Waiting For –
She looks at her watch for the umpteenth time. Is she waiting for her lover? he wonders with faint curiosity. He himself is tapping his foot impatiently waiting for time to pass.
The restaurant is buzzing and most tables are full, except for two small tables at an angle, which have single occupancy each. One table is occupied by this girl in the lilac chiffon dress, and the other by him.
He orders a coffee. He notices that she is having tea. Her second cup. With biscotti, which she absently nibbles at, in between looking at her phone and at the door of the cafeteria. He notes idly that her clutch bag lying on the table matches her dress.
His coffee arrives. The best thing about a coffee is the aroma. After a few satisfying sips, he looks at his watch. (He abhorred checking time on the phone). Why can’t people run their watches fast if they are unable to be on time, he frets.
Time passes some more. People stream into the restaurant at regular intervals, animated youngsters, as well as the more sober older lot. But he finds it funny that who they are waiting for, both of them at their solitary tables hasn’t as yet shown up and so they keep waiting, in tandem.. A sort of coincidence, though he doubts, if she is aware of it. She appears too preoccupied in her own thoughts, completely oblivious to the rest of the world.
Some more time passes with him sipping his coffee and she sipping her tea. She has delicate fingers. He reckons he’s keeping a tab on her to help him pass the time. Most tables are full now. Some have raucous groups making merry with alcoholic bonhomie. At others, cosy twosomes, are intensely engaged in soft toned conversation, interspersed with deep looks at each other, lost to the world. Ahh. Fresh love.
The coffee is almost done and he realises with an air of resignation that whoever it was they are waiting for is an hour late and most likely won’t show up now.
Under normal circumstances he would have paid the bill and left. But for some reason his feet will not oblige. He keeps sitting.
He orders another coffee, and adds a grilled sandwich to it.
What prompts him to order that 2nd coffee? He wants to see where this will go, could go. Would the person she was waiting for show up finally? Idle curiosity you could say.
On an impulse, which catches him by surprise, he turns to her suddenly and leaning forward says,
“May I join you? It seems we both are waiting.”
There’s a pause as she gives him a quick once over as if checking out his decency credentials.
“Sure,” she says finally, in a
‘don’t really care one way or the other’ tone, shrugging her narrow shoulders.
He gets up and with a few steps slides into the chair opposite her.
She has stopped looking into her phone, he notes.
He wonders suddenly what he is doing sitting at the table of a perfect stranger.
“I don’t know why I gatecrashed,” he says finally.
“Does everything need
an explanation?” she says in a cool as cucumber tone.
“Uhh no,” he responds, grateful that she understands.
He asks her if she would like to have something to eat.
She politely declines.
The waiter hovers over their table.
He tells the guy in a somewhat impatient tone, “I’ve already placed my order. The lady wants nothing.”
The waiter retreats.
“Yes, so where were we,” he says, as if something important was being discussed.
“Were we?” She says, squinting her eyes.
“I suppose you hadn’t noticed that I too was waiting at the next table…”
“On the contrary. I was aware and also that your waiting took one coffee which you sipped, in-between casting glances at my table…”
He laughed in surprise. So, she was observant, while managing to look not.
“Well, there was something diverting about 2 tables close to each other both in waiting mode.
Also, technically the tally will be 2 coffees,” he says, “I’ve ordered another one plus a sandwich. I
couldn’t get myself to leave.”
“There is a lot of it in life.
One gets used to it.”
She has switched tracks suddenly.
“Waiting,” she says simply.
“Oh yes,” he responds. “We are always waiting for something to happen.”
At this point he thinks,
could he have the gumption to pry, to ask her who or what she was waiting for. Why in any case is he so curious?
There is something strange about the evening, the encounter, and he wonders if he should just pay and leave.
But he doesn’t do that. He keeps sitting, waiting for some story to unfold.
The waiter gets the coffee and the sandwich but he is not hungry anymore.
She is looking at the door.
Hmm still hoping.
“The sandwich is waiting..” she says and laughs.
That surprises him. She
joking and then laughing at her own joke.
“We all seem to be in the same big merry boat,” he quips.
“Ha!” She says, “Merry!”
He said the wrong thing, for sure, for now her expression changes. A shadow crosses her face that gives her an air of veiled sadness.
He feels the impulse to reach across and take her hand.
He doesn’t, of course.
He instead says something he is sure he never intended. “Interesting. How perfect strangers can feel, well,” he struggled for the right word, “not so strange and even comfortable.”
“Beg pardon?”she says.
“You heard me.”
She gives him a sharp look.
She has a ready riposte.
“Are we?? Strangers, I mean? We were … till you barged in! ” she says matter of factly.
He laughed. And then gave her an appreciative look.
“That’s a lovely, neat explanation.”
“But we know nothing about each other,” he added. “I could be one of those psychotic loonies one reads about..”
“You do know, don’t you,” she says, blinking her eyes in a peculiar way, “You may be with a person for years, and not know them…” Her voice trails.
“Ah yes. In any case it takes a lifetime to get to know one’s own self, that’s a task enough…” he says wryly.
“Does anybody? Know themselves, I mean?” She peers at him intently, as if the answer to that is important to her.
“For sure. Rare but there are those who reach that knowledge…self knowledge or so it is called.”
“So what are the gains of this self-knowledge…(She accents deliberately on the ‘self’…) “What does it give?” She leans forward and places her pixie chin on her intertwined hands, elbows on the table. Slender fingers as he had noted earlier, with pale pink nail varnish. Her hair falls straight like a dark silky curtain on both sides of her face. The faintest trace of an Oriental perfume reaches him.
He understands why some eyes are called almond shaped…Slanted and curving upwards at the corners, the eyes across the table fit the bill. However, they are glinting now with a sort of repressed agitation.
“Freedom from confusion, doubt,
dependency, I hear. Am still on the journey myself,” he adds with a dry laugh.
“Interesting.” For the first time she gives a kind of appreciative smile.
He feels encouraged. He wants to say something and leans forward on the table.
Just then, her phone makes a funny mottled vibratatory sound and hurriedly she looks into it.
Suddenly, before he can realise what’s happening, in the most unexpected of movements, she gets up and says,
“Have to leave. It was
nice meeting you.” Polite, proper, hurried.
He gets a start. Was she going to just walk out of that door – forever?
She is obviously in a rush and already walking away.
“We’re not strangers, remember?” He says, quoting her, in a voice he hopes, does not sound keen.
She glances at him and squints her eyes.
He wants to say something but she is looking into her phone.
Then, from a little distance, she looks at him briefly and says, “See ya…” Saying that, she swings the door open and saunters out, lilac dress, slanted almond eyes and all.
He has half a mind to follow her but refrains. It felt so crazy to even think of doing that. So,
he continues to sit at the table, wondering about the evening, the encounter, what happened, if at all anything did..
“See ya…” she had said.
He knew it sounded mad but he would be back again at this table tomorrow.
Waiting. For something, of course.