This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
I was sitting in the new coffee shop that had just opened near the library at the corner of Third Avenue. I was wearing my favorite jacket. Light Green, with the symbol of a dove on the right shoulder. I was leaning back in my chair, sipping the vanilla flavored coffee, which I found better that I had expected. That was when I saw her.
She was sitting on one of those little metal chairs you so often see on roadsides. Her lush black hair flowed like a waterfall, draping over her shoulders and almost touching the road. Her head was turned away from me, and I couldn’t see her face. But that misfortune was put to an end a mere second later. As though by the breath of god, a strong breeze flew her way. It rippled through her tresses and she sat up, trying to keep her mane under control. I saw her face and sat stunned. Never had such a specimen of beauty sat before my eyes. Her eyes were the color of light chocolate, and her lips were a rose in full bloom. She finally brushed her hair free of minute dust particles that seemed to have blown in due to the breeze and looked straight at me.
I was caught red handed. I tried my best to look away, but nothing could drag me away from that pretty face. I kept gawping at her, my mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. She held my gaze for a few seconds more, and looked away. I swear she smiled.
A big man with a tattoo of an anchor on his right bicep walked towards her. He was wearing the uniform of the coffee shop, obviously a waiter of sorts. He held out a cream colored mug, decorated with smiling teddy bears. She accepted it with a smile. To my knowledge, the cafe had only been opened for a week or so, and she was already recognized as a regular customer. Hard not to be with a face like that.
She sipped her coffee slowly, looking at the sky. It was nearing 6 o clock, and the sky was a rich shade of orange. Then she did something-which I had no way of knowing then-which would change my life forever. She looked at me again. I was still looking openly at her. She winked. One eye closing and opening back ever so slightly. My heart beat faster. She tilted the cup towards me, like a toast. She stood up, and emptied the cup. A bit of foam was left on her upper lip. She took out a thin white hanky and wiped it. Placing the cup back on the little chair she was sitting on, she walked away from me.
I stood up without understanding why. My heart was beating wildly against my chest. My pulse was irregular. I was sweating. I couldn’t explain any of these.
What do I do? Why did she tilt that cup at me?
She had crossed the street now. She was walking along the busy lane… and she looked back. She found me at once. She smiled.
I had no doubts about what I had to do. I exited the coffee shop and pursued her. For a moment, I was afraid I had lost her in the milling crowd. But luck was on my side. I soon spotted her a little way in front of me. When I caught up with her, she was standing in front of a beggar. He was blind in both eyes. His left arm was broken in at least two places. He was a pathetic sight. She looked extremely sad at the sight of him.
“Here, sir. Take this.” she said. Her voice was melodious. She took out a 100 rupee note and placed it in a bowl which the beggar had. She then saw me and smiled. I followed her lead and kept a hundred rupee note myself.
“Compassion for others is a rare trait in people.” she said.
“You seem to enjoy it.” I countered.
“There are so many things in life that lesser people need, but do not get. I make sure I do a part in helping them.”
I must confess. I fell in love with her at that very instant. If her beauty stunned me into silence, her attitude bowled me over. I sincerely believed she was my life partner.
“It is getting late, and I haven’t had my dinner yet. What do you say we got eat out?” she said.
The words stuck in throat. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The most beautiful girl I had ever seen had just asked me out.
“Do you know some place we can go without getting disturbed?” she asked. The words flowed like a song from her full lips.
“I… Yes. There is a place a little further off. The food is great there.”
“If you like it, it’s good enough for me.”
We went to a place called The Lover’s Cafe. The food was indeed excellent as I had promised her. I never took my eyes off her for the entire evening. She was absolutely enchanting. We talked about movies, sports and the country in general. I learned she had participated in many social activities to stop begging in the country and to help beggars obtain proper food and shelter. I felt blessed to have met such a person so involved in social activities.
We finished out meal at around 9 o clock. I insisted on paying the bill myself, and she accepted after some resistance.
“But you have to come with me to my house and have a coffee.” she said.
My heart beat faster again. A visit to her house on the first date? I felt all my dreams were coming true again. We started walking towards her apartment. She said it was on Seventh Avenue. It was a bit on the harsher parts of town. Again, I had to commend her on her bravery. Not many women lived in such dangerous parts of town.
The heavy food was making me sluggish and my brain was slow.
“Are we there yet?” I asked. My words were a bit slurred from the wine.
“Yes dear, almost there.” she said. Her hand slipped into mine. My head rested on her shoulder. Our slow walk was accentuated by our heavy breathing. We walked down a road, which reeked of the smell of homeless people scattered on the pedestrians. The smell brought me partially to my senses.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“My apartment, of course. Just wait here. I’l go get my keys from the manager of the building.” she said. She kissed me slightly on the cheek and made me stand by a street lamp.
My brain was processing too slow. I touched my cheek slightly and smiled. Nearby, an old man with a pockmarked face chuckled.
“Another one…” he wheezed.
I frowned, not understanding what he meant. At that precise moment, I felt something big and heavy crash into the back of my head.
BANG! Stars swirled in front of me. I felt a warm sticky something ooze on to my neck. I tried to turn around, but my feet were stuck to the ground. BANG! Another strike. This time to my knees. My legs gave way and I crumpled to the ground.
I had fallen facing my attacker. His face was a blur. But I could have recognized that anchor tattoo on his right bicep anywhere. The waiter from the cafe. Behind him was the girl who I had eaten dinner with not 15 minutes ago. Her face was impassive, but I sensed a remorse within her eyes.
The waiter raised the object in his hand again. It was an iron rod. He readied himself to strike. The girl held out an arm and stopped him.
“You are going to kill him. This is enough.”
“You don’t have to teach me my job.” he growled. “Here.” he said and took out a wad of cash from his pocket. The girl accepted it without a word.
I lay motionless in the ground, watching this nightmare unfold in front of my eyes. I turned my eyes in a last desperate plea to the old man with the pockmarked face. He just looked at me for a long moment.
Then he turned the other way and went to sleep.
It was just another day for the librarian at the corner of Third Avenue. It was a beautiful morning, no doubt. He gazed for a moment at the birds twittering on the trees in the park nearby. He glanced at the coffee shop which was open nearby. It was fairly new, but it had attracted a lot of passersby. But the librarian saw that a beggar was now seated right in front of the coffee shop. He frowned in distaste. These fellows had no job but to sit and hassle people all day long. He took a few steps forward and looked at the beggar more closely.
He was in bad shape. He was blind in both eyes. His left arm had been broken in two places. For a moment, the librarian’s heartbeat quickened. The tattered old green jacket the beggar was wearing. It looked a lot like the one that handsome guy who had been sitting in the coffee shop the day before had been wearing. Funnily enough, it also had the same design on the right shoulder. A white dove.
The librarian looked over at the road, and was stunned by what he saw. A girl was sitting on one of those little chairs you see on the roads. She was being served coffee by one of the waiters of the coffee shop. He was a big guy with an anchor tattoo on his arm.
The girl was breathtakingly beautiful. She sipped the coffee slowly, savoring it. Then, unbelievably, she looked straight at the librarian. She tilted the coffee cup at him, like a toast and emptied it. She stood up, placed the coffee cup and walked away.
The librarian looked at her once. He had no idea what that was all about. He decided to pursue her.