Fiction: Heart to Heart

She clutched her palms around a warm cup of coffee and took a small sip! It was finally Friday and the week had ended.  The sun was setting outside, sunk into a small booth near the window at the coffee shop around the corner, she enjoyed watching the world go by. So many new faces. She loved wondering about each one’s story.

She made up names for them in her head, and who they were going home to. The guy with the green shirt was in a hurry because his daughter had topped her class today and he couldn’t wait to see her. The woman in the grey saree selling vegetables had finally sold enough to buy the medicines needed at home, the young couple walking hand in hand had just skipped their classes to spend the evening together and that old uncle in spectacles looked so happy because he had got a two-year extension on his retirement today!

She wove small back stories for every stranger she laid her eyes on before she moved to the next.  It kept her amused and left her little time to think about other predicaments that often kept her busy!

The mobile phone vibrated against the table, her fingers silenced it mechanically without even looking at the screen! A long inhale and she shifted her gaze to her surroundings indoors, the 50 something year old man, that she had named Mr. Shah, sitting next to her had left, his half empty cup and untouched biscuit still lying on the table. ‘Something must have come up’ she thought, as she looked around some more, the place was largely empty.

‘But sweetheart, you know how much I love you’, she heard a helplessly exasperated man whisper on the table behind her, she had not noticed when that table had gotten occupied, she grinned as she shook her head! This was going to be a long one, she thought as she sipped her coffee some more.

As much as she enjoyed watching people, she hated eavesdropping. She picked up her bag and phone and coffee and diary and pen, all heaped into her arms as she clumsily moved further away from the voice, and plonked herself onto the next empty table! This table had no window. No view. No people. No stories. She stared at herself in the mirror on the wall in front of her.

Love – she pondered!

Her phone rung again and this time she stole a glance at it! She gasped as she saw the number! Hurriedly she swept her things into her bag, gulped down what was still rather warm coffee and left the place in a hurry!

She ran down the street and over the corner, into her building and up the stairs! She burst into the door screaming, ‘I’m home!’

The entire house was in darkness, only the sound of the radio from the room inside, with cricket commentary blaring.  India was just about to win, is the sense she got! Dadi waddled around carrying a candle in her hand!

‘What happened?’ she asked.

‘They have come to repair the wiring, they will be done soon, I was calling to tell you the house bell wont work’ came the reply!

She dumped her things on the nearest couch and popped herself exactly on the spot her dadi always sat on!

A whack of a rolled newspaper on the head later, she shifted and made space, enough for both of them to squeeze in too! They laughed! She hugged her grandmother and sat close as she heard her rant on about the day! The people she had met on the way to the temple that morning, what the aunty on the 5th floor did, what the watchman told her about the uncle in the next building, the list was endless but she wouldn’t trade hearing all about it for the world.

Just then Baba walked past the room, cautiously in the dark, waving to her as he inched towards the balcony, leaving Dadi miffed as always!

‘It must be time,’ dadi chided, ‘for his girlfriend to go down for a walk! He sits for an hour and watches her everyday! If only he would give me so much time!’

‘You have me all to yourself, the rest of the day’– came a jovial shout out from the balcony!

Even after 50 years of togetherness, Baba, still slurped his tea in public, forgot his spectacles all over the house and flirted with the old aunty from the next building at every opportunity he got!   Dadi, still sung old hindi songs completely out of tune, snored in her sleep and watched TV serials so loud the neighbours could hear!   They both grumbled about each other’s ways endlessly! They couldn’t do without each other, for a day!

Maybe there was less extravagant display of affection, but in all that was unsaid, there was a stronger bond.   A trust, and importantly, a sense of humour, strung them together! They respected and cherished each other’s individuality! Ideal relationship? . . .  Modern relations seemed to be more about ‘meeting expectations’ and unending ‘displays of loyalty’!

If you love him, you will be willing to change for him – she recalled being told by a peer once! She stayed with that thought.  Maybe that’s what she lacked?  Was it impossible for someone to love her just as she was? She frowned a little as her mind debated frantically! Searching for answers!

The tet-e-tet ensuing around her pulled her back to the present.

‘He won’t change for anything in the world!’ – grumbled dadi finally.

‘Would you want him to?’ She asked playfully!

The light came on just then, and she could see dadi’s face smiling bright – ‘Not in a million years’

‘Love’ – she quipped aloud, as she went off to wash her face, leaving dadi a little puzzled!

Love for her, would, perhaps, always be a little different.  She didn’t know what made love arrive and what made It leave!  She never really believed love could ever leave!   All she knew was. Love stayed where there was unabashed honesty, where no one was guilty for being themselves.

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