I was sitting in Costa Coffee at TGIP in NOIDA waiting for Specky who was getting her hair styled at Blonde & Bliss on the third floor. How was I spending my time? Well, this is a valid question because it isn’t really easy to sit in a Coffee outlet for over an hour without ordering coffee even once. To ‘Sir, what would you like to order?’ I had already answered that I was waiting for someone and that the order will be there later. So I jumped from doodling on the Galaxy Note II to reading the newest tweets on my Galaxy SIII… but then, after a while this gets boring, so I just started looking at other patrons discretely. And that was when I caught her eye. She was also waiting, I thought, but wasn’t sure about my conjecture, so I allowed my glance to casually glide back to her to make a better assessment. She wasn’t there now. She had suddenly disappeared even in the ten odd seconds that it took my glance to come back to her after bouncing off the wall painting to my right.
Someone tapped me on my shoulder lightly and a soft voice asked, ‘You meet a random person and start talking… what happens next?’ I looked up at the person and saw her standing barely inches from me. I said, ‘That’s an interesting question. Why don’t you sit?’
She accepted my offer and we began talking about coincidences and sudden meetings in earnest. ‘The best was a time when I was with this stranger and berating the police force,’ she said excitedly, ‘and he quietly said that he was ACP of the area.’
‘Happens quite often’, I replied, ‘people and topics seem to match uncannily and it isn’t quite surprising to find people discovering poets in strangers if they had poetry on their minds or getting duped if they had fears of being cheated coursing through their synapses.’
We asked for a cup of cappuccino each and allowed even impromptu internet searches to help us be logical in our insinuations and guess-works. Like the moment when she asked, ‘How many times do strangers meet and remain together for ever?’ we searched for some statistics on this but couldn’t stumble upon any but did conclude by mutual consent that this wasn’t altogether unlikely.
‘I have a lot of friends now who were actually strangers I bumped into while travelling or waiting at airports or railway stations,’ I said, and continued after a pause, ‘and though we haven’t met after that, the internet has made it possible to remain together in the virtual world.’
Our cappuccinos were served and she looked at the two stencilled hearts in her cup and asked, ‘You’re married?’
I said, ‘Yes, and I’m waiting for my wife. She is having her hair trimmed.’
‘Why is it that sometimes strangers appear so attractive that you wished they weren’t married?’ she asked in a voice that was barely above a whisper but came bouncing at me with a force that made me restless.
I looked at her and didn’t know what to say. This was totally unexpected, but then I remembered Specky telling me often to always ‘expect the unexpected.’ I squirmed in my seat a bit but managed to answer, ‘So you’re single?’
‘I’m single,’ she answered, ‘and…’ but before she could complete what she was about to say, I saw Specky walk in with an excited bounce in her steps.
‘Done with your haircut for the month?’ I asked.
Before she could answer, Specky saw this ‘single’ stranger sharing the table with me and… after about five seconds of confused silence, shouted, ‘Manjiri!’
They hugged each other and after they had exchanged millions of consonants and vowels and exclamations and all sorts of grammatical intricacies that amazed me as I always thought Specky was the silent sort, I was told that they were school and college mates.
‘From Patiala?’ was all I could mutter.
‘Yes,’ they chorused and it was only after another round of cappuccinos and a couple of hours that Manjiri turned to me and said, ‘Let me now complete what I was telling you.’
Manjiri smiled and said, ‘I’m single and the greatest practical joker on earth.’
Specky nodded and said, ‘We were a gang of four and the school and college authorities always feared us.’ Manjiri then told us that she had seen us enter the mall and then as she was about to rush to meet her friend who she was seeing after years, she noticed that I had decided not to wait in the salon but go down. It was then that the long dormant practical joker within her woke and whispered: ‘Here is an opportunity of a lifetime, Manjiri. Don’t lose it.’ She then quietly followed me and sat down in that Costa Coffee outlet on the ground floor to think of some plan when my bouncing glance gave her one.
We all laughed and then after we had said our good-byes and we walked away from Manjiri, I happened to glance back. She stood there with a wistful smile and in the brief moment that our eyes met, she winked.
27 January 2013