It was about 5 in the evening. I had been sitting at the coffee shop for about an hour and a half now, waiting for her. I tried calling her but the phone was switched off. I was beginning to get anxious. The waiter looked at me as my eyes went searching again at the door, for the umpteenth time. I checked my watch and glanced at the wall clock in the shop. They matched and I felt uneasy. It wasn’t like her to keep me waiting.
I had known her long enough to trust her to keep her promises and appointments yet it felt as if I was to meet a stranger. Some time had passed now since we last met. What if she had changed over the period of time? What if something had happened to her? My mind started playing games with me.
I rummaged through the magazine on the table and asked for a cup of mocha to while away the time and to dissuade any negative notions to rule my head. My thoughts went back to the time when I had first met her, incidentally in the same coffee shop I was sitting now. We both had been living alone, away from our respective families because of our jobs in the city. I had a lease on a small apartment and she had her working women’s hostel to come back to. A common friend had introduced us and we got talking only to discover that we had same tastes in music, movies and books. It wasn’t long before our common interests led us to develop a mutual affiliation for each other and we came close.
We were contemplating talking to our respective families to get ourselves engaged when she got hold of a newspaper ad inviting applications for a research scholarship abroad. We talked about it and pondered over it for long hours before she went on to apply for the same. It seemed like a once in a life time opportunity not to be missed and I rendered all the support as was expected of me, as someone in love. I stood by her and offered my help in what ever ways I could. And, as luck would have it, it was a matter of 4 weeks from her submitting the application and I saw her off at the airport as she went on to pursue her dreams.
Time went by and it was almost 8 months before she came back. Much against my liking she went straight to her home town from the airport to meet her family. She promised to come back in the morning, get her hostel formalities done and to meet me today.
“1530 hrs sharp, without fail. Yeah, same place.” she had said over the phone when we spoke in the morning. She for some strange reason insisted on us meeting here when I could have picked her straight from her hostel. I thought it probably had something to do with the memories that we had with this place.
It was almost 5:30 when she stepped inside the cafe. My eyes caught her right at the door and I waved on from my seat. Her hair had grown a bit longer, I thought, but her eyes had the same sparkle. She probably looked a tad fairer and her face was a bit fuller than when I had last seen her. I was looking at her come in when I suddenly I realized that it wasn’t only her face which had changed in the past couple of months.
She was dressed in a loose tee and a pair of jeans and had a shawl thrown over her shoulders which partially covered her protruding tell tale belly. For a brief moment, I sat frozen. I was still trying to figure out a reason different than what my mind led me to believe, when she pulled up a chair and settled in. The bulge was more than visible now and for all practical purposes indicated that she had not come alone.
Her being half way across the globe in a different time zone and my nature of work and finances restricted us to only be in limited touch over the period she was away, yet it never occurred to me that the distance between us would rip us apart like that. Probably I was just too blind in love to sense a change in her tone on the few phone calls which I made during her stay. I always thought that her environment might not be conducive enough for some intimate heart to heart chat. I guess I should have known better.
“Hi, how have you been?” she said and looked around, probably trying to avoid looking me in the eye. “The place hasn’t changed much” she added.
“Yeah, Hmm, I have been fine. There’s another counter added for cakes in the corner” I pointed out. It almost felt that I did not know her at all.
For a few seconds we were silent. It seemed like eternity. I was carrying flowers for her. I had thought that I would give them to her and would hold her hand and tell her how much I missed her all these months and ask her to marry me right away. The way she formally sat and looked around stopped me.
“Here these are for you” I just managed to bring out the flowers and put them on table between us.
“Oh, Thanks” she said and went on looking at the coffee machine over the counter.
“Hey, you seem to have put on some weight there.” I feebly smiled hoping that there could be some simple plausible reason to what I saw. I was still hoping that it might just be something else.
She gave me a look which almost said that I was the biggest idiot that ever lived. A sigh escaped her lips and she looked right into my eyes and said, “I am pregnant. I am expecting in another couple of weeks.”
I gasped for a whiff of fresh air as she assumed what my following questions would be and continued in the same business like tone.
“Well I met him at the research center there. He was a senior and helped me quite a bit during my stay. He has Indian roots and is settled there for quite some time now. We hit off very well and he believes that I shall have a great future in that country.” She said.
My worst fears had come true. All the good times that we shared became farce that very moment. I felt disgusted. I felt jilted and used. There were a thousand things running in my head and I really wanted to give her a piece of my mind. I wanted to slay her. I wanted to blast her off for doing this to me.
“I have filled in the applications and if things go right I shall probably move out soon. I spoke to my family when I went home and though, they are angry they see my happiness and have given their consent. He would probably come by end of this month and we might have a small ceremony here.” I was beginning to feel stupefied as she divulged the details.
“Well, how could you..?” I muttered finally.
“How could I what?” she wanted to play on.
“Do this to me?” I finished my sentence almost choking on the lump in my throat now.
“In life, people have to make difficult choices at times. It wasn’t easy for me initially but things happened so fast… You have got to learn to let go at times, you know.” She sounded philosophical. I was not convinced though.
“No, I don’t really know” the anger contained in me finally was seeping through my voice.
“I am sorry” her voice softened a bit. “With you it was different, I was comfortable and at ease but with him, you know, things are different. With him I discovered new realms and have come to know myself as I have never known before. He is …“. She left her sentence unfinished and then added “You shall always be some one special.”
“Sure, I understand that. With him you have travelled the path unexplored. Isn’t it?” I retorted.
“Oh, come on. You can be so difficult at times. I am not the only woman on this planet that you can get married to. I am sure you shall find some one better. Now let us part on a happy note without holding any grudges. Come, on let’s order something. I am starving. You know you have got to eat when you are… you know.“ She finished off her sentence and gently moved her hand over the bump.
I just sat there my head between my hands, my world spinning around faster than I could handle. I did not know what to do. I got up to go and looked at her. It was difficult looking at her. I somehow picked myself up and said “Goodbye, I guess this is the last we see of each other. God bless you.”
Hardly had I finished my sentence that she burst out laughing. I did not quite get it. She then slid a hand under her shirt and pulled out a soft pillow.
“Well how could you believe that I would leave you so easily” she was still laughing. “Here take my baby” she said and handed me the bulge she was sporting. “I had been home and my parents would be here next month or so. Let’s get the families to meet so that you don’t send me off alone to any more scholarships. You never know if I might actually find someone interesting next time around“.
I kept looking at her face as her clear laughter filled the room and wiped the creases off my forehead. I could not hold myself back and smiled at her little game.
“I got late coming here as I wanted to buy you something but could not decide on what should I get, until I saw this in one of the display windows. I wanted to call up but then the battery on my phone went dead.” She carried on.
“You idiot” I sat back on the chair, relieved and held her hand.
“I love you” she closed her hand on mine and smiled back.
I looked at the pillow. It was a small red gift shop cushion with white lettering on it which read “Yours Forever”