Plum Pie for the Solitary Soul
Part I — Something Fresh
It was just another Sunday night. She lay in bed, after having spent a lazy evening watching movies and drinking beer with her brothers. Her mobile phone told her it was four minutes to midnight, four minutes to just another Monday.
She looked around her room in the dim light of the floor lamp. It was way too pink, she thought. Pink walls, pink wallpaper, pink curtains — the room didn’t suit her. If she had to choose a colour to describe herself, she wondered what it would be. Probably grey. Yes, grey with a tinge of blue — a tinge that you would have to observe very closely to notice.
Such random thoughts raced through her mind as she battled insomnia for another night. It was at the precise moment when she was about to pick up her Kindle and surrender to P.G. Wodehouse for a few hours when she heard his voice.
She lived on the first floor of a newly painted and refurbished old house, with a lot of windows overlooking the narrow lane in front of it. Hence, his voice carried up to her room, loud and clear.
“Isha, I’m leaving Calcutta for good next week. Why can’t you just agree to meet me once before that?” — he was saying, presumably to someone over the phone. She liked the fact that he used Calcutta instead of Kolkata. She didn’t like too many people, but sometimes she would like some people for the silliest of reasons.
“8 pm tomorrow at Olypub then. Thanks. I’ll be waiting. Goodnight, Isha” — he cut the line with what sounded like a sigh. She liked how he used her name while saying goodnight. It added a touch of uniqueness to an otherwise banal, everyday phrase. Most people were too lazy at the end of a conversation to bother to add a name to a goodnight wish.
He was walking off now. She could hear his footsteps growing distant. On a sudden impulse, she rushed out of bed to open the windows, she always kept closed. The almost permanently closed windows were probably the only elements of the room that resembled her. But by the time she managed to open them, he was gone.
“Story of my life.” — she thought and went back to bed.
This wasn’t the first time she’d unwittingly overheard a conversation between him and Isha. He probably lived in one of the many houses close to her own and had a habit of taking late night walks. She wasn’t the type who was particularly friendly with her neighbours. In fact, she was the type who barely acknowledged their existence. Hence, she didn’t know his name or even what he looked like. But she did know that he had named the two stray dogs who lived in their locality Jeeves and Wooster. And that he seemed to interact with them more naturally than he did with Isha (presumably his girlfriend). She knew that he was a Liverpool fan and used to play midfield in his college football team. She also knew that he found it extremely difficult to express his emotions, which was the theme for a recurring argument between Isha and him.
And now, she knew that he was leaving Calcutta for good next week.
— — — —
The next morning, she ambled into office half an hour late as usual. She went through the day’s work and coffee breaks, till finally it was time to leave. 7.30 pm — her phone told her.
She didn’t know why exactly she found herself sipping a gin and tonic at Olypub at 7.55 pm. She had simply overheard a stranger speaking over the phone and playing fetch with a couple of stray dogs and yet somehow he had managed to turn her into what could only be described as a stalker. She took a few hurried sips of her drink and fished into her oversized bag for a book. (She usually kept two or three of those handy, to tackle the frequent moments when she got bored with the real world). Rather appropriately, she found a copy of the Blandings Omnibus.
She barely noticed him when
he entered. It’s only when she spotted him looking around the bar, apparently searching for someone and then settling down at a table for two, with a somewhat crestfallen look, that she realised he must be the one.
He wasn’t the most noticeable young man. Perhaps the best way to describe him was perfectly average. Just about hitting 5 feet 9 inches, with a regular hair cut and dressed in a regular shirt and a pair of regular denims, he wasn’t someone who would turn many heads.
She looked at him and almost laughed at her stupidity. He was just an ordinary guy, almost impressively ordinary. What exactly had she expected? A cross between Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale, who had specifically descended upon this world to fulfill her innermost fantasies? She stirred her drink and gulped it down. He’s just another typical guy who has been taken on a ride by another typical girl. Boring. Stupid.
She called the waiter, paid for her drink and booked a cab. Uber Pool. She hated it when she had to book a shared ride. But with Uber operating at a surge price of 2.7X, she was left with little choice.
“Your taxi is arriving” — her phone announced. She raced downstairs, embarrassed by her own stupidity. The car was right outside. Perfect timing. She jumped in and asked the driver to make a move. “There’s another pick up from here.” The driver informed her, just as the door opened.
“Do you mind if I sit behind?” — he asked her.
It was him. She checked her phone which dutifully informed her that she was sharing her ride with Rohan.
“You’re paying half the fare. You can sit wherever you want.” — she replied curtly.
“Wow. Have you had a really bad day or are you this rude usually?” — he asked with a rather mischievous grin as he settled into the seat next to her.
“This is me being polite.” — she replied.
He looked at her for a moment and then burst out laughing. “You are funny. Do you mind if I ask you something, Meghna?” — he added her name at the end rather nervously, as if he realised that it was suggestive of some kind of unwarranted intimacy.
“Guess not.” — she said trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.
“I saw you at Olypub. Alone. On a Monday night. Reading Wodehouse and drinking gin. Side note — never seen that before. Anyway, I was alone too. And I know it sounds presumptuous on my part, but I would venture a guess that we were both waiting for someone who didn’t bother to turn up. I know I was. So how about we go somewhere and maybe get a drink together and cheer up a little bit, so that we can face the terror that is going to be the rest of the week?” — he spoke really fast. As if he had already rehearsed the lines in his head.
She looked at him and then turned away. Staring out of the window, she said flatly — “Has that angle actually got you laid before?”
“I guess that’s fair” — he said. “You think I’m some sort of a creep who gets stood up by girls and hits on random strangers. Let me assure you that I am not. Well, not any more than most guys are, I guess. I have just had a bad day, actually more like a bad year, and am expecting a worse week and just wanted a break.” — he added.
“Let me explain to you how ride share works. You share the ride with the co-passenger; not the details of your evidently tragic life story.” — she replied, in her most practised snubbing tone.
That silenced him, all right and he spent the next ten minutes of the journey staring at his phone.
She reached her destination first and fished into her wallet and came up with a note for Rs. 500. The driver gave her a cold look and promptly declared that the bill was for Rs. 67 and he had no change.
“Well, do you mind taking me to the nearest ATM then?” — she asked. The driver gave her another one of his practised cold stares and stated that he would need to charge extra for that, as he would have to deviate from the route. “This is why I prefer Paytm customers.” — he added wistfully.
As Meghna was negotiating the extra charge with the driver, who truth be told, was beginning to scare her a little bit, Rohan suddenly fished out some notes from his wallet and handed it to the driver, who immediately pocketed it.
“I know you’ll probably hate this but I’m just going to pay for you. I really just want to get home and am in no mood of detouring for an ATM.” — he explained with a finality in his tone, which suggested that the case had been adjudged and closed for good.
She knew a lost cause when she saw one, so she picked up her bag and disembarked without any further argument. “Sorry for the trouble” — she said. “How shall I pay you back?”
“My life may be tragic but thankfully, I can spare 70 bucks without having to file for bankruptcy.” — he replied.
“Good for you” — she said, trying to control the inherent sarcasm in her tone and sound grateful instead.
“Oh and don’t worry” — he added, as she was about to close the door. “I won’t expect sex as a form of repayment.”
Feeling embarrassed, outwitted, angry and a myriad of other confusing emotions, she watched as the car drove off into a nearby lane.
She always hated it when someone else had the last word.