People populate the street,an air of resentful purpose hovering in the crowd.The autos whirs past him steadily,splashing water into the sidewalks.The pedestrians creatively skirt around the potholes,filled with muddy water.The rain had diminished slightly around the afternoon but had returned with thrice the force by six.Four customers still linger in 'Wild Slippers' across the street,unwilling to return to the bleak humdrum of their daily lives.Three of them are workers of a factory,whose produce have been dwindling for years.The fourth one is an elderly,retired teacher.He lives comfortably off his pension and inheritance nowadays.But he misses the classroom.Pity.
He exhales a content sigh.Its a long time since he has all of himself together.He will remember the taste.Perhaps, someone will notice that in the twenty minutes between 8:30 and 8:50 p.m. of August 20,2022, something was different.But he won't count on it.He has a job here anyway.Time is annoyingly stubborn at times.
He turns around and starts to walk.The beige board mounted above him reads 'Wired Puppy' in blue.Thin glass walls,plastered with numerous ads separate the cafe from the outside world.It is filled to the brim.Even the rain has done nothing to impede the stream of customers.He dries himself off and enters the shop.
'Wild Slippers' is not undeserving of its fame.The place is tidy without being oppressive.The LED downlights affixed to the ceiling emits a warm, homogeneous light.The cafe buzzes with overlapping chatter.Smiling attendants in black aprons moves about the cafe,serving the customers.The outlay is simple.Brown oak tables,coupled up with Bistro chairs are stacked in rows.He chooses a table at a relatively deserted right corner
Soon enough,a waiter wanders into his table.Employees of 'Wild Slippers' are required to be charming,eager creatures,willing to lend a sympathetic ear to many a customer's woes,if needed.This one is an exception.Tired.A wan smile rests on his face,tinged with a trace of rueful exhaustion which does the fortunate job of rendering his careless dispassion much more bearable to the customers.Sunken cheeks protrude out of his face.Mussed hair droops over his forehead, accumulated sweat glistening in the shadowed corners of the brow.He dons the same attire as the other waiters.The black of his apron is occasionally flecked with nearly invisible brown stains.
"What can I get you,Sir ?",the waiter inquiries.The boy inclines his head forward slightly.
He jolts upright,as if awakened from a deep contemplation of obscure metaphysics.Anything to excuse the shameless staring."Uh,I haven't read the menu yet.Can I have a moment ?"He materializes an embarrassed smile to supplement his words."Sorry to be a bother"
"That's completely okay.I will just go through this row and then come back.That's alright with you ?",the waiter comes to the rescue.He nods.The waiter smiles amicably before moving on.There's a little trip in the boy's gait,he absently notes.
He sinks into his mind,where something of everything resides.He searches for the boy.Name's Soham.Ah.Recipient of an extraordinarily bad fate and the bearer of a tragic tale and childless ambition.Brought up by a single mother,he was once the darling of his peers and elders.He aced the sciences.However,what really distinguished him was his nigh- impossible charm.Like moths to the people,people flocked to him.He was the star of his life. Nevertheless,disaster struck.His mother passed when he was twenty-two.A lifetime distilled into a moment.He soon descended into pills.Left Kharagpur.Four years after that,here Soham is.Atypical.
He turns his eyes to the menu.He fingers the hem of the page as he skims through it.He occasionally has a cup of Cappuccino to soothe away fatigue.Perhaps,a latte ? Na,he should be indulgent today.He lightly scoffs at the conspicuous absence of Mocha on the list.Maybe,he will improvise.
Soham's returning now.He weaves through the crowd,somewhat clumsily.He comes to a late stop,an errant step of his left foot.He corrects it immediately,a slight fluster colouring his cheeks.
"Have you decided anything ?",Soham inquires impeccably,prepared with a pen poised over the notebook.
"Iced Americano.Add Cream and Mocha Swirl."That should do the trick.Soham sends a bemused glance his way but dutifully jots down the order.
He slouches back on the chair after Soham moves on.His right arm disappears under the table where it steadily drums the knee.His eyes languidly surveys the room.The revolving searching eventually stops at a man who sports a,frankly awesome trenchcoat.It is beige-coloured,worn piece.He should get one of these.His eyes dart to his own dark long coat.He sighs in long-suffering resignation.
The sound of padded footsteps draws his attention.Soham gingerly places a cup on the table.He glances at it.
"I asked for cream",he states placidly,looking up at Soham.
"No…Sir,you didn't",Soham stutters through the words,taken aback.
He cants his head.Soham squirms."Yes,I did",he repeats.
"Listen,if you did,it would be here.You didn't.", Soham snarls.This is the drugs speaking.Soham won't risk a display of such brazen passion otherwise.However, Soham's fingertips are blueish and bleary green peeks out from underneath his eyelids.
He shouldn't.He really shouldn't.
Huh.If he ever listened to his senses.
"No,I did.I wanted a mocha,not this mess.You would realise that too if you weren't chock-full of narcotics."
Soham's face goes slack.Then,a flutter of anger ripples across his face,which soon blossoms into volcanic fury.Ah.These are the moments he lives for.
"You know jack.",Soham snaps.He storms away,the crowd parting before him in the face of the said fury.
A little girl turns towards him,but quickly looks away when he catches her eye.It seems that he has caused a scene.He can feel the stares on him,and the low murmur of whispering voices.Huh.Sometimes,people just refuse to listen.People.They are so changeable.So indefinite.And yet they sulk and whine.It irks him.
Or perhaps,it's just envy.He has done this job for a long time.Every one of them weighs in him.
He lifts the cup and sips.Sweet.Rich.As expected.Its rather well-done actually.At least, a thing they got right.He leans forward and props his arms on the table.He takes another sip.
A door clangs shut.Soham approaches him,slowly and yet with a peculiar resolution.He comes to a tentative stop at his table.
"Sit",he orders.Soham acquiesces with no small degree of trepidation.A few moments pass as Soham clumsily settles into the chair,flashing an odd self-deprecating smile at him.
Soham doesn't possess a smidge of the charm he once did.At least,he doesn't babble.
"I'm sorry",Soham speaks first, breaking the potentially uneasy silence.
He fashions himself the appropriate surprise and a little bit of doubt.
"Really",he exclaims softly.The arched brow conveys his inquiry quite sufficiently.
"Yes,I suppose there's something different about you.Something larger than…",Soham breaks off,shaking his head."Or,I just haven't anyone to tell me off this past few years.My buddies certainly don't want me to.",Soham answers,lined sadness on his mouth.
"The Job ?"
"They don't look too closely.Plus,I'm not a half-bad actor myself."Soham perks up,faux-cheer claiming itself in his countenance."Actually…
"What happened,Soham?",he intervenes.His voice is quiet,sincere.Soham's mouth snaps shut.
The question hangs in ominous suspension in the air.After all,it has been four years coming.
He watches the grief well up behind Soham's blue eyes.Does one learn to grieve ? He thinks so.Soham sobs quietly,the tears tracing a hesitant trail down his cheeks.His expression periodically gains a fragile,contracted form/shape of desperate control as he tries to hold it back.But it doesn't last.His fingers shiver,casting blurring shadows on the table.Soham draws them in tightly.His frame rocks imperceptibly on his seat,heavy inhales punctuating the silence.The steady din of the cafe recedes into meaningless background noise/fades away.Soham breaks.
Dear Darling.What has he done ?
Guilt floods him,icy tendrils of fear digging into his skin.He is petrified.He feels brittle,too terrified for even the smallest movement.So shatterable.There's a knot in his throat.Everything feels too large,too open.He wrests in control with tremendous effort,the strength supplied from a seemingly unknowable source.Perhaps,it's Soham before him or perhaps it is that he has no bloody business crumbling now.It doesn't matter.
Soham takes a deep,shuddering breath,passing a hand over his face.He picks up a spoon,scowls at it for a moment and then sets it down.He tilts his head to pensively gaze at the bustling cafe for a few seconds,before turning around.
Abruptly,Soham reaches across the short space and takes one of his hands in both of his hands in both of his.Soham's hand feels callused,worn.His heartbeat,which he usually didn't bother with,thudded to life involuntarily and painfully.For a small eternity,their eyes lock onto each other.
"Thank you"Soham grips his hand tighter,fervent gratitude swimming in those iridescent cerulean orbs."I will take off the drugs,I promise."
Huh.One could say Soham charmed him
He calms his nerves and smiles serenely at Soham,the boys face crinkled with long-lost mirth."I believe you."
"I can go back to Mom's business.Its probably flagging now but I will take care for that.Renovate my decrepit wardrobe.Make something out of the college degree.I managed to eke out one after all."
Soham stands up."Look,I am sorry if this whole thing has been weird.Like if this annoyed…",he gives up, flailing his arms haplessly.
"Na,na this whole thing has been nice.Really Nice."
"Great.See you again."
At 7:46,a heavy thud sounds from the kitchen,accompanied by the small clatter of a metallic crockery skidding away.Soham's body is found splayed on the floor,his arms sprawled awkwardly on either side.His lips are parted open and his eyes are a still cerulean.The tear stains on his cheeks glisten in the white stripes of electric light.His heart does not best.Soham is dead.From overdose.
One might say it has been a long time coming.He disagrees.
. . .
The night sky stretches into blank nothingness.He cannot see the stars from up here.Jutting structures of concrete takes them away.The streets slumber.There is a rapture in the silent hum.Mere hours from now,there will be hordes bustling by and screeching noises that deafen his ears.But not now.He stands there,in the faint,flickering light of the shop.He watches as the city dreams.He is and will always be the symbol of the tenuous thread between change and permanence.
He will grieve Soham,for now and ever. Soham should have been scared of him,should have run.And yet he had loved him,almost selfishly,in that most human way
With a gesture,a gleaming,metallic scythe materializes in Death's hand.Wings of liquid darkness unfurl from his back.With a shadow flap,he disappears from the silent night.