[Editor’s Choice: That One Day – Short Story with Moral Lesson]
She dressed with special care that day. Checked twice that the kohl didn’t spill over. But of course it did, like always. Just a speck below her scant lashes. But she could see it. She was certain he’d notice. She picked up a tissue to wipe it off. Then threw it on the floor.
‘There isn’t time to go through the whole thing again.’
She shrugged in despair at her reflection and then stormed out of her flat, anger and nerves jostling for space in her head. She rushed down the stairs and clanked the gate shut as she got out of her building. Then, a deep breath. And a gum. Hands in pocket. Now the world was going to be fine.
As she walked, she replayed the whole scene in her mind. It was crazy how perfect he seemed. She’d always fantasized about guys who’d find a time machine to walk in from Woodstock to her life. Bohemians with long(ish) tousled hair, a fortnight’s beard, flea market clothes, guitar slung over the shoulder. He was all that. Except the guitar. But you can’t have everything. He had that deliciously lazy smile on his face when he’d looked at her. She’d looked away. Pretended to drink the cold-as-stone coffee. Even smacked her lips for good measure. She’d sneaked back a look. His eyes were still on her. The smile became a grin as their eyes met again.
She blushed now as she thought of the way her insides started a gymnastics routine as he’d walked to her. His gait was just what she’d expected. Languid. Feet almost dragging ,but not quite. He’d sat down beside her without ceremony.
‘Don’t you love it?’ he’d said.
Pointing to the book she was supposed to be reading. Then, without waiting for an answer.
‘I do. The first time I read it, it was like, I am Holden Caulfield, you know! Of course, everyone’s reading it now that Salinger’s dead! But the book is good even without that kind of publicity you know?’
She would have said something except that she was far too taken with this creature of perfection to venture an opinion. He wasn’t about to notice it, though.
‘It’s like, Holden is the soul of every teenager, you know. He’s crazy really. The book is crazy. Crazy s**t.’ He concluded and looked right into her eyes.
She had to say something. ‘The guy who killed John Lennon did it because of this book, you know.’ She managed.
‘No man. That dude was crazy. I mean who kills John Lennon? That guy was like psycho. Anyway, what do you say about Barista at 4, tomorrow?’
She’d recovered by then. But not so much as to demand a wooing. ‘Sure’, she muttered.
And now, she was stuck, she thought desparately as she rushed to the coffee shop. She was ugly and she was clumsy and she had kohl all over her face. He was going to hate her and it was going to be all awkward and the other people in the café would wonder what he was doing with her and he would joke about her with his friends and she was making the worst mistake of her life. She stopped. Deep breath. Need to spit the gum. Sheet of paper in her purse. Wrap the spat-out gum neatly. Carefully kept in the purse, now. There. The world was fine again. No, wait. Another deep breath. There.
She was at the café. She opened the door and looked around for him. There he was. She had half expected him to not be as perfect as she remembered him from the day before. That happens sometimes. You decide someone is perfect and then reconstruct their faces in your mind when you think of them and when you see them again, they aren’t at all as you remember them, or rather as you imagined them. But he was just what she remembered. And all she’d imagined. He had the latest Che T-shirt on. The new one. She glided to him. He didn’t get up when she came. She told herself she didn’t care. And the small talk began.
His college was fine. So was hers.
His studies were so boring. So were hers.
He was a Chelsea fanatic. She nodded.
He loved Bob Marley. She nodded.
He hated America. She shifted in her seat.
He thought the capitalist world’s days were numbered. She stifled a yawn.
He wanted espresso. So did she.
‘Bloody capitalist chain!’ he blustered at her, after placing the order. ‘It’s like, you sell something costing peanuts at like this astronomical mark-up. Pathetic.’
‘We could have gone to a less capitalist place, you know. ‘ she said. ‘There is this like dhaba sort of place down the street. It’s..’
‘Ya I know about it. ‘he cut her short. ‘It’s just so hot these days, you know. One really needs an a/c. How are those dhaba thingies going to give us that? So used to it.’ he said, giving her a comrade-y smile.
She grimaced at him. Took a sip. Then shot up. And glided to the door. Looked at him. His mouth open slightly. Like Che’s. She smirked. Then walked out. Saw a bin. Took out the neatly wrapped spat-out gum and tossed it in there. She didn’t fell at all ugly now. The speck of kohl was only just a speck. The world was fine.