Coffee house…

“Hello Shalu…”, said the male voice on the other end. Shalini recognized the voice instantly. She had heard it many times before. The number was new, not what she had saved on her phone as, ‘Think before you pick’.

“Hello Gopal…”.

“I am in Trivandrum, shall I come over for sometime?”, he asked. She wanted to ask ‘why’. Common sense prevailed and she quickly got into the skin she had shed ten years ago.

“Okay Gopal. Let us meet at Coffee Day at Kowdiar”. Shalini had moved apartments almost every other year when the rent went up. With her meagre salary from the job at the library, she could afford only so much. She tried to live as close as possible to the library, so she could walk and get her legs move. It felt eons ago when she drove her Audi car into the driveway of the public library at Houston to drop off books. She did not want Gopal to see her current living conditions.

“Ok at 4.30?”, he asked.

She looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.30 in the afternoon. It gave her enough time to dress up and get an auto to get to Kowdiar.

“Yes, 4.30 is fine.”

Shalini seldom heard from Gopal, maybe two or three times in the last ten years. She had shut that door when she walked out of the house with two bags of her clothes and jewellery. She left everything behind. The sprawling house, the luxury, friends, her job, she had left it all.

She got to the coffee house on time and saw Gopal sitting at a table. He looked younger than she remembered. Life had treated him well. She thought she should have colored her hair, she was greying everywhere. The little make up she put on, did not conceal her wrinkles. She turned to look at the glass door and saw the reflection of an old woman.

“Hello…”, she said and sat down across Gopal. He looked up from his phone and smiled.

“How are you Shalu?”

“I am good, and you?”

“I am doing very well. How did you come?”

“I took an auto. Are you in Trivandrum for work?”

“No, my wife’s family lives in Trivandrum, so I came to visit them”.

“Oh!”, said Shalini and instantly regretted the reaction.

“I have been married for about three years. She is from Trivandrum, moved to Houston after the marriage…”

“You live in the same house?”

“No, I sold it. I live in another neighborhood now.”

“Are you happy?”, quipped Shalini.

“Yes Shalu. I am happy.”, said Gopal, looking down at this hands.

“Good for you…”, said Shalu, with a tinge of jealousy and self pity.

“And you?”

“I work at the library, live with books, write when I can. It’s going on… Why did you want to meet me, after all these years?”

Gopal was silent for a few minutes. The waiter came, we ordered our coffee and I looked up at Gopal, waiting for the answer.

“Shalu… I wanted to thank you…”, said Gopal.

“For what?”, wondered Shalu.

“For leaving me….”

Shalini burst out laughing.

“I realized that when you left me, you were giving me back my freedom.”

“And you realized that now? After ten years??”

“Took me a while… you know me…”, said Gopal coyly.

“Gopal… it was obvious to me like it was to you, that we were not meant to be. I don’t know why we decided to get married in the first place. I tried in my way and you tried in your way, but the puzzle never fit. I waited for a long time for you to leave. I understood that you were scared and I had to be the one to let go. It was not what I wanted to do, but I had to do, to give us both our sanity. I was getting sucked in my depression and you didn’t want to hear about it. The best thing was to stay away. I never met your expectations, you looked at every other woman and thought what a wonderful woman and wife she is. It is not that I am bad, it’s just that I was never enough for you, I always fell short… anyways, there is no point of talking about all that and digging the past… bottomline is you are happy now. I am glad I could give you atleast that.”

Gopal took Shalini’s hands in his, looked into her eyes and said, “I am sorry”.

The waiter brought their coffee. Shalini withdrew her hand and sipped at her coffee. She avoided eye contact with Gopal and looked at others who occupied the coffee house. They drank their coffee in silence deep in their own thoughts. When Shalini was done with hers, she got up, smiled at Gopal and left the coffee house, without looking back.

Now, it was truly over.

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At the coffeehouse…

“You really don’t share anything with me, do you?”, I asked.

After many years Akash and I went the coffeehouse we frequented before we got married. The cashier chuckled and winked as we walked hand in hand, eons ago. The place had changed significantly and so had the people…

Akash put down the cup on the table and stretched back in his chair. He folded his hands behind his head and looked out through the window. I sat looking at his face and thinking, this is the man I chose to marry twenty years ago. He looks the same, then what changed between us?

He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He fiddled with my bangles for a bit and looked into my eyes.

“Nandu, I am moving out. There is someone else…”, I sat in silence, my eyes were welling up, why do they do that? Why can’t they wait for the right moment, maybe when I am alone? I looked up, in an attempt to send the tears back to where they came from.

I withdrew my hand. Gathered my purse from the table, my phone and the keys. Why don’t I put everything in a bag instead of carrying fragments, why ain’t I whole? My sunglasses, where were they? Oh they were on my head, holding my hair in place. As I stood up, my saree got stuck under the chair. I chose to wear a saree he got me for my birthday, a beautiful pastel green and now it was stuck. Can I make a clean exit?

I finally walked out… of the coffeehouse…