Another Cup Of Coffee

It was near the place of her work, and she often came here whenever she managed to get a break. The crowd, the liveliness of the place gave her a sense of comfort, she felt warm and at peace. It wasn’t anything lavish — a simple restaurant overlooking the main market street. The street was full of it’s regular hustle bustle. It was chilly and a comparatively cloudy morning; scattered sunlight poured in from the big window. She ordered a cup of coffee.
 As she sipped away from the steaming cup, she looked out of the open window. A man was giving his pet dog a walk. A mother was buying household stuff while her little boy, who appeared dishevelled despite his mother’s every effort, bumbled along. Suddenly he turned around, and looked at her. She smiled. He smiled back.
 As a young girl, she never really liked children. How much she has changed since then, she thought. But her chain of thoughts were suddenly interrupted. It was the old man who ran the restaurant. She recognized him only by his face; it was a pity she didn’t ask for his name, she thought. Perhaps she hesitated too much. She felt it would indeed be awkward if she asked his name.
 “Hello ma’am. It’s been awhile since you last came here” he beamed.
 “Yeah, I have been lately a bit occupied with work” she said.
 “Oh I see. That’s a good thing, I would like to believe. Perhaps another cup of coffee would help relieve some work pressure?”
 “Yeah, sure” she smiled.
 “There you go then”, he said as he poured coffee in her cup from a big kettle. Someone crossing across the table unintentionally gave the old man a nudge, and coffee spilled over leaving a big splatter.
 All this mess put her out of place, leaving the chain of thoughts. She just obliviously kept staring at the stain on the table cloth.
 “Ma’am … ma’am! Are you hurt?” concerned old man asked.
 “No … I am … No I am fine” she said, although she was still trembling.
 “You sure? Let me get this cleaned this up” he said as he called for help.

It’s in between the cleaning and the washing
 That’s when looking back’s
 The hardest part of all.

She appeared to be more mentally affected than physically. It was just the coffee after all.

She slipped into her night gown. It was a cold night, or maybe it was just her bed. She lay quietly for a while. Photography had always been her hobby, and so all the walls were covered with framed photos. But the wall exactly opposite to her bed was empty. She stared away at the blank space for a while.
 She lived alone. Her work demanded her so. Her parents lived hundreds of miles away in Lucknow, she was in Bangalore. She loved her work, it took her away from all the tangles of worries and despair. She was satisfied with her job, although at times she felt she wasn’t able to mix well with her colleagues. She considered them as her friends — would do anything within her capacity could for them — but she wasn’t comfortable when someone started to become a good friend. Without desiring it, she held a very bleak view of the world — she just found it difficult to trust people. Perhaps past incidents were to be blamed. It’s not that she didn’t care, it’s just that she was scared. Scared to feel weak. Sometimes she felt her emotions to be just too strong to control. She hated feeling weak, and these emotions made her feel weak.
 She felt that maybe she can never be truly close to someone. Maybe the entire idea of her ever being close to someone was preposterous.
 Suddenly a feeling of loneliness struck her. She rolled over the bed and pulled the blanket over her head. A tear escaped her eyes.

Where are your friends?
 Where are your children? Is this your house?
 Is this your home?
 Does nothing ever last forever?
 Does everybody sleep alone?

The blank space on the wall once held a picture of her perfect world. She continued to stare at the wall for a while, and then she suddenly sat up. She wiped the tears off her face. Never again, she promised. Never again she would waste a drop for someone who didn’t care.

She had been very busy since the morning today. She spent the entire day cleaning up her apartment, decorating every nook and corner and cooking the most delicious dishes she knew to. By eight, she was ready to receive all her guests — mostly her colleagues from work.

It was a beautiful evening, everything went smoothly. Everyone congratulated her on her cooking skills, and how beautiful her apartment appeared. She beamed with pride. By ten, most of the people had started to leave. That is when her project partner came to her.

“You sure do look gorgeous today”. She always thought he was a little flirty, in a good way though. 
 “Oh, you’re just being kind” she blushed. 
 “No really. I always keep telling myself, I’ve seen better, I’ve dated better. But you’re … you’re something else. You’re divine.” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
 “Well … thanks”, she said smiling — not sure what else to say. 
 “So, what’s the occasion? For what do we owe the pleasure of being treated with this slap-up dinner? I think your promotion is due next month, isn’t it Ms. future VP?” he teased her.
 “It’s my daughter’s birthday” she replied calmly.
 “Oh … I … I didn’t know you were married.”
 “I am not.” 
 “ Uh? ..”
 She hesitated for a moment. She was not sure how he would react. “I am a … divorcee”.
 She could sense his discomfort. Though he gained his composure the very next moment. “Oh … How old … does she get today?” he asked.
 “Wow, you don’t … look … like a mom of a nine year old. Where is she? I can’t see her anywhere?” he said.
 “She lives in Delhi, with her father.”
 “Oh …”
 “It’s … fine.”

It’s in between the leaving and the loving
 That’s when looking back’s
 The hardest part of all.

“No mumma, I said no” she screamed on the phone.
 “But beta …” the voice from the other side tried to calm her down.
 “No means no. I agreed to all this only because you and Papa wanted it. But I am not going to marry again only for the sake of it.”
 “But listen to me beta … “
 “Listen to what? I already have had a lot of relatives giving me advice. I know you care about me mumma, but I will not marry anyone who thinks like that. I have said it before, I’ll say it again. Neither do I want anyone to marry me out of favour; and especially not if they think I am some sort of damaged good.” she shrieked. She was furious. Often, anger was her refuge — to hide her real emotions. 
 “But …” 
 “What are you afraid of mumma? I am completely fine. I don’t need this. Haven’t we already tried this enough? I have had enough of marriage proposals coming from these relatives who blamed me for not being able to keep my marriage intact; these so called relatives who behind my back discuss my character and act as if I will steal their husbands or sons? You know what kind of proposals they keep sending. They can doubt as much as they want, I don’t care mumma. I don’t need their sympathy. And I will definitely not have you pay anything for my marriage. This is too much.” she screamed.
 “I am just … thinking about your happiness beta …” replied a sad voice.

This broke something inside her. She covered her face, sobbing frantically. She hung up, and fell onto her knees. Ever since she could write, whenever she was disturbed by anything, she always wrote in her diary. It had been a long time since she wrote something in her diary. She ran to the shelf and pulled out her old diary. Flipping through the pages, she found something.

Dear Diary,
 I am so happy today! Ma and Pa are extremely happy too. My engagement got fixed today.
 When I look at it, I realize that I will soon be leaving them. I love them a lot, they’re my life. I don’t know how will I manage. Ma and Pa never stopped me from doing anything, they gave me all the freedom I asked for. It’s true, children often realize their parent’s worth late in life. I always took things for granted, but I always knew the sacrifices they made for me. I wish I could do more for them.
 Being from a middle class family, my parents always stressed on independence. They made it a point that I get the best possible education, and never lack anything. I have always tried to meet their expectations. I hope they are proud of their girl. 
 Ma wants me to settle down now, and is looking for good and well off family. She doesn’t want her daughter to struggle with the middle class status. Although I am not sure about it, I know Ma wishes the best for me — like she always has. I feel I have everything — it’s just a perfect world for me.
 What else can a girl wish for? I just hope I am ready for what happens when a girl becomes a wife.

She kept staring at that page for a while, lost in her thoughts. After a while, she closed the diary. She didn’t feel the need to write down anything anymore. Instead she headed over to the kitchen, turned on the stove and set the diary on fire.

“Hello? Hello, Sandhya?”
 “Hello” she said on the phone.
 “Haan beta, how are you?”
 “Wait Ma, let me call you back.”
 She dialed back.
 “I am fine Ma. How are you and Papa?” she said.
 “We are fine. Congratulations on becoming the Vice President of your company beta.”
 “Thank you, Ma” she said.
 “May God give my daughter all the success she desires. Stay happy beta.”
 “Yes Ma.”
 A long silence persists.
 “I am sorry beta.”
 “What for?”
 “For not being able to bring back your happiness. I … I just wanted everything to be perfect for you beta, where you would have every joy in life, and never live in the need of anything. I should never have forced the marriage on you. I have failed as a mother … ”
 “Ma … ma come on. Don’t blame yourself, please.
 I won’t lie. It’s difficult, it’s very difficult at times. On the outside I keep calm and steady, but in the inside I often suffocate. But I don’t blame you.
 I know all you ever wished was best for me. Things didn’t turn out as you wanted them to be. Marriages are decision taken in good faith. At the time of making the decision, we don’t suppose the possibility of entering a situation which is abusive and violent.
 I did everything that I could to save this marriage. I put in every effort to please him, Ma. When he said you don’t need to work you; I quit my job, stayed at home. Confined within the four walls — I lost all my friends. I didn’t say anything when he sent my daughter over to his parent’s house. I overlooked everything — even his affairs. For what? Just to save this illusion of completeness? Happiness? For the sake of this hypocritical society?
 No ma, that wasn’t utopia. That was a mere fancy — an illusion — which I was desperately clinging to. Love was gone years ago. Maybe it never really existed. I just hoped, that if I put in enough efforts, may be one day he’ll change his mind, he’ll appreciate me. I thought I’ll win him over with love and care. Maybe I’ll get the appreciation and love that I always dreamt of. I sacrificed my self esteem and personal growth — all for this so called marriage to work. But deep down I always knew, it would never work, that one day he’ll leave me.
 Maybe the phase of life I am in, right now is not utopia. There will always be a part of society which would never accept me, will treat me as an outcast.
 But ma, you see, I am free now. I don’t live to please them, or anybody else now. It’s my life — and I think I am happy — and that’s all that matters now. My life is not governed by anyone else’s happiness.
 As I look back now, I realize that I wasted some of my best years on something that was never meant to be. I don’t wish to fight him and the society. I don’t want to waste anymore time. I am no longer trapped. I choose to be happy, I will fight for it if the need be.”
 “I never really did come to know when you grew up this much beta ”.

A couple of minutes later, their conversation ended. It was a bright sunny day, though still a little cold. She made herself a cup of coffee.
 As she sipped away the coffee with a smile on her face staring out of the window, she knew she was going to be all right.

Don’t look back
 Don’t give up
 Pour yourself another cup.


This story tries to discuss the flaws behind the concepts of arranged marriages and ideal wife in India. It also tries to deal with the taboo of divorce, and how couples desperately try to make failed relationships work for the sake of the society. It tries to capture the plight of women who have been divorced — how they become outcast and find it difficult to re-enter the society due to the prejudices prevalent against divorcees in the society.

This story is inspired by song “Another cup of coffee” by the artist troupe “Mike and the Mechanics”.

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