If you think being madly in love with your best friend’s girlfriend is unfortunate, try sitting next to him during a Microprocessor lecture having to listen to him describe the sex they had the day before. What’s more, Microprocessor is one of the few subjects I actually enjoy. My friend is normally a level-headed person who doesn’t speak much. But it seems that the excitement of the first time is grand enough for him to break character. Needless to say, I’m miserable.
I look out the window, if only to somehow communicate my lack of enthusiasm to him. It does not work. The class goes on for another forty minutes in which he fills me in on the color of the curtains, flavor of the condom, state of the bed sheets after they were done and what not. In an effort to not betray my feelings, I pretend to listen. I’ve chosen the coward’s way out again.
The day is overcast and a thin fog has sucked the life off colors. Leafless trees stand tall and somber, they evoke images of giant skeletons elegant against the foggy backdrop. In a distance, I see the new ICTC building as it’s being constructed. From afar it looks like tiny ant-men are scurrying about, assembling the universe one breadcrumb at a time.
When the class is finally over, I can’t wait to get away. We head out together with a group of friends. The next class is pronounced unbearable unless a cup of tea is first had. By this design, the crowd starts towards the canteen. Naturally, I’d rather avoid having to hear any more about the girl I love violated in various positions. So I invent some excuse or another, I don’t remember now, and take off.
I amble around the campus, careful to circumvent any hangout spots. My intent is to avoid my friends for some time, allowing the novelty of this whole situation to wear off. The cool breeze is rich with the smell of rain. It somehow blows against you no matter which direction you face.
I’m near the Civil block when, out of nowhere, absolutely without preparation, a girl misses her step and falls nose-first on the ground. Thankfully, the ground is soft and her friends are by her side. They pick her up, dust her off and seeing that she is somewhat disoriented, take her to the nearest sitting place. This is done with such fluent gestures that the whole event has the aura of a sacred ritual performed with deep reverence. It gives you the impression that the curly haired girl is always falling, her friends always dusting her off and guiding her to the nearest sitting place. I don’t know, that could be true. So I decide to defer all judgement excepting one: that she has good friends.
The next class starts in a few minutes but I have no intention of attending. I board a bus to Mahendrapul. There is no particular reason to be there, and I’m generally short on money at this point of the month, but I need to do something to take my mind off things.
The curly haired girl and her friends amuse me for a while, but on the bus, looking out the window, my thoughts circle back to Shraddha. (That’s her name, by the way.) In my solitude, I’m free to think of her as I choose (her bright intelligent eyes, the silly spongebob hoodie, the way she walks strangely reminiscent of a duck, the fact that she has a pixie cut with bangs that reach down her eyes, or that she can quote so many writers without even being aware of it … I could go on). But of course my mind wanders back to the same dingy hotel room.
Mahendrapul is busy as ever. The usual scattering of fruit vendors stationed at every turning are sitting amidst baskets of strawberries, apples and tangerines the colors of which have dulled due to the settling of a thin layer of dust that was raised by the roaring green buses steered by solemn drivers looking to have a smoke in Bagar. Smells pouring from the Marwadi mingles with the various trails of perfume — which might lead to a group of girls huddled around a table waiting for their order at Samrat’s; or to a pair of fashionable women purchasing shoes in the Big Baazar. I lose myself in the crowd and it is soothing.
The coffee shop I’m languidly strolling to comes to view. There I place my order. Outside, it has started to drizzle, thin drops wetting the asphalt and pitter-pattering on the tin roofs. A chilly wind sweeps in laden with vague memories of days long past and the crisp fragrance of the mountains. Someone shuts the door, shivering. The warm nostalgia that had come with the wind dies with the wind.
I used to love the rain. My old journals are full of cheesy poems I had written inspired by the petrichor. All this is, of course, before I came to Pokhara. It rains so much here, and with such vengeance, that what was once the romance of the rainfall now feels like everyday nuisance. It annoys you like a persistent mosquito.
The barista is a pleasant man a few years older than me. He has a smile ready for every occasion and uses it to great effect. He brings a cup of warm water as soon as I’m seated. I’m greeted with a remark on the weather and a comically exaggerated enactment of shivering. He leaves with a sincere smile. Little later, when he comes with the americano, his happy smile is still firmly in place.
Sipping my coffee, I contemplate the atmosphere here in this café. The aroma of freshly ground beans interweaves itself with the charming melody playing through the speakers; thin drops of water hit the window pane and leisurely converge; the espresso machine whirs intermittently; and the everyday chatter and bustle of people adds to the ambiance. This contexture has a peculiar quality to it. A quality that invokes poignant reflections and makes you want to smoke cigarette after cigarette in some shabby roadside restaurant.
I say peculiar because I have never smoked before.
The crowd has thinned, there is barely anyone in the café now. Thoughts of Shraddha are back. She is looking directly at me as she embraces him; the white curtains flutter. I shudder, and make myself think of pleasant things. Shraddha. Her name paints the picture of red hibiscus flowers atop a sanctified copper plate and the sweet smell of incense. It calms me somewhat. There she is, next to me under my blue umbrella; we are walking to the class together. “You know, evenings hurt the most when you’re lonely”, she is saying. I look longingly at her fingers, wondering if I’m ready to face the consequences. And just like that the moment has escaped. There’s nothing I can do now except to go back to my room and crawl under the blankets. Some cheesy romantic-comedy might cheer me up.
At some point the barista sets down a plate with a cinnamon roll on it. I’m knocked out of my reverie. When I question him with a look, he explains, “on the house”. Then he flashes a wide toothy grin and I know that he won’t go away until I smile back at him. I’ve found this quality charismatic at times, though right now I feel a strong urge to hit him on the head with a pan. Nevertheless I muster a small reply. He goes away satisfied.
I go up to the counter and feel for my wallet — it isn’t there! I’m struck for a moment (the guy on the counter notices this) then I realize that I had slipped it into my bag in the bus. Relief washes over, and I’m out of there as soon as I can.
The rain is still falling; dusk has settled itself over the cityscape. I decide to forgo the bus and walk a little further. Rain falls on the streets and the puddles, and on my blue umbrella. Had she been walking by my side, I would have told her that rainy evenings hurt even more, specially when you’re in love.
This was my entry for the Zerone article writing competition.