Monday, April 10, 2006

The Coffee Shop at Blomdale

The coffee shop at Blomdale was drab: white linen dressed the tables and tumblers made of thick glass stood upturned at corners. There was no one around. Even the waiter seemed reluctant to fill up the glasses with water. However, when he finally got to it, he placed the F&B menu on the table and vanished.

Janaki was only impressed by this last vanishing act. She hated how most waiters would stand over her shoulder making imperceptible impatient noises. Maybe this was the best thing about agreeing to the coffee shop rather than a Barista which was a five-minute walk away. She sipped the water and messaged Vikas. The reply said he would be there in ten minutes.

Janaki took a deep breath and sunk further into her chair feeling millions of tiny muscles stretch luxuriously and go limp. She set her bag in the next chair and carelessly smiled at the room around her thinking about how anonymous the room was. You could relax here, she thought. This was much better than the noisy Barista. Her apprehension about Vikas settled. She stopped doubting that he had any dubious motive in suggesting the coffee shop over a Barista. It was clear that he wouldn't have been able to find his way to the Barista on the main road from Blomdale where he had put up. After all, this was on her way and she would also not have parking hassles. She lazily glanced at the menu and smsed her boyfriend.

When Vikas walked into the coffee shop, she had fallen into an almost hypnotic state coming to only when he stood smiling at her for a few seconds. Janaki smiled and greeted him awkwardly. She almost gasped when he suddenly lunged towards her and pulled her into a firm hug. She did her best to keep the smile intact; they had hugged before after all.

"Would you like to come up to my room?" asked Vikas. "I can make us some chai, or coffee - whatever you like."

The question was worded innocently enough. There wasn't any suspicious body language or sign. He didn't deepen his tone or wet his lips. It was a polite invitation to his room at the hotel which she politely declined.

"No thanks. I'm quite comfortable here."

I'm very happy to see you, Janaki", said Vikas as he got into the chair opposite her.

He looked at her directly in the eye and she struggled to stop blushing. She told herself to grow up and mumbled, "Yeah, me too." critically considering whether that was the right thing to say. A 50 cent track started playing itself in her head: just a little bit.

The waiter appeared miraculously and took their order. Vikas asked if she would like to eat something; she declined. They began talking a little about him and what he was doing in Hyderabad. Vikas had a matter-of-fact way of talking about himself, about how rich and successful he was and how passionate he was about everything he did. Janaki knew about it already, of course. She had heard stories and whispers and gossip but that was nothing compared to hearing it from the man himself, how he started from scratch and went on to build an empire. Anyone would be easily impressed.

What was probably more flattering was the fact that he had wanted to meet her. He had messaged her before coming to Hyderabad and asked very modestly if she would be free to see him. Janaki had been curious about his interest in her and had agreed almost at once although she was a little perturbed that he was willing to alter his trip to her convenience. But Janaki was not new to the culture of 'air kissing'. She had taught herself to feign nonchalance towards acts of chivalry.

Vikas asked pertinent questions about her life and her work. Janaki was impassioned. This was what she could talk about for hours: her plans; her career; what she thought and speculated; the logical map of reasoning that she followed in making choices. Her eyes lit up, she leaned forward gesticulating. And then for no particular reason at all, Vikas stood up, crossed the table to her side and drew her into another awkward hug.

Through her formative years Janaki had painfully accepted that hugging had become a necessary social nicety. As a rule she never hugged for any reason at all, except maybe as a genuine gesture of friendship or comfort. But these days, just about everyone was huggable anytime whether you knew them since forever, or just met them a minute ago. Social hugging was easier for her when she was either drunk or just preoccupied. Now she was neither and she debated resisting the hug. But her memory took her back to the first time she had met Vikas. He had hugged her then many times, at every 'hi' and 'bye'. He had hugged a lot of other people too. He was simply one of those huggable rich and successful people. Janaki let herself be hugged.

But just as her mind adjusted to the idea of being hugged, Vikas planted a quick peck on her cheek. She liked to think it was her cheek but it was almost at the corner of her mouth. Her body stiffened involuntarily. Vikas drew back unperturbed and confident. He took his place and resumed their conversation.

Conversations, especially intelligent conversations were not something you came across on a daily basis. Janaki yearned for them everyday and she was in one. Vikas encouraged her overtures about her career plans. He dished out advice and tips. He was like a supportive elder brother, or a cousin, or an uncle, who understood what you needed and how you wanted to get it.

Frequently he asked her to apply for a job at his company; Janaki even suspected that perhaps the agenda of this meeting was more in the nature of a radical interview. But Vikas also reached across the table often to hold and squeeze Janaki's hand. Her feelings about hand holding and squeezing were not unlike those of hugging, a social pill swallowed with some difficulty.

Refills of their respective beverages were ordered and as the conversation progressed, Vikas had slipped in between chunks of career talk and advice a little jewel. "Janaki, I want to see you again. Do you want to?"

The question was innocent enough once again, but this time he had seemed to deepen his voice and he was wetting his lips - or just finishing his chai? Again she wasn't sure how to respond to this question. Perhaps her level of social sophistication wasn't high enough. So she mumbled again, "Yeah, OK."

A snake-like smile spread over Vikas's face. Janaki looked out the window next to their table. She hadn't looked at it since he had arrived. But now she saw it was dark. The slow discomfort that had been creeping into her mind since Vikas stepped into the coffee shop began to stay. She couldn't tell herself to grow up anymore. She was confused and only sensed a need to get away as quickly as possible.

Janaki knew she had a strong sixth sense, but she had never learned to trust it intensely. She had, however, learnt to give people the benefit of doubt. She had learnt to be optimistic. That was how she looked at it when finally Vikas offered to walk her to her scooter that was parked in the hotel's premises. They were located behind the building in a dark isolated area. In fact, a part of her mind was glad to have an escort.

The site of the scooter reassured her. It was her getaway from Blomdale, from Vikas. She put on her jacket and scarf. Vikas offered to button up her jacket, but she declined again. She was about to don her helmet when he stepped forward, held her shoulders and kissed her on her mouth through her scarf. She stood rooted with shock, still disbelieving that she was in the middle of what was going on. Emboldened, Vikas cupped her face and drew closer to repeat his feat, but without the hindrance of the scarf. Janaki turned her face away and quickly put on her helmet. There was a 'no' and a 'stop' muttered somewhere during that scuffle but she wasn't sure if they had just been thoughts or real words. The thought that she should slap him came as an afterthought, but of what use was an afterthought. There were also the significant afterthoughts of the parking being isolated and the traffic outside making a din that would stifle any scream.

The scooter turned into a primary target. She had to direct all her efforts at getting on it and being off. Vikas stood near smiling as if he had accomplished something or was close to it. His manner was crazily assuring in itself but consistently and increasingly discomforting to Janaki. It was only after she had passed the gate of Blomdale and was well on her way that she allowed herself to breath.

Bitterness swelled in her mind and anger at herself for allowing the episode with Vikas to happen. She called her boyfriend and told him about it. She told him how badly she wanted to revenge the shame, guilt and stupidity. But he annoyed her even further by laughing it off. "I told you so." His lack of concern was frustrating, but his sense of humour over the incident was appalling. A week later, their relationship ended.

Vikas and his antics settled on the back burner while Janaki dealt with the romance of a broken heart. She almost forgot about the intense shame and rage she had felt, until his wife smsed one early morning. "Why didn't you tell me that Vikas kissed you against your will?"

The memory resurfaced, but only partially. It was only later that she understood what had really happened to her. It was when Vikas smsed. "My distraught wife only just informed me that I had molested you. It seems your boyfriend told her. Did he have your blessings?"

She finally understood. She had been molested. It still didn't seem real.


Blogger Saltwater Blues said...

howdy there :)

5:14 AM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Tiger said...

R u writing a novel?

2:17 AM, May 23, 2006  

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