Her hair was flying wildly. Like they were the branches and leaves of a storm-ridden-camphor tree.
He felt like a wandering tourist who stumbled upon an unknown town, decided to stay the afternoon, and sipping bitter coffee behind the glass window of a run-down café suddenly was exposed to that camphor tree.
He kept looking at her. And honestly he had no other choice, in the sense that he felt a little paralyzed. An ache was there, creeping from the pit of his stomach to the bottom of his throat. When he finally managed to compose himself and get the storm out of his head, he murmured, “She is heartbreakingly beautiful!”
By that time his defense mechanism started working on the matter, assessing the storm related damage, delivering relief and waking up the cynical manager called Logic who went for a nap in that particular yellow afternoon.
He was a little annoyed with the manager.
“ Why can’t he just let me be for a goddamn Camphor tree moment?”
Meanwhile, the Camphor tree was searching for something in her ridiculously huge bag, her whole right arm was inside it! Her eyebrow curled up with restless eyes, lips tightly pressed against each other. She was wearing a blue Kurta that was wrinkled, a brick red scarf that was earnestly flying with her hair and looked like a sail of a boat, ankle length jeans and sandals with yellow knotted ribbon. She finally gave up searching and looked a little lost standing on the street. Then she stepped in.
She didn’t hear the heart that skipped a bit. She didn’t see the frustrated manager shaking head in sideways.
-“What if I don’t talk to her?” He was having a conversation with the manager.
-Okay, What of it?
-She would vanish into the waves of people.
-Okay, what of it?
-I might never see her again.
-Okay, what of it?
He paused. He didn’t know what of it. What of it? What if he never sees her again?
The manager looked pleased, and sat back.
-I have this feeling…Shouldn’t I invest in it?
-Because it’s absurd!
He looked angry and sat straight.
The manager continued.
-You have just seen her for couple of minutes.
-Okay, what of it?
-And you have an over-active imagination that tends to swell up in the afternoons.
-Okay, what of it?
-So you have woven some metaphoric images in a highly romantic light.
-Okay, what of it?
-In your head it all looks very beautiful . You’ve seen a woman in the dying light of the day…
-Her hair was glowing in the ray, like the sun was actually setting in it!
-Yeah whatever! The manager gulped.
You are projecting your own feelings onto the whole situation!
-So who else’s feeling am I gonna project on?
-When it involves the setting sun, the dust in the bus, the street light that doesn’t light up, the broken handle of your coffee mug, this dirty café…project away! But this involves a human being!
He was quiet.
And the manager continued with the tones of a University professor and a therapist!
-You know in all your relationships, you project your own thoughts unto them and rarely calculate people for who they really are. It’s human nature I suppose. But leave her be. She’s just an unknown person trying to get by with her life, trying to get some peace and quiet! Why else someone’s gonna sit in this café! And you are planning to barge in on her? Poor girl!
-Why don’t you say poor me? I am struggling over here!
The manager didn’t give that credibility with a response.
He was quiet again.
The manager dozed off a little. And woke up.
-Plus you are sexually frustrated.
-Of course I’m sexually frustrated. Look at this society! You can’t even hold hands and kiss someone in peace!
-Yeah. But it’s not something that’s completely impossible.
The manager seemed annoyed. “You are 27 and still a virgin! Heck you don’t even have a girlfriend!?”
-I had a girlfriend!
-That’s what I’m talking about! You knew Nisha for only couple of months and thought you liked her. And after a couple of months in the relationship you started to despise her! You do these messy things ignoring my advice!
He thought of Nisha frowning his brows, her fake voice, her ramblings about pointless things, her shrieking tone in midnight calls.
The café itself seemed like an ambitious man who is extremely lazy to work on his ambition.
Though the bells of the café were murmuring in happy songs…songs that talked about monsoon rivers, pitch black nights, trees that grow roots from the branches and hold the earth in tight embrace.
The manager watched him pay the bill wedging the money between the mug and the sticky table. The manager was satisfied, ”Leaving at last!”
He stood up and walked right towards her table.
She looked up.
-What were you searching in your bag?
She looked irritated, her lips pressed against each other.
-I was supposed to bring a book.
-God of Small Things.
Smile came quite subconsciously in his lips.
-I love that book.
-Yeah. After reading the book I had this deep urge to walk in the Ayemenam rain!
Smile came to her too. Subconsciously.
-You..uh…may I sit down?
Among these small talk of man and woman the manager left out a small sigh and sat back in the sofa.
-How far have you read?
-Oh I’ve finished it. But..I don’t know…I wanted to see if I have the same pounding feelings the second time as well.
She took a pause.
-Oh The feelings..? They have gained weight!
He laughed loudly!
He had a joyful laugh, with deep dimples on both of his cheeks.
And she took her guard down a little.
In this city a woman can never walk around with her guard down. And conversation with a man always comes with suspicions. An unknown man almost poses an immediate threat. They were taught to be fearful of men’s intentions, as they were taught Bangla grammar, English paragraphs and Algebra.
-I have a huge crush on Arundhuti Roy!
-No, that’s incorrect. I am in love with her. I watched every interview I could find of her, and all of that I watched with very dreamy and mushy eyes!
Now she laughed loudly.
He saw that when she laughed she looked like a child. Then he thought of her sitting alone three table down from him, the face with melancholic eyes. Heartbreakingly beautiful. He thought, that woman should be held close to someone’s heart. And the woman who sat in front of him, with a laugh like a child, “Just look at her!” A child. In the world that has monsoon rivers, pitch black nights, and trees that grow roots from brunches.
-So you live with books?
-I do. She said smilingly.
-Uh..I cannot answer that with your confidence. Maybe I’m in an on again off again relationship with books.
He hesitated a little. Scratched the back of his neck and lowered his eyes.
She looked at his curly hair that was very fluffy on the top of his head, it looked almost like a halo! In his neck the hair was curled up against his dark skin like messy weeds.
She suddenly had this feeling of wanting to run her fingers through that messy weeds and thought of the dark green leaves of her childhood that used to grow by the monsoon river.
He was looking at her feet, the sun burned fair skin with mud on the side, a green leaf stuck on the toe, and yellow ribbon of the sandal. “ which tree’s is it?” he tried to identify the leaf. “Where did she get mud from in this concrete town?” ….”In the middle of the autumn?” He imagined her strolling by the side of the monsoon river, and a green leaf, floating mid air from an ancient tree that grows roots from it’s brunches. He imagined the leaf settling on her mud-covered toe…lovingly. And he felt such an overwhelming affection for her feet.
He looked up and caught her gaze.
He smiled a little.
-You know what, you look like an Wong-kar-Wai film!
She laughed with amusement,” What?”
-Uh…I was just feeling that the afternoon grew up to be so achingly beautiful that for a moment I thought Wong-kar-Wai must be directing it!
She smiled with a gentle delight.
– I understand that feeling actually.
Like the end of a long bus ride to home could feel like a Satyajit piece. The tired, jaded faces, struggles for life, rummaging through the city….
She paused a little.
-I once was in a remote village, it was my friend’s ancestral home. And in the night when even the dogs went to sleep, standing in the compound beneath the full moon, with owls and whispering wind, I had a distinct eerie feeling that, that moment was directed by David Lynch. The shadows grew longer and reached my feet and I almost heard him giving directions to them!
She chuckled remembering her midnight encounter with David Lynch.
He didn’t know what to say, he just wanted to sit there with her.
In Café Moonlight.
She was finishing her Cha.
-I love that this café keeps Cha in the menu. No other café does.
-Yeah. You know this was a tiny little tea stall with just few fixed customers.
-My father was one of the customers. He couldn’t sleep if he didn’t come here and walked grumpily in the balcony.
-And now? How does he feel about the renovation?
-Oh he didn’t have to face the horror. This happened a year after his death.
_Oh I’m sorry!
-No it’s okay!
And you know on Wednesday nights this place doesn’t seem so pompous.
-What happens on Wednesday nights?
-Three’s an underground jazz band that performs on Wednesday nights. Fluorescent lights are turned off and blue lights flood the whole place! With all of that, even this handle-less mug looks beautiful!
Right past him the clock said 7:15pm. She looked outside the window and saw that the night had fallen.
-You know I have to get up now. I have to catch the 7:30 bus.
She paid her bill and they walked out into the buzzing night lights.
-Let me walk you to the bus stand.
-No You don’t have to do that.
-It’s okay. I walk around here all the time!
They walked in silence leaving behind the singing bells, the paid bills, two handle less coffee mug, and an Wong-kar Wai film.
Before stepping into the bus she looked back at him, the dark-skinned curly haired man with deep dimples on both of his cheeks.
He never looked away, the fair skinned woman with the hair that has the setting sun in it.
She gazed into his eyes and smiled-“Goodbye!”
She stepped in and he immediately held onto the door of the bus-“Let’s stay connected. Whatever the means you choose to be….let’s stay connected!”
She turned back, “ Maybe I’ll come here on Wednesday and stay for the blues!”
-You’ll come? Okay,…So…so… today’s Sunday…you’ll come Wednesday? You remember the café?
And they both said the name almost at the same time-“Moonlight Café!” and laughed as the bus started to move.
He let go off the door handle.
She settled in on a window sit, the brute smell of the petrol was only matched by the brat cacophony of the city.
As the bus sped up his running body appeared by the window of hers.
-Hey…uh…I don’t know your name.
She laughed, “ let’s know that the next time!” , and immediately changed her mind and said getting her head out of the window to a gradually abbreviating him, “Anita!”
He shouted his heart out trying to defeat the city sounds-
“Anita! My name is Pablo!”
The buses of this city acts like hysteric old conservative people. Even when nothing happens they scream in horns, tearing the others apart. And like old conservative people they are not a friendly space to be in for a young woman traveling alone at night.
She knows that. Everyone knows that. So she kept her body in a bundle trying to avoid even the touch of the fabric from the neighboring uncle of a man. Though the uncle looked very harmless, but she was carrying the bag of being harassed by most innocent looking men.
She pressed her cheek against the half open glass of the bus window and imagined being in a Satyajit movie and smiled a bit.
She thought of the man who has skin like pitch black nights and hair like curled up weeds. The man who is in love with Arundhuti Roy. The deep dimpled man named Pablo.
He was walking home, with the city silhouette looming behind his back, through the quiet narrow lane where globalization hadn’t arrived yet. He walked with the yellow afternoon playing in his head over and over again. The manager was quite surprised by the merit of his intuition, and gave his neurons a silent nod.
He thought of her. The woman who had a green leaf for a toe. The woman named Anita who sometimes could become a Camphor tree.