Coffee Chronicles by Chandrapal Khasiya

I was sick of my life.

Literally.

Imagine waking up early at seven, then spending an hour to get ready, grabbing the bus filled with people with drowsy eyes, which had lost the gleam of dreams a long time ago, and then spending eight hours in front of the screen, and then bored and tired, returning back to room and dump yourself in the bed like a messed bundle. Sounds pathetic and monotonous, right? That was my life.
Coffee Chronicles
Coffee Chronicles by Chandrapal Khasiya
And just an hour before my tired eyes used to close, staring at the helicoptering fan, thousands thoughts, fractured and unfinished, rush toward me, making me wonder about my decision that I took three years ago. A choice so terrible that I had been regretting since that day. It was again like any usual day, and I climbed out my bus, frustrated and exhausted. A leather-office bag slung over my shoulder, heavier than it was in the morning, hands inside the pockets, head slumped. A gust of dusty wind rolled a paper from nowhere and pasted it to the top cap of my shoe. Annoyed, I jerked my leg, but the paper seemed as stubborn as my life. It remained stuck. “Get away,” I again kicked the air. The paper fluttered lightly, beating the skin of my shoe, taunting me. Defeated by a small piece of a paper, I bent and separated it from myself. Somewhere inside me, a tyrant cherished this small act of extrication. Clenched in my fist, I balled the paper and threw it in the nearby dustbin. Wind again sighed, and like a rival basketball player, it slapped my paper ball away from the dustbin. I was about to curse the God of Wind when a cheerful voice stopped me from committing this blasphemy. “You shouldn’t do that.” I turned and found a little girl in white frock staring at me. Her shoulder cut hair, rimmed by a ribbon, swayed with breeze. “Sorry,” I said. “Sorry wouldn’t put your waste into the dustbin, mister,” she said with an authority, crossing her arms. She started tapping her right leg to the ground, and then it dawned to me that she was expecting something from me. “First of all, that’s not my paper,” I cleared her the fact. “Second, I did throw it.” The girl turned her head toward the balled paper, which again started rolling, bouncing with air. “Road isn’t the place to dispose the litter, mister. You seemed to be an educated man.” Now, I love kids. I love to see them playing in the garden from my balcony. I love to see them rushing into the school while leaving for office. I love to see them licking ice-creams and making faces. But that day, I felt I was a different person. “If it concerns you so much then why don’t you pick it up by yourself.” “Mister,” she said. “what’s your problem?” “Girl,” I replied, “you wouldn’t understand.” Why was even I talking to her? I spun on my heels and continued on my way, completely ignoring her sigh of frustration. I admit I was rude to her, not a proud thing to do. But when life is rude at you, insolence seeps under your skin, turning you into to the person you always scared to be. After few steps, guilt rolled over me, and I took a glance over my shoulder. The girl was gone, so was the cursed paper. And I stood there, introspecting. What have I become? Chapter Two Happy Birthday, Rihan. I slid the arrow toward the latest wish that appeared over my wall. Liked it, read the friend’s name, and commented thanks. Social media did connect me with my past friends, but it disappointedly failed to radiate the happiness of celebration. I was just about to flip down my laptop when a notification popped up at the corner of the screen. Another wish. I read it, and the last word pinched my soul. Happy Birthday, writer! My eyes remained glued to that word, mind numb, body paralyzed. Shattered dream prickles more than shattered glasses, and with every passing moment, that word agonized my conscience. I tried to tear away my gaze from the screen, but was unsuccessful. Seconds passed, then minutes, and then power saver mode of my laptop turned the screen black. With just a single flick of my finger over the touchpad I could have flared up the laptop back to life; I didn’t. Like a murderer evading the crime scene, I rose and darted away from my murdered dream. Cold wind of the evening whispered a song to me, somehow calming my distress, as I walked aimlessly to the square of the market. A hasty passerby thudded with me, making me twist with his momentum. “Sorry.” The kind man gave an apologetic smile, nodded, and disappeared in crowd. Who was he? I wondered. Would we ever meet again? Of course not, I convinced myself, and started again walking. Writer! The word again rang in my ears. Retrospecting, I found myself before a small bricked store. A bell over the door chimed as I gently pushed myself inside the store. The air carrying the familiar scent of fresh wood wafted over my face as I turned to the store-keeper. An aged man inspected me through his weary eyes. A smile tucked over his lips as he remembered his old customer. “Rihan? Good to see you again.” I weakly smiled back. “New books have arrived,” the book-keeper said. Nodding, with heaviness settling inside me, I stepped toward the rows of shelves filled with books. There was once a time when I used to visit this place to get inspired. Those stacked novels once used to yell at me – You can write a better one. Now the same masterpieces reminded me how failed and hopeless I was. Gradually, I pulled out my most favorite book. As I skimmed its pages, the words printed over it seemed to taunt me. A storm of emotions swirled inside me, and I closed my eyes to quiet it, but a tear rained and wet the page of the open book. I looked at the gray smudge and read the word of the sentence where the tear had dropped. Dream. The bell again rang, announcing the arrival of a new customer, distracting me. I put the book back and embarked to leave. Dream. Something within me had changed, I could feel it. Dream. As I took steps toward the door, that fresh yet familiar feeling grew fiercely. Dream. I pulled the door, the bell pealed, and then it struck me what was missing from my life. I made a decision at that instant. Chapter Three “This is ridiculous!” I tried to focus on my laptop screen. The woman again shouted. “I asked for Americano, not Espresso!” When it came to choose a place to restart writing, the first spot that clicked me was the new Sparkle Café opened few days ago at the market avenue. I deliberately choose the corner table so that I could avoid people’s chats and focus on my creation. Three years had passed and I hadn’t put a word, it was difficult to generate ideas. There was a time when I used to post few-liner tales daily on social media, but now not even a single thought appeared. I took a sip of my espresso, anticipating that it would rattle my rusty mind, and it would start working. It didn’t. I took another sip, typed few words, and then the woman’s voice again interrupted my chain of thoughts. “What do you mean you don’t have Americano, mister?” I couldn’t bear more. For a while I scanned the crowd settled in the café, but no one seemed to be disturbed. I stood up and inched near her. Attired in office formals, a purse clung over her shoulder, with a cup of coffee in one hand and back against me, she was demanding furiously. “But Ma’am,” the manager politely attempted. “I don’t want to hear anything,” she cut him off. “Do you think I don’t know the difference between Americano and Espresso? You are so wrong, and you will regret your mistake, mister.” I stepped ahead. “Excuse me, miss, Americano is actually a diluted Espresso with hot water.” My words acted like a charm, and silence settled over the café. “Yes, Ma’am,” concurred the manager. “And that’s what I am trying to explain. The drink in your hand is Americano only.” I heard a remorseful oh from the lady. She turned sluggishly, and our eyes locked. Those eyes, which I had avoided during my graduation, were fixed on me. “Sia?” “Rihan?” A smile touched on my face, and she too responded in the same manner. Again I was spellbound. Fortunately, the manager interrupted, breaking my continuous staring. “Ma’am, please take a seat. You are actually crowding the counter.” Sia, without looking at the manager, took a step toward me. “Happy to see you.” “Same here.” “I am so happy that you remember me!” There was excitement in her words, and I thought for a while what should I say to her. People who knew me well are aware of the fact that I get nervous when there is a female around. No, I was not a feminophobic. It was just that I was raised in such a manner, and my education line was such that I had less contact of the opposite sex. And due to this inexperience, I stated a foolish sentence. “You were thinking Americano and Espresso are two different drinks?” Sia opened her mouth to say something, and closed it. The twinkle in her eyes vanished, and the happiness on her face faded. I then realized I should have not said that line. After so many years, coincidently we met, and I ruined the moment, terribly. “I didn’t mean that... I mean, I mean that...I mean…you understand, right?” She squinted her eyes till they were slits, then broke into guffaws. “Why are you fumbling?” I was not, was I? Nervousness seized me from inside, and habitually I stepped back, to be a little distant from her. “Sorry.” “For what?” I thought for a while, wondering the same. I tried to think for a substantial reason, but just like ideas for the story I wanted to write, nothing appeared. I was blank, and her prying eyes were waiting for the answer. Blessedly, the manager again interrupted, this time his voice was laced with irritation. “Please, vacant the counter.” I nodded to him, and then asked Sia. “Do you, you know, we both…” Words choked in my throat. “We both what, Rihan?” She sounded serious, and fear gripped me. Gears of my mind started rewinding, speculating what again something stupid slipped from my mouth. I attempted to rebuild my dissolving courage. Clearing my throat, I said in one breath. “We both can have a coffee together at my table. If you wish, then only. I am just saying that only coffee, at the corner table.” She grinned. “Chill. I was going to ask you the same.” I blinked in surprise. The manager behind her, furiously slapped the flat of his hand on the counter, signaling us that his patience was thinning rapidly. We both dashed toward my table. I waited for her to settle, and as I was setting into my chair, I couldn’t stop myself to absorb her details. The three-little-golden triangle earrings twinkled as it caught the dying-sun light, which filtered through the glass wall. When her oval face leaned ahead, and when her lips met the edge of the cup to sip the coffee, her jet-black hair curtained down. With one hand, she pulled her hair back, and raised her face. Her almond-shaped eyes, lined with kohl, caught me again staring. Immediately, I dropped my gaze on the opened-laptop, and stared typing rubbish, pretending that I was creating a fiction. “I hope I am not disturbing you,” she said apologetically. I shut the screen, took my cup and sipped, hoping the coffee would grease my throat and the trapped words would spring freely now onward. “Not at all.” “It’s good that you remember me,” she said. How was I supposed to forget her? That day of my past, during graduation years, when she was in the library with her mates, I was again at the corner, avoiding hum of the people, was engrossed in a novel. Tired, I shut the book and surveyed my surroundings, observing the people. And then my scrutiny stuck on her. For long moments, I read her movements, and for the first time in life, someone’s face was more interesting than the novels I read. A clicking sound jarred me out of my recollections. Sia had emptied her cup. “I don’t forget people so easily,” I responded, though it was too late. She glared at me. “You didn’t even thank me when I wished you. That was rude of you.” “What?” She dug her hand into the purse, and drew out her phone. She tapped the screen for multiple times, danced the tip of her finger over the smooth screen, and then displayed it to me. “You didn’t even like my wish.” I read the content. Happy B’day, writer! I gasped in surprise. “It were you.” “Obviously,” she jeered. “There’s my name too!” Rising, she gathered her accessories. “But I am glad.” I gave her a questioning look. Pointing toward my laptop, and then at me. “No short stories, no few-lines tales, no updates on social media for three years, I thought you gave up.” I did give up, I wanted to say but remained silent. Sia continued, “But when I noticed you still working on the story, I felt happy. That you are still the same the way you were in college. I need to go, bye.” And you have no idea how your one word in your wish have influenced me, I kept this thought to myself. As she pulled the glass door and made her way to her destination, I pressed my face to the glass wall, leaning on my chair, just to see her mixing in the crowd. And I wished for another coincident to occur so I could meet her again. Chapter Four God above the seven skies must have heard my wish. The following day, after the tiring office hours, I made my way to the Sparkle Café, to try my luck and see what could I possibly put on the blank document. “Rihan?” I stopped, spun, and greeted her with smile. “Sia, nice to see you again.” “So you always come here?” She walked toward me, fidgeting something in her purse. “The café just opened the last week,” I informed her. She was still busy rummaging her purse. What was she looking for? “Did you forget something?” “I swear I had a chocolate somewhere,” she said, now peeping into the purse. “There were three, and I am hundred percent sure that I only ate two of them.” I failed to suppress my reaction. “What?” Sia looked at me, and grinned. “I know it sounds surprising. Even anyone who knows me well will be astonished to know that I resisted myself to eat all three of them. I just love chocolates.” I made a mental note about her liking of the chocolate. “Listen, there is a shop nearby from where we can buy another one for you.” Her movements stopped. “I am not searching it for myself, Rihan.” I waited, anticipating she would reveal further; she didn’t. “For whom then?” “For my sweetheart.” Think of a lightning bolt precisely striking on you from the heaven, how would you feel? Stunned, shocked, devastated, dead. I exactly felt all of these crashing emotions at the same time. “Sweetheart?” “Yes.” Sia pulled out a bar of the chocolate from the purse. “See, I told you I haven’t eaten all. Come.” She grabbed my free hand, her touch issued an electricity within me, making me more dazed, “I’ll introduce you to my sweetheart.” Words were lost somewhere within me; all I could do was to nod in agreement. While she was towing me, cutting through the crowd, her hair catching in air, waving, revealed again her twinkling earrings. The world around me was mute, and call it my imagination, but I was hearing her breaths. What was happening? The crowd started to thin and she ushered me to the playground. “That’s my sweetheart.” I scanned the playground, and my gaze fell on a tall, well-muscled man. My throat suddenly became dry. “That military guy?” She rolled her eyes. “No way.” Sia pointed to the little girl sitting idly under the only tree of the playground. “Alaina.” Foolish, I cursed myself, and grinned. “You are acting weird, Rihan.” I tried to control my expressions, the latest revelation acted like a balm on my burned hopes. And the soothing feeling was so satisfying that my face radiated my happiness. “Sorry, I thought…” “…you thought that the guy…” “No,” I interjected, foolishly. Her smirk told me that she had already caught my confusion, and was just enjoying the moment. “If you are done with your any stupid assumptions, can we meet her?” From the corner of my eyes, I registered a small stall. “Do you wish to have a cup of coffee?” “Sure.” “Okay, I’ll get it and join you both.” “Wait,” she stopped me, plucking out a currency note from her purse, pushed it into my hands and clasped my fingers over it. Her touch again dumfounded me. “I prefer to pay my part, and don’t think to give it back to me. I am an independent woman.” There was no point in arguing, her sharp face was fierce and determined. Nodding, I moved toward the stall and asked for two cups of coffee. In a couple of paper cups, the man filled the steaming coffee and offered me. I began walking carefully, making sure the hot brown liquid wouldn’t burn my fingers. My feet froze when Sia told the girl named Alaina to say hi to me. “You?” Alaina expressed her shock. She turned out to be the same little girl I had argued with few days back regarding the paper and the dustbin. “Hi,” I tried, faking a smile. Sia looked at me, then at Aliana. “You know both each other?” “Yes.” Alaina rose. The little girl scanned me and then her eyes got glued on the two hot cups of coffee. “Mister, are you…” Before things could go wrong, to be more specifically, before Alaina could reveal the past incident, an instinct told me to handle the situation. “Hey, Alaina. Yes, I know what you told me last time. These cups are definitely getting into the dustbin. And you are looking so cute today.” Tried my best to lace my words with honey as much as I could. With an unwrapped bar of chocolate in hand, Alaina blinked and gave me a skeptical look. Not meeting Alaina’s gaze, I gave one cup to Sia, which she gleefully accepted. “How do you know her?” I asked. “Your relative?” Sia blew air in her cup, tendrils of the steam parted. “She stays in my society. Isn’t she cute?” Not risking to see the little girl again, I simply replied, “Indeed, she is.” “So how did you know her?” Sia shot the query I was scared of. “Well,” I said, “it’s hard to resist her innocence.” Sia smiled. “You too like kids.” I slightly turned my head to see what Alaina was doing. She was busy in munching her chocolate bar. “Yes, always. It’s their….” “Eyes,” Sia completed. “Full of innocence. Why doesn’t our eyes shine like that?” I pondered for a moment. “May be our worries steals the twinkle from our eyes.” For the rest of time we drained our coffee in silence. She looked for the dustbin to dispose her cup, but there was not one around. I extended my arm. “I’ll drop it.” “Thanks.” She handed me the cup. “It seems I need to go now. Cya, Alaina.” “Bye,” Alaina responded cheerfully. “Thanks for the chocolate.” “Anything for you, sweetheart. Rihan, cya.” “Cya.” Sia took a turn in the opposite alley, just away from the playground, and was out of sight. “Your sense of cleanliness is terrible,” Alaina commented. “But your choice of liking is appreciable, I must say.” “What are you talking about, girl?” Alaina crossed her arms, and craned her neck up to see me. “You like her.” “No,” I said. “I don’t.” How did she even know? “Come on, I am a girl and I know when a guy likes a girl,” she replied, as if she had read my musings. “You are just a kid,” I jeered. “You don’t know anything.” “And you are an adult,” she countered, “who doesn’t even know where to put the rubbish.” I squatted before her, to match her level. “How do you know?” “When will adults grow up?” Alaina said, frustrated. “It’s clear from your face. You look at her like…” she mused for a while, “…like my younger brother looking at the ice-cream man.” That was a terrible metaphor, but she was right. “So what am I supposed to do?” I didn’t believe myself that I was seeking advices from the little girl. “I don’t know,” she said. “Papa always gives gifts to Maa. I think you should gift her something.” Why didn’t that idea strike me first? “Thanks.” I rose and was about to leave, then halted, and turned. “And what am I supposed to gift her?” “You are impossible,” Alaina said. “How would I know that? You are grown up. Figure it out by yourself.” I nodded, thanking her. I was about to buy the first gift for the first girl of my life. Chapter Five “I don’t believe you brought me with you to buy a gift for her,” Alaina complained for the hundredth time while we both were checking the market. I tried to think for a gift by myself, and every time I found myself in the bookstore. And there was only one mutual friend between me and Sia. So by bribing Alaina for five chocolates, I asked her to help me to select a gift. “I am confused,” I revealed. “There are so many accessories for woman. What am I supposed to buy? Help me now.” “You do realize that I am just twelve-year-old,” she said. Surprised, I stopped. “Yesterday you were saying that you are a girl and you know things.” Alaina giggled innocently. “An adult shouldn’t take a child’s words so seriously.” My face dropped, and so my hopes. “Don’t be sad, mister,” Alaina cheered me up. “So what accessories of her you always notice?” Without any second thought, the name of the accessory leaked involuntarily from my lips. “That was quick,” Alaina said. “I am impressed, mister. So what are we waiting for. I know one place. Maa always used to take me there. Come on.” And that’s how I selected the first gift for her, which was now resting in my bag, and with every passing moment, I could feel it getting heavier. I cleared my throat to get Sia’s attention. We were back again at Sparkle Café, on our usual corner table. As always, she looked celestial to me. “Are you good?” Sia asked first. “Yes, good.” I replied, stifling my nervousness. “What happened to me? Nothing.” “You…” Sia said, “…seems bit weird today.” “I just wanted to ask you something,” I blurted out. I didn’t want to ask anything, I just wanted to give her the gift. But being the first time, I was lacking the courage. “Sure.” Sia dropped the spoon after stirring her coffee, then lifted her cup. “Ask.” I searched for a question, and asked. “Do you believe in Gods?” “I believe in myself.” She took a sip, licked her upper lip with the lower one. “Do you?” “I actually believe in Goddess,” I said. “Good, and what is her special powers?” “Nothing. She just believes in herself.” A long moment of silence stretched between us, and I realized I had said something really lame. But when she blushed, it confirmed that she liked it. “For a while I thought that was lame.” “No,” she shook her head. “Nothing from you is lame. I am glad that you said it.” “Seriously?” “Of course.” The world outside started to begin dark. “I think I should leave, cya.” Like a stone, I sat there, gathering my courage to give her the present. For long moments, I was in dilemma whether I should give it to her or not. Till then, Sia had reached the other side of the market. Sighing, I dashed out of the café and reached her. “Sia?” She didn’t get my voice. The traffic noise was too much. “Sia?” This time she heard. “Easy, Rihan. What happened?” “Nothing.” I pulled the box wrapped with red glittering paper. “I know this is the worst place to present you a gift, amidst the traffic, near the dustbin, but…” I handed her it, finally. Sia accepted it gladly. “Shall I open it now?” “Sure.” With her delicate fingers she cautiously opened the wrap, revealing a little box. Gently, Sia shifted the lid, and gasped in surprise. “This is really beautiful?” “Do you like it?” Again I asked a foolish question. It was obvious from her reaction that she liked it. “Yes, thanks.” She picked one of the silver earrings from the box. “This is really, really, beautiful. Thanks again.” And all my doubts regarding the gift finally came to an end. Chapter Six “Why do you kill people?” I had not expected our usual meeting after our office hours at Sparkle Café would begin with a grim question. “Sorry. I didn’t get you.” “Why do you kill people in your stories? Most of your older blogposts were filled with killings.” I drummed my fingers on the table. “I like thrillers, mysteries, to write. Someone has to die in such genres.” “Yeah,” Sia said. “I know. Why don’t you try something romantic?” My fingers stopped patting the table. “Romantic is…mainstream.” “Even killing is,” Sia said dryly. “Every day there is an attack or a natural calamity at some corner of the world. And I really hate when you kill one of your characters.” I mentally decided not to begin my next story, whatever that would be, with someone dying. I decided to write something normal. But what? The waiter arrived, wearing a smile and gently placed two cups of steaming coffee between us. I picked one of the sugar sachets, tore its edge, and poured the finely powdered sweetness into my cup. I was about to stir the mixture, when Sia asked, “Only one spoon of sugar?” “I prefer bitterness,” I replied, resuming the stirring. “Yuck!” She imitated her face in disgust as if she had gulped a mosquito accidentally. “How can you even drink that?” Feeling philosophical, I said. “Bitterness is the real taste of life.” Frowning, Sia picked another sachet and added the sugar into my cup. “Two spoonful of sugar adds sweetness. And sweet, mister writer, should be the taste of life.” I looked at her and then at my cup. “Why did you do that?” “Because I always add two spoonful of sugar in my cup,” Sia stated plainly. I threw my hands in air. “That doesn’t mean everyone like the same. You haven’t added anything in your coffee yet. Let’s exchange.” Quickly she picked two sachets together, clenched them between her ivory-white teeth, grinning mischievously she tore them, and emptied into her cup. “Sorry,” she smirked, teasingly. “My cup is too sweet for a bitter-guard like you.” “Bitter-guard?” She again burst into laughter. Her cheering, happy voice rippled through air, making me too blissful. “Sorry,” she said, between her mirth, “but you like bitter things.” Blushing, I scratched my head. “It’s just that my past was bitter.” Sia’s face immediately dropped. “Sia,” I said. “It was just a joke.” Her deepening frown indicated that she caught the truth in my gag. “Rihan, what is your past?” Her straightforwardness hit me like a gale, her question like a storm. One after another memory began to flash before my eyes. I shut my eyes, trying hard not to let the mental barrier I created in my mind to crumble, which held my past memories. “Rihan,” Sia sounded serious. “Are you okay?” Still eyes closed, I nodded. “What is your past?” Another spear of her question rammed my barrier, and this time the mental wall breached. Suppressed tears began to mount, and before they would leak my eyelashes, I rose on my feet. “Excuse me, I need to use washroom.” Saying that, I dashed toward the washroom, pushed the door in haste, and dropped my arms around the basin, head slumped in regret. Scooping the cold water jetting out from the tap, I splashed it on my face. The rebelled tears mingled with water, fell into the basin. “Is everything okay?” Sia’s face was pale with concern. “Yes,” I lied, and took my seat. “I don’t want to pester you more, Rihan. But something happened with you three years ago. I used to notice your updates, blogposts, everything. But then you suddenly became inactive.” “Sia, what are you talking about? And why does it matter to you so much?” I was losing my patience. I didn’t want to disclose my reasons to anyone. They are better buried inside me. “It does.” Sia leaned ahead, resting on her elbows. “Because you are different from the rest.” “You don’t understand, Sia.” “I can.” Sia said, softly. “Hiding the reasons within you won’t make any good to you. You are being eaten by your worries. Every problem comes with a solution.” “Sometimes shadows of the past never leaves you alone,” I stated plainly. “And what if someone wants to bring light in your life?” Sia prompted. Still fidgeting with memories, I replied, “The brightest light casts the darkest shadows.” “Why are you so negative, Rihan?” I tore my gaze from her and gaped at the setting sun through the glass door. Darkness began to invade the sky, and a tight knot began to form in my chest. “What you see me today is the result of the decision I took three years ago. I quitted dreaming, Sia. I quitted writing.” A silent moment prolonged. “What happened?” Sia broke the silence. Sighing heavily, with downcast eyes, I revealed. “Life happened.” The hanging lamps over our heads blazed, showering light upon us. Her face, which once was radiant, now was riddled with anxiety. “There was a time,” I said, “when I thought I could achieve my dream. There was a time when I was really getting good at words. My stories were unique then the rest, and that attracted attention of others, of yours. People started writing because of me, tagging me in their post, that they were getting inspired.” “You didn’t like that?” Sia was surprised. “If someone was getting inspired of me I would be the happiest person in the world.” You are an inspiration, I repeated the thought mentally. “What was the problem?” I prepared myself to speak. “I failed to manage myself. The office hours drained my whole energy, and the night was tiresome. I tried, but couldn’t continue. Frustrated, I killed my dream. I stopped writing and suddenly for the people I was a ray of hope, I became nothing. And for that reason, I was inactive.” “I don’t believe this,” Sia gasped, her hands shrouding on her mouth. “It happened.” “But I am not getting this,” Sia shook her head, wondering. “Then what were you doing with your laptop when we first met?” “Restarting to write,” I admitted. Her corner of lips twitched. “And what made you do that?” I looked into her enticing eyes, and said. “Sometimes all you need is a cup of coffee with the right person. I didn’t say it to you, but it all revived because of you. You are an inspiration, Sia. Thanks. The chapter of my life I closed after my graduation, your arrival reopened it.” Sia opened her mouth, her lips clapped, but no words were produced. She took a deep breath. “I understand, Rihan. But you need to understand, there are people who always wait to read your works. And I am among them. So mister writer, I demand you to write a story.” She stood up, our eyes never losing the contact, and smiled at me. “Will you?” I nodded, beaming. “But there is one condition.” I was taken back. “And that is?” “You aren’t going to kill anyone in the story.” “Agreed. But I don’t have any ideas right now.” “You will find one, you always have. And thanks.” “For what?” “For considering me as an inspiration. Cya.” You aren’t just an inspiration, I thought. Chapter Seven “Sia?” “Yes?” We were sitting on the playground’s bench. I already bought two cups of coffee, which sat between us, separating both yet connecting us. Evening mist had started curling over the ground, the hot wisps of our beverages were struggling for its existence. “I need to tell you something.” “Why am I feeling that you are going to blast something shocking to me?” I laughed. It somehow eased myself. “Before we met, I hated this city. I never knew you were in the same city.” “But I always knew, and have been noticing you. But you never noticed me, Rihan. Every evening you used to drop out from that bus and used to go directly to your room. The guy I remember during our college days used to notice every little details, but you didn’t even see me when I followed you in the bookstore.” Memory of the day I visited the bookstore instantly clicked me. Someone had entered behind me. “I’m sorry.” “But I am glad that the Sparkle Café became an excuse for me to meet you. I am well aware that Americano is one form of Espresso, but just to get your attention I created that fiasco at the counter.” I slumped my head in guilt. “Forgive me, Sia. At that moment, I was…” “Shut up!” Sia said authoritatively. “I am not yet done. Do you even know that when your eyes weren’t meeting mine, I used to watch you, hoping that someday you would say something really good to me? You did once, and then you ruined the mood saying that it was lame. It wasn’t lame! And then you gifted me earrings. But from last one week, you seemed to be in another world. You meet me, chat a bit, and leave early. What’s going on?” Sia’s tone touched another level. “That’s what I need to….” “Just shut up!” Sia again fired. “Don’t you get any hints? You are such an idiot!” “Now will you please listen to me?” I said. “Speak.” Taking a long breath, I took out a parcel from my bag and offered it to her. “Another gift? I don’t want you to waste your money on me.” “Just, open it,” I probed. She tore the golden glittering paper of the wrap, and pulled out a hardback book. Labelled on it was the title of the book – Coffee Chronicles, and in bottom was written - a very special edition. She smiled, and opened the cover. As she leafed through the book, before each chapter she found one of her most beautiful pictures. “Thank you so much!” I was trying hard not to smile like a mad person. I had been working on the story for a week, made two hardcopies at local printing house, just to make her moment special. “Honestly, my mind was vacant, so I wrote about ourselves in the book.” “Thanks!” I beamed. “There is one more surprise.” I dragged out another copy of - a very special edition – of Coffee Chronicles. “Will you make my copy a really special one by signing it?” Sia was speechless. She nodded, and I offered her my pen. As she marked her signature on my copy, I noticed her expressions. It was a mixture of happiness and excitement. Her smile had been constant since I gave her the book. “Thank you, thank you, so much!” “There is one more thing, Sia,” I said. “Still?” “Yes,” I replied. “This story began because of you. You inspired me.” I took out my phone, opened my e-publishing account, opened the draft named Coffee Chronicles. “I haven’t published it online yet. Please do the honour. Make the story live for others.” It seemed Sia was trying hard to contain all happiness within her, but somehow her eyes betrayed her. They were watery. She tapped her finger on the Publish button, and shared the story to the world. I looked at her and said, “You aren’t an inspiration, Sia. You are a blessing. Thank you for everything, and Happy Birthday, hope you like my gift.” “You remember?” “Obviously.” Unaware of our attention, thin threads of steam from our cups were entwining.

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