A sunny day in London is as rare as a snowstorm in the Sahara. The normally turbid waters of the Thames join in the celebration; the sunlight skives off the surface and decorates the brightly painted hulls of the ferries in millions of ever-shifting patterns.
I take my usual table, slightly away from the Sunday crowds. This pretty little bistro affords a wonderful view of the river and the immortal bridge spanning it. It is owned by a Punjabi gentleman, a friendly fellow who made for wonderful conversation, while he sipped glass after glass of his favourite raw black tea. However, today being a holiday, he is busy tending to the needs of bratty obese children and their overindulgent mothers.
I have brought a bunch of sheets depicting engineering designs, a notepad and a calculator with myself. These I spread on the glass table and set to work. They say I work too much; I don't mind, since the math involved is great. I love my job, except on occasions such as these. The client has asked for a re-routing of the piping arrangement and I am stuck trying to seek a viable alternative.
The coffee is wonderful, just the right amount of the telltale bitter tang, topped by a whole lot of sweetened cream. In the distance, a tugboat emits a succession of cheery honks. I take another spoonful of the cream and set down the cup.
And look at her sitting across me, humming to herself. I hear the honks, they come from the trains which arrive and depart at a manic frequency in the bustling subway station of Rajeev Chowk in the heart of faraway Delhi, in a different world, a different continent, a different era. The fast food centre in the station is jammed with patrons.
She is petite, and has long hair which cascades over her shoulder in a fascinating mixture of wavy and straight portions. From time to time she slowly tucks in a stray strand behind her ear; that action has an arresting, rather mesmerising quality to it. She is delightfully pretty, and has a childlike face bubbling with questions and queries about anything and everything, from politics to pterodactyls. She says she has had a new haircut, I cannot offer my opinion, for it is, after all, the first time I'm meeting her. We talk a bit; she has a rather endearing proclivity to blush at the slightest hint of a compliment. Her cheeks flush apple red and she murmurs a reply comprehensible only to herself. We share the same sundae, and she claims she is full after five spoonfuls. She makes it a point to eat the cherry. Her constant chatter works like a balm on my normally grumpy demeanour.
It is time to leave, I embarrass myself when I initiate the action of shaking hands as though it were a business meeting. She looks a bit puzzled but cheerily returns the favour and grasps my hand firmly. I smile; for in that sole action was the promise of better things to come. I start walking away from the table, and someone taps my shoulder from behind.
I turn around, and the London sunshine nearly blinds me.The proprietor slams down a cup of his trademark black tea on the table. It is well past afternoon.
'Kaun hai wo?' Who is she?
I feign ignorance.
He says he has never seen me look so contented as I did when I slept.
He is done for the day, and calls for another large coffee and a sandwich for me. His treat. Evening is approaching, and the traffic on the bridge can be demarcated by tiny pinpricks of lights. I smile and slowly start my story about her, for whichever city she may live in now, in my mind and my heart, this is where she continues to live on.
In my stories.