This is in continuation to the story written last week. The story began in response to a WOW prompt “And then I missed my train”. … The first part of the story was published on this blog. For those of you who missed it. Here is the link
But not all the teasing, the name calling, being branded a ‘coward’ or worse a ‘girl’ could get me to take the twelve-foot plunge. I have never accepted a challenge of drinking a bottle of beer in one breath or going up to a girl in the girls college next door and saying something flirty! Or even of throwing a chalk at Chaturvedi sir who used to teach us Hindi in class 11 and 12 when his back was turned towards us. I had never bunked a class and gone to the cinema or stolen money from the little tin box my mom keeps near the pooja area to buy some cigarettes.
In short I had never done anything out of the ordinary/ unexpected. And yet here I was recklessly taking off my apron and following this girl out of the door. I followed her onto the pavement. We walked silently together, me subtly leading the way. When we reached “Nathu’s dhaba” I stepped inside the shop. We walked past the shop front. One man sat on a stone platform in the corner, sweating over a large kadhai, from which emerged hot pooris. Two young boys sat cross-legged nearby rolling out the dough into perfect circles. Another young boy put the pooris into a woven bamboo basket and took them to the pot-bellied Nathu ji who sat lordlike behind the steel and glass counter kept on the other side of the shop front. From here he ladled his signature aloo subji into steel katoris and kept a sharp eye on the young boy as he carefully counted and kept six pooris in each plate. The waiters picked the ready ‘thalis’ and served them to the waiting customers. Ever so often Nathuji would put his hand into the electronically cooled glass counter and take out some milk cake. He weighed this carefully on the weighing scale kept on a table behind him and hand that over too to be served to a customer. He took a break from this only to count out the money that the waiter brought as customers finished their meal, paid up and returned burping and satisfied to their lives.
Unlike my cafe, the dhaba was almost full. We sat at the back on iron benches facing each other. A plastic table lay between us. A wall fan whirred near our heads but still could not drown out the noise of chatter and clinking of the utensils around us. I looked around and felt a bit ashamed. This was not the sort of place to bring a girl I thought. But then I used to bring Sonu here all the time. She loved the food. We always ate from the same plate. The first time I was conscious of the waiters shocked gaze and the sniggers as he pointed us out to his fellow waiters. But then I got used to it. It was intimate and pleasant and much cheaper. Extra pooris did not cost as much as an added plate! But then this was not my Sonu! Infact there was no ‘My Sonu’ anymore. Sonu had gotten married last month.
“Why did you let her get married to someone else?” Her question broke my reverie. I was ashamed. And a little bit angry. Why should she read my personal thoughts like this? It was not fair. “Sorry!” she said apologetically. Just then the waiter came asking for our order. Before I could say anything she said “One plate Aloo puri” to me she said “We will share!” I hadn’t expected this. She looked too sophisticated to be associating with the likes of me. Moreover I didn’t even know her name yet. “Gauri” She said. “That’s my name. Though now I am just called G. And I have no issues sharing a plate with you. If you don’t mind that is.” I kept quiet. I got the feeling that there was nothing to say. She seemed to know everything.
The food arrived. G dug in. I watched hesitantly. I felt shy to put my fingers in the katori she used. In answer to my thought she pushed the plate towards me. I took a tentative bite. But my mind was not on the food. “Who are you and how can you read my thoughts?” I asked silently. “ Let’s finish this and go somewhere quiet. I have a lot to tell you.” Replied G, aloud.
After a helping of extra pooris, G wanted some milkcake. I just wanted her to finish eating so I could know more about this mysterious woman. “Don’t be impatient she said with a laugh. One doesn’t get food like this every day! You eat some too” When we finished eating, I paid quickly and we made our way to an unkempt municipal garden located a small distance away.
G said, “Till two years back I lived in this world just like you. My father was an alcoholic and used to beat my mother every day. Tired of the unending beating one day my mother gave up. She ended her life. My brother too took to drinking and fell in bad company. He stopped coming home for days. That left only my father and me at home. It was hell. He lay in a drunken stupor all day. Whenever the effect of alcohol wore off he would start hurling abuses at me, throwing stuff and creating a ruckus. We were from a well off family and my mother had taught as a government teacher all her life. So there was enough saving for him to get his drinks. It was actually a relief when he would drink his quota again and pass off. I was a loner. Even though I went to college, I kept to myself and spoke to no one. “
“Then one day I met Uma in the library. Library was my favorite spot in the world. The silence of the books appealed to me. That day Uma approached me. “How are you Gauri?” She seemed to know everything about me. My drunk dad, my dead mom and my wayward brother. She could read my thoughts. It was unnerving at first. When she made me the offer, I thought about it. At first I was unsure even suspicious if it was some sort of a trick. But then I took it. “
“Offer? What offer?” By now I had become accustomed to not having the voice my thoughts. It was quite pleasant actually. To have someone who could read your mind. No need to say anything, explain oneself or play any games of social proprieties.
“The offer that I am going to make to you. But first the rules. You have to reply within twenty-four hours. You can not speak about this to anyone ever. Anyway if you do, no one will believe you. In fact they will think that you are crazy and lock you up in an asylum. Remember this chance comes to only a selected few and that too just once in their life time. If you do not accept the offer you will never get another chance ever. “
I had become nervous. My forehead was sweating profusely and I was sure my heart beats could be heard a kilometer away. I sensed that my life was going to change forever. Just how I wasn’t sure but I had no doubt that something significant was happening to me. I wanted to run away and never set eyes on this woman again. I wanted to stay and listen to every word she said. The fear and curiosity were tearing me apart.
“There is no point running away now. The offer has chosen you “
“But why me? “ I asked
“None of us know why we were chosen?”
“There are more? How many?”
“I am not sure. I have met about a hundred till now. There could be more, many more. We look ordinary just like any other person on the road. The only difference is that we can communicate with each other through our thoughts. “
“You can read my thoughts! Am I one of you already then?” I answered panicking somewhat.
“No , You are not. Though I can read your mind You can’t read my thoughts yet. You are a live contact. In fact you are my first live contact.”
Part III coming soon