were younger. Full of ideas and desires to change the world with their songs, make a difference, live life in the truest sense.  She loved to write and play and he loved to record. Securing a record deal was bigger to him than finding the missing chord to a song. It put her off at times but then again she marveled at the way they ’complimented’ each other. 

“Play us a Jage Bugg missy”, a geeky teenager hollered. At times she knew she’d get carried away by her 70s catalogue. They were her favourites no doubt but she also knew that a busker had to comply to wishes of others too. She looked up at the denim-clad youngster and nodded in the affirmative. In her mind she was thinking of which Jake Bugg song it would be and then she saw his face once more and the lines came almost automatically to her…..”Is that what you wanted, songs about love, is that what you’d hoped you’d find,  when its burning inside, a song about love is not enough”.  ‘Don’t you know love’s not enough’ she ad-libbed, her version of the song seemed more biting than the original. As she finished the song in breakneck speed she lashed out a couple of more ‘angry’ songs.

Her eyes were following him all the while she was singing. A beautiful woman came out of the departmental store and stood next to him. She whispered something in his ears and they both shared a laugh. There were two children by their side now. A boy who would be around 7 or 8, and a girl in spectacles who looked a couple of years older. Their sight was enough to make her sick in her gut. She needed to stop playing. She put her guitar down and adjusted her straps. He shoulders were aching from the constant strain of the guitar. She needed a break, More importantly she needed to calm down. Seeing him in the square with his family hadn’t been easy. She bent down to take sip of cola from her paper cup. As she was sipping, she felt his perfume whiff by her. He had moved on with his “sweet happy complete family”. She took a heavy breath in as her face was still bent down, careful enough to avoid an eye contact with him. It was good he hadn’t seen her.

The square was getting empty now as the clock struck 7 and the shops were closing. She knew she had to move on as well. Buskers had times allotted to them and she had long overstayed her time. She had to make her way to the Grapes Pub. She had managed to secure an opening set for one of the bigger acts of the city. She shouldn’t be late for her bit, she thought to herself. As she was about to arrange her gear back in their covers, a piece of pink crumpled paper next to her feet caught her attention. The paper reminded her of the pad on which they would write their songs when they were still together. She smiled to herself as she picked up the paper, solely on the virtue of its colour. Some kids crazy doodle she thought to herself as she opened the crumpled bit. The handwriting looked familiar to her.

“Saw you today after so many years. Couldn’t take my eyes off you. You still look so lovely. And your voice has aged so much better than mine. These days I can’t even croak. Was happy to hear you play. Although like always your minor chords still trouble you. You were right when you sang “song of love are not enough when its burning inside” Ask me, no one knows it better. “

She got up and slowly started to walk towards the pub for her gig. The crumpled paper lay on the ground yet again. She left the paper there, though she was carrying the words from the paper within her as she walked away.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Way We Were

The trees and hills went in a blur of brownish green as the car whizzed past the lovely scenery. The lashing rains on the windscreen added the perfect soundtrack to the wonderful image nature had painted as they drove across the ghats. The white shirt guy was driving. The green top girl sat beside him in front lost in her own thoughts, as she gazed outside the window aimlessly. The denim shirt guy sat at the back staring into the eyes of the peach top girl. She was talking away excitedly and he was barely hearing her, as his thoughts along with his stare were placed right on her eyes. He was lost. Paul Simon crooned Still Crazy After All These Years in the car radio. It was a perfect mid-week-break morning.

“Should we stop for some refreshments once we cross the ghats”, the white shirt guy asked, just as Paul Simon finished his song. His words seemed to break a few thoughts in the car. The green top girl turned her face from the window to him. The denim shirt guy looked away from the peach top girl’s eyes. And she too stopped speaking. They all looked at the white shirt guy. He’d managed to end a magical few moments with his words. “I’m fine with a break”, the guy from the back seat announced. “Me too”, mirrored the girl next to him. The girl next to the white shirt guy kept looking at him in a mix of amazement and admonishment. “Only you can think of crisps and soda on a day like this”, she finally said. “Chikkis,not crisps”, he replied in his usual deadpan expression. He loved to ruffle her such. And he was happy at his success. Yet again.

As they sat down across the table of the refreshment stop, they made a pretty picture. Milk tea for white shirt, iced tea for green, peach top loved her espresso as denim boy dipped his green tea. Theirs was a silent synchronicity which flowed like sweet wine. They hardly spoke but the vibes were so real and strong. At times they’d look at each other, an acknowledgment of the wonderful time they were all having. Just being there together meant the world to them. They didn’t need words to break the spell.

“I wish we didn’t have to return today”, green sighed. The others just looked at her, each of their looks echoing her sentiments. They just didn’t have to say it. White just held her hand gently squeezed it. Peach and denim looked at each other. Nothing, absolutely nothing could ruin the magic, the day was seemingly filled with

They all picked up various assortments of chikki after they’d done with their beverages. For their families, mostly for their respective children. “You know he’s going to polish these dry fruit ones in a jiffy”, peach proclaimed as she admired the packaging of the chikkis. Denim looked her wistfully, suffering a minor heartbreak at her sentence. He smiled, as their eyes met. “I got to take some jujubes for her too”, he weakly countered. White was paying at the counter for those marshmallows he knew his son loved, as green watched him. “You so dote on him don’t you”, she said, remembering her own son who was away from her in a boarding school.

Denim was on the wheels now as white sat next to him. Peach and green were back talking to each other. Exchanging notes on motherhood and the art of balancing careers with household and other such things. White and denim hardly exchanged a word as they drove along. The evening sun was on its way out painting a bright orange stroke on the blue skies just before it disappeared. Both the guys knew that like the sun, the magic of the day was disappearing too. As they were neared the end of the highway and were about to enter the regular traffic of a busy city, denim looked at white and mouthed a silent thank you. “It was a wonderful day buddy”, he said, as he knew, just like the others in the car, that as they entered the city they had to return to their respective realities soon.

Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Disguise played on as the car moved through the city traffic at the end of the day.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

August Rain

He got up from his seat to put a coin in the jukebox. ”Not Ben King again please”, she implored with a smile. “Naah, it’s Carole King now”, he replied. He went up and put in a coin to play Way Over Yonder. As the female King’s mellifluous voice started singing, he came back with a grin on his face to sit down.

It was a lovely afternoon. The rains outside seemed as if they’d never stop. They were sitting opposite each other in the cafe and not side by side. They never liked sitting that way. It’s so important to be able to see each other clearly, they both agreed. The cafe brought back such happy memories. As they sat sipping on their black tea and espresso, the cheese sandwiches and fish fingers lay untouched. So much of talking interspersed with laughter and those pauses when they’d look at each other and quickly look away. Neither wanted to go there again.

She looked as if not a day had passed. Her smile still went right to her eyes. Every time. Without fail. He always felt happy being with her. It was the same today. After all these years. He, on the other hand, had aged. Sideburns were more salt than pepper. His hair was also thinning. But his youthful smile was still intact and she loved that about him. Like always, she felt relaxed and safe with him.

They stood out from the other couples in the cafe who were mostly younger than them. But they had an intensity and a presence which could hardly be ignored. Even the waiters, it seemed, didn’t want to come in their way. They spoke, they laughed, they argued, absolutely lost in each other.

He kept looking straight at her all along. There was a soft smile that swept across this face all the while. She looked at him sometimes, her eyes twinkling whenever they met his, otherwise her gaze went all over the cafe. She was taking in the atmosphere and the moment as much as she could. She felt alive with him in the cafe. She was savouring every moment of it.

“The movie was lovely. It felt so nice to be in a single screen after all these years”, he said, taking a sip of his black tea. “Oh yes, it was fun. The same uncomfortable seats and that smelly popcorn. Just seemed like old times”, she agreed. “Kids these days can never enjoy movies the way we did”, he said, clasping her hands for the first time that afternoon. She didn’t try and free her hands, nor did she clasp them back. For a moment she simply froze.

“It’s been such a lovely day. The visit to college, then the movie, and now here. It seems like not a day has passed. I can’t tell you how happy I am”. He was saying these words in his mind, trying to put them in a coherent sentence, when he was disturbed by a loud message beep from her phone.

“Mamma come home as soon as you can. Papa doesn’t know anything about the house. Where are you? When will you be back?”

She read the message, smiled and showed it to him. It was as if he’d been rudely woken up from his dream. Outside the cafe, the rain showed no sign of stopping.

“He is so clueless about the house, you know, sometimes I wonder what he’d do without me”, she smiled wearily as she spoke. He didn’t fail to notice the obvious affection and care in her tone.

“I can understand”, he replied dispassionately. He was now coming to terms with the real world after nearly a whole day of dream-like existence. “You must go if you’re getting late”, his heart broke as he uttered these words. “Yes, I’ve booked an Uber”, she said, her eyes fixed on her phone all the while. “It’s nearly here”.

He paid the bill. “We were to Dutch na like old times”, she tried to protest, but he didn’t listen to her. With a swift movement of his hands, he snatched the bill and paid it to the waiter asking him to go. “As always”, she looked at him, shaking her head slightly in mock anger. “Some things never change, do they”, she admonished him, ruffling his hair as she spoke.

She gave him a tight hug as they got up. Her eyes were shut, as she drew a deep breath inside to take in as much of the moment as she could. “You take care and stay well”, she said, looking at him for the first time, the way he had looked at her the whole day.

He kept standing there till the Uber was driving away. The pouring August rain drenched him to the skin, but he didn’t care. After a whole day’s feeling, of time standing still, he finally felt that gap of 19 years which separated them, once again, as the Uber disappeared from his sight. He turned around and started walking till he got lost in the sea of people.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar