by Prateek Nigam
It was nine, and Anant was already feeling buzzed.
“One last drink?” Nitin asked the gang.
“I think you have had enough,” Anant said.
“Come on; I turned twenty-five!” Nitin responded. Anant waved at the waiter to get six more kamikazes.
They tried to hold their glasses up and gulped the cloudy concoction which was quite watered down. After the incessant cheers and slurred admission of their love for each other they decided to call it a night. Amidst all the kicking and flailing of the arms, it was quite a challenge to shove Nitin in his Uber. Nothing that hasn’t happened on Church Street on a Friday night.
The party dispersed after saying their goodbyes. Anant lit a Gold Flake and walked on. Inebriated people were emerging out of watering holes that were tucked away in buildings that looked in an immediate need of repair. Anant decided to get some tea while he waited for his ride. He unlocked his phone; it was only half past nine. He swiped the screen on his phone out of habit, looking for apps he could delete to free up some real estate on his screen. A touch here, a tap there and he was in long-lost corners of his phone which if they could, would have accumulated dust.
- A payment gateway company that shut down: delete.
- An app for a dictionary he never used: delete.
He opened Tinder and saw his profile picture from about a year ago. He had not changed much. His unkempt locks had given way to short cropped hair. His goatee was gone too. A little bit of flesh that made his face rounder, or as people called it, “more approachable.”
“Boss, 3rd main Mallesh Palya,” Anant said as he sat in the cab.
The driver sped up on an empty stretch of the road and took sharp turns. Anant could sense his last kamikaze rising.
“Bhaiya, will you slow down?” he said irritably as he felt acidic reflux at the back of his throat.
Anant rolled the windows down to let some air in. He unlocked his phone. Though he had no use for Tinder any longer, he decided to explore and maybe just look at the pictures. He casually started swiping before he felt his phone vibrate.
“Hey, what’s up?” the message on Tinder read.
It was some girl named Tina: close to his age; charming smile with a dimple on her left cheek; she liked movies and Netflix. If he saw her in person, he would have tried to talk to her for sure.
“Nothing much. Headed back home after a few drinks.”
“Great. What did you have?”
“Too much to be keeping any tabs.”
“Sir, right from here?” the driver asked.
“Second right, from the signal,” Anant hurriedly guided the driver before he dived back into his screen.
“What are you up to?” Anant asked.
“I was about to make some coffee.”
“Oh really? I make the best coffee in the world.” He deleted the sentence, then typed it back, deleted it again but finally sent it.
“I see. When can I have this world’s best coffee?” Tina replied.
Coffee on a Friday night had come to have different meanings. A heady mix of alcohol, Bangalore air, and the prospect of meeting a beautiful girl through Tinder made his head spin.
“I am in a cab now, will reach home in about 10 minutes.” He asked her to meet him near his apartment building.
“Ok. See you in about half an hour.” she replied.
“Bhaiya, go thoda fast, please.”
“Kya Bhaiya, first slower, now faster?” the driver looked back only to find Anant occupied with his phone.
There was a slight nip in the air, a chill in his spine and knots in his stomach. The cab finally arrived at Anant’s house after what seemed like ages to him. He took out his keys and fumbled with the door and dropped them. Urgency made a clumsy mess out of him.
“Need to pee, check for milk, tidy up the place. You have to have milk if there is any coffee to be made.” Anant said to himself. “Where is the coffee?”
He found an unopened jar of Nescafe at the back of his shelf. He put that near the stove. He picked up all the clothes, rolled them into a big ball and delicately placed them in the cupboard.
“I am in an auto, will take about 10 minutes to reach,” Tina had texted.
“Ok. See you.”
All clarity of thought had abandoned him. Kamikaze shots were a bad idea, coffee with a random girl was probably far worse. But it was too late to cancel; she was on her way.
“She must be silly to be meeting a strange man at night, or maybe she does not look that cute in person,” he thought. “Maybe Tina is not even her real name.” But Romeo was not his either.
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou?” Tina had messaged. Anant chortled.
“Are you here?” he asked.
“I think I am nearby, can’t seem to find the apartment though.”
“Tell me where you are, I will come.”
Anant grabbed his phone, wallet, and keys. He reached down to keep stuff in his pocket only to realize he did not have any.
Anant put on the first pair of shorts he could find. He stepped out of the building and started walking, refreshing the app on his phone. No new messages received, yet. He looked around, and could not spot Tina. Anant was crossing the street when a car with its high beam stopped right in front of him. He was about to confront the driver when he recognized the car. He might as well have come under it.
“Anant., are you going somewhere?” Risha asked, rolling down the windows.
“Coffee. I wanted some coffee.”
“But the shops are all closed now.”
“You were going to be at your aunt’s place. What happened?” he asked, digging his numb fingertips into his palm.
“I got bored, so I came back to check on you. You guys had a lot to drink, no?”
“A little,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“Chal, let’s go home. We will make some chai,” Risha replied.
Anant got in the car, and Risha drove them back to his apartment catching him up to the dinner with her aunt. Anant paid no attention to it. He couldn’t check the messages either, not in the front seat, in Risha’s full view. She parked the car and started taking out a few bags. Anant checked his phone; there were no messages yet.
“Anant, help me carry my bag.”
“You are staying over?” he asked.
“You expect me to drive back home at this hour?” Risha asked, her eyebrows raised.
“No, of course not.” He handed her the keys and carried her bags to the apartment.
“Neat. Did you clean?” She asked when she looked at the hall.
“Ya, picked up all the clothes.”
“Interesting, I can see your couch. I had forgotten that it was this colour,” Risha smiled.
“Just a minute,” Anant excused himself to the bathroom and checked his phone. Tina had not replied.
“Anant, you have a full bottle of coffee right here,” Risha said when he came out.
“Oh, mm, I wanted the other brand,” Anant replied with a straight face.
“Weirdo. They are all the same,” she said putting milk for boiling.
“You know Anant, I talked to my manager to extend my leave for our trip. So we can go for seven days,” she said as she poured the coffee into two mugs. “We still need to book our room in Rome. Do you want to stay closer to the Pope, or farther away?”
“Which is cheaper?” he asked.
“Don’t be cheap on our honeymoon, Anant!” she scolded as she passed him a mug.
Anant opened up the app and was relieved to find no new messages from Tina.
“Sorry. Busy. Can’t meet.” He texted Tina and deleted the app. He was glad that he had not shared the apartment number with her. He tried to shake off his head the image of Tina asking for his house by showing his picture to passersby.
Risha joined Anant on the couch and turned the T.V on. Anant kept thinking of what story would he have come up with had Tina showed up.
“Megan won immunity in Masterchef Australia,” she said. “You want to stream that episode?”
Anant did not care much about Megan or Masterchef. But he liked watching the show with her. Though they never cooked any of the food, he enjoyed watching how she got excited about every dessert. Risha buried her head in his arms. The waft of the instant coffee that she made, with a hint of cardamom, was mixing with the lavender aroma of her hair. The familiarity snapped him back to his reality.
“How is the coffee?” Risha asked as she reached for her mug.
“It’s the best coffee in the world.”
Picture from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaloer/