Sometimes, I wonder if my destiny for that day was decided when the committee of Gods was trying to quell down a stampede of angry rhinoceroses in remote Africa. My application form must have been flicked over to a random spam folder. A tiny action, I’d agree. But the reaction was definitely in terms of chaos theory…
The cold coffee stared cheerfully back at me, with tiny rivulets of condensation falling off the surface of its tall glass container. He sat opposite me, stirring his cappuccino in a disconcerted way. The crestfallen foam disappeared dolefully into the coffee and I wondered about his inspiration behind ordering a cappuccino after all. His hair stood out in sharp spikes, glistening in all glory, putting the most handsome porcupine in South America to shame. And all I could see were these spikes which I am sure were supplemented with the latest fertilizer in the market that the experts call “hair gel”, as he bent his head into his coffee and refused to look up.
My aural antennae had perceived not even one syllable out of his mouth after he had thanked the serving assistant for our drinks. What is he thinking? And why is he swirling the spoon round and round in his cup? Sukhi Dawant was gyrating her way around a huge crowd of drunken men in the colossal flat screen TV on the wall next to our table and even she had failed to catch his attention. Should I be happy about that? In another time and world, I would have probably appreciated his diligence in twirling the coffee into a whirlpool. Suddenly, I lost it.
“Stop please! Your spoon’s just making me dizzy.” I said urgently.
I had successfully startled him out of his trance and he hurriedly pulled the spoon out. R.I.P!!
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” he apologized weakly.
“Is there something wrong? Why aren’t you talking at all?” I inquired curiously.
An instant transformation came over his countenance which otherwise was brimming with the misery of a depressed ape gawking longingly at a pile of yellow bananas beyond its reach. His face lit up with the glow of a thousand GE bulbs. Someone apparently had answered his call for help. What I did not realize was my contribution towards it.
He jerked out of his chair, walked purposefully around the table and stood next to me. I looked quizzically at him. What now? Are we getting out of this place? Before I could get up, he dropped down to one knee in an ostentatious gesture.
“Anu,” he said seriously with profound feeling, “I like you…. Will you be my girlfriend?”
“VEERAPPAN!! What are you doing?” I yelled horrified.
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“And what did he say for that?” Jahnavi questioned amusedly.
“What can he say? I can’t believe he asked me out in that café. I nearly died of mortification.”
I had refused flatly and stormed off before he could even grasp my rejection. Veerappan must have been out of his mind. Ugghh!!!
“Poor Anu!! Still, Veerappan seems like a nice guy. You shouldn’t have said no to him.” she said mischievously.
“Are you crazy? He’s like a circus monkey brought around on a tour. You do not say yes to monkeys when they ask you out.”
Jahnavi evaded the potholes expertly as she maneuvered the vehicle in and out of traffic. She pulled to a stop behind an auto rickshaw and quickly balanced the two-wheeler. I leaned over to my right and groaned in frustration when I saw the traffic jam stretching for miles ahead.
“I told you not to take this road. Now, we will be stuck here for hours.” I reproached.
She tailed the auto rickshaw for some time and quickly weaved into a small gap. Ahh! The joy of riding a two-wheeler in Chennai… Within fifteen minutes she had turned left into a small road to take an alternate route. A burly traffic policeman flagged us down immediately and Jahnavi had to halt.
“Yes sir?” she posed respectfully. I got off the bike and stood next to her.
“One way.” he said, laconic in his statement, but conveying a profundity of meaning.
I could almost hear Jahnavi kick herself mentally.
Hell and Damnation!! I just hope she has the right papers to show him.
“Sir, paakaama vandhuttom (We didn’t notice it) . Sorry sir. This won’t happen again.” she said, genuinely remorseful.
“Paakaama vandhuteengala? Yen ma, partha padicha ponnunga maadhri irukeenga. One-way nnu theriyaliya? (You didn’t notice it? You girls look educated and decent. Didn’t you notice it was a one-way route?)” he quipped.
“We’re really sorry, sir. We will pull back into the main road from here.” I suggested.
He raised his brow in a wry manner and set things into motion.
“License irukka? R.C book enge? Ellam kaattu paarkalaam.” (Show me your license. Your R.C. book. Show me all your papers)
Jahnavi parked the bike, opened the tiny compartment in the front and rummaged it in vain. Appa had given the vehicle for service the previous day and had emptied the booth. Great! We never carried our original driver’s license cards with us and always depended on the photocopies that were stored in the vehicle.
“License illa, sir. Veetula irukku nnu nenakkeren.” (We do not have our license with us. I guess we left it at home)
“What? You don’t have your driver’s license with you? Epdi ma, vandi ya dheiryama ottareenga? (You girls have guts, to ride your bike without a license)” he spluttered.
“This is the first time it’s happened like this. We’re really sorry.” I muttered.
“Hmmm… Seri, oru 1000 rupees fine kattitu, kelambunga.” (Okay, pay a fine of Rs. 1000 and leave)
We blanched when we heard the figure. A thousand bucks? The policeman’s greed seemed the size of his own pot belly.
“Sir, we do not have so much money. Epdi sir, fine kattardhu?” (How will we pay the fine?)
“Oh, idhu license illama vandi ottarche theriyaliya? Seri, irukattum. (Oh, You didn’t expect this when you were roaming around without a driver’s license. Leave it.). Pay a fine of Rs 500 and take a receipt for it.”
“We don’t have even that much.” I said desperately.
“Seri, oru 100 rupees kuda illiya? (You girls don't even have a hundred bucks?)” he asked disbelievingly.
We shook our heads in negation. I couldn’t believe the level he had come down to. The bargaining which he did with us would have seated well with a woman selling Keerai Kattu (Spinach) in Mylapore.
He stared at us doubtfully, unsure of how to proceed further. Scratching his fat, bald cranium, he came to a decision.
“You leave the vehicle here. Come and collect it from the R T O tomorrow morning.”
Just then, a car came to a stop next to us. The wind blew in pleasantly as Karthik got out with an élan.
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To be cont…