Except for the bottle of Bisleri that had replaced the steel jug and the upgraded manner of people, nothing much had changed from the last time she had come there.
In those days, people came to eat, now they were there more to converse and catch up. Those who came alone then read newspapers or magazines while they waited for the food. Now they fiddled with their phones. Everything else remained the same – the menu, the interiors, the smell of coffee and the masala dosa from the neighbouring table. Even the memories they evoked had not altered in all the years she was away. Every corner of the room reached out with old familiarity and shook hands with her.
Her eyes eagerly sifted through the people walking in. Shortly, he would arrive. It was a meeting that he had arranged and she was surprised that he had chosen to reach out after all the years. Why did he want to meet her?
They had parted at a point when they had nothing to say to each other. They didn’t even seek explanations from each other. They split so lamely that she could not even remember who was at fault, to begin with. Some departures are like that, she concluded. They happen not for a reason except that the time is up. One should move on without leaving ugly stains behind. The pain shouldn’t linger lifelong. It must eventually die down.
She opened her mail box and read the message he had sent her a week ago and briefly regretted accepting his invitation. Snatches from the past flashed before her eyes. There was no resentment left for her to express. In the light of the fading past, she had very little to speak to him. The thought of having to force a conversation with someone for whom her sentiments were ambivalent made her consider if she should leave without meeting him. She had no appetite for cloying ruminations.
Just then she saw him at the entrance, his eyes flitting around and stopping at her. He looked worn. The old playful smile had matured and it matched with his greying hair. She wondered if so much time had indeed passed.
‘I am late. Thank you for waiting.’ he said, pulling out the chair.
‘No, I came in early.’
Moments of uneasy calm passed. They were fraught with unspoken thoughts that struggled to find a medium of exchange.
‘Nice to be back here. What will you eat?’ he asked leafing through the menu.
‘Coffee, may be?’
‘You look tired,’ she said noticing how lifeless his eyes had grown from what she remembered of them.
‘All night I was rehearsing for this meeting, you see,’ he said, half-jokingly and motioned to the waiter. ‘Are you nervous?’ he asked after placing the order.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Were you not rehearsing anything to say to me? It is not easy to revisit the demons of the past.’
‘No, not really. The hard feelings have all been spent. It doesn’t matter anymore.’
‘To me, it does. I have been waiting for this day for several years,’ he said choosing his words carefully. ‘I have something to say to you. A confession of sorts. It took a long time for me to summon the courage to look you in the eye again and say it.’
‘You really didn’t have to drag you through this, really. We had moved on and found our own spaces. There are no regrets.’
‘We had moved on with life, probably. But my soul has been suffering. It won’t be redeemed until I say it to you.’
‘I wonder what it must be,’ she mused aloud. What uncouth truth did he want to shake out of the cupboard now?
‘Sorry,’ he said, looking intently at her and paused. ‘I owe this one word to you. It has been languishing for years, imprisoned by my mulish ego. I want to let it go and be free now.’
She searched for words to say as he placed the money in the voucher flap and handed to the waiter.
‘Things could have been better. I confess that I didn’t try enough and I let you go. I am sorry.’
She took a deep breath and ventured a placating smile.
Unable to say anything further, he stood up. ‘I must go. I have a flight to catch tonight. I hope you accept my apology,’ he said abruptly and left her waddling in waves of silence.
The waiter took away two half-empty coffee cups as she sat considering the poignancy of the moment. She slowly opened her handbag. Inside one of the compartments was a folded paper, yellowed and softened with age. She smiled smugly as a vague sense of vindication swept over her.
The note read –
‘I don’t rant anymore.
I now wait in silence, absolute silence
that one day
will stir you from sleep and
bring you back to me.”