A lot has been going on in my life lately. As I idly gazed over the deserted streets it occurred to me how trivial it all was. Men always seem to exaggerate things.
‘And they think women are over-thinkers’, I said to myself.
I must have muttered it loudly. For the old man sitting behind me made a loud coughing sound. So loud that the servers rushed to help him. It’s either that or he choked on something.
Well, that’s what goes around in this café. A quaint little desolate place where the food is mediocre and décor even worse. So nobody visits it, except jobless writers like me.
I, a freelance writer making ends meet by writing stupid good for nothing articles for agencies while my actual writing, novels, and short stories, that is, gathers dust in my memories.
‘Oh! There comes that book nerd girl’.
A 20 something young lass came in and waved at me. That’s Rimika a young and lonely college girl who often visits this café to read while gulping down some Chinese dishes. She is very fond of those Chinese delicacies. I see her eating that for lunch every day.
I have grown accustomed to this fair-skinned dreamy-eyed college girl. We never exchanged a word. How do I know her name you say? Well, that’s a long story, meant for another day. Something about her bothers me. Something in her eyes, something desolate and friendly.
She never had a friend accompanying her.
She did the same thing EVERY DAY.
Comes in at around 1 pm, I guess that’s her recess hour. At about 1:15 – 1:20 pm a bowl of ramen noodles or a plate of momos greet her.
Sometimes, she orders both and the waiter looks up in appreciation.
Then she quietly reads a book for the next 20-30mins. At about 2pm the server arrives with the bill and she clears it off and bids adieu to both the server and me by waving at us.
I haven’t given it much of a thought but today as I notice her ordering lunch I see the waiter conversing with a familiar smile. It appears as if he knows her and she knows him. Both of them seem to be entangled in some circumstantial conspiracy.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that it wasn’t Rimika and I , who were eccentric and had a pattern. There’s someone else in the café who played the same role. It was the waiter serving Rimika.
Strangely, the guy never came to serve me in this 1 month but every time Rimika is here, he is there.
How about writing about them? I thought.
“But what do I know of them? A quiet eccentric girl and his strange silent lover”
So, that was it.
For 4 days in a row I have been coming to this café for lunch, dinner and breakfast, breaking my monotonous pattern of life, only to be disappointed. Yes, I don’t have any life as you gathered by now. I am out of job and haven’t written a novel or a short story for a year now. My family life is in tatters. My jobless irregular life has dampened the spirits of my wife and she has left for her maternal home, leaving me struggling to make even an omelet.
So, here I am idling in a café conjuring up stories about strangers I haven’t met.
That’s enough of me. Let’s get on with the alleged young couple.
Rimika seems to have a pattern which she doesn’t break. So, she isn’t there during my breakfast and dinner pursuits. However, she has been missing during lunch time as well.
Perhaps, it’s vacation time in her college, I thought.
“But what about the waiter? Did you see him?” a voice inside me asked.
Apparently, I haven’t seen him from that day onwards.
It’s almost been a week and there’s no sign of two.
At this point in life, I was more concerned these odd characters than myself.
So, concerned was I that I overlooked the surroundings.
Another mystery was unfolding at the other end of the spectrum. In the other side of the café , few metres away from my table
There was a couple sitting in the cafe when I walked in. As the light was low, I didn’t know who they were until the woman turned around, and I recognized my wife.
So, consumed was I that I didn’t recognize her. And now as I am coming back to my senses I see that the man has left and she is staring at me, constantly watching me from a distance.
A minute later she comes up to me
‘I have had enough of you. Stop this and come back home’, she says reconcilingly.
‘I also had enough. I don’t want you. You carry on with your lover’, I retaliate
‘Enough is enough’, she said
‘Stop this nonsense and come with me. You have been living like a vagabond for a month now’
‘You are having an affair with that man’, I said agitately
‘You are like the characters always running away. You are Rimika’.
3 months have passed since that incident in the café. I am a lot better and healthy now. I have been on therapy and medications for the past 3 months. It seems I am suffering from a terrible depression resulting in frequent hallucinations. My wife took me home that day with the help of the servers of the café.
This I gathered from Ricky, a 19 year old waiter working in the café
He seems familiar to me but I can’t seem to recognize.
I have been away from my library, my books and notebook for the past 3 months.
However, today, I decided to take a look at the scribbles in my notebook.
As soon as I opened the notebook I remembered who Ricky was.
He was the young waiter who used to serve Rimika when she visited the café.
‘Have they come back?’ I wondered
‘But where’s Rimika? Why isn’t she here?’
I went to look for Ricky and Rimika in the café next day.
There he’s serving an old lady. I wasted no time and asked him ‘where’s Rimika?’
He looked at me strangely as if he has seen me for the first time
Months passed by and there was no news of her.
I was growing restless and was beginning to suspect a wrongdoing from Ricky’s side.
I told my wife about Rimika and Ricky. She laughed it off.
‘You are thinking too much about your characters. They are living inside you.’
‘Nothing will happen to them as long as you are here’, she said in an assuring voice.
But was it true? Am I thinking too much?
Are they indeed alive? Do I have the power to make them stay?
These thoughts kept me awake that night.
However, nothing changed the next day.
Rimika was gone and Ricky didn’t seem to recognize me.
2 years have passed by and I have moved on with my life. Today I am a writer at a news agency. Success has finally caught up with me and I am leading a happy and healthy life with my wife and a 5 year old adopted daughter.
Still in some lonely quarters Rimika is alive. She always seem to implore.
Sometimes, when I am alone I can see her eating ramen noodles and reading Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. Except she is more alone now, there’s no Ricky around her serving noodles with a smile.
Only there are some loud noises in background and a window with clouds and clear blue sky.
The noises sound wild. So wild that it can tame you.
As if a plane is crashing down.
Later that year I learnt from the café owner that Ricky is no more. He wasn’t keeping well for a year now. He wasn’t himself since her friend died. It turns out Ricky and Rimika were indeed real.
They were best of friends and worst of lovers.
Silent lovers of each other.
Rimika was from Kashmir. That day when I last saw her in the café that was the last day of her life.
The Indian Government declared article 370 invalid in Jammu and Kashmir the following day and bifurcated the state.
Rimika was worried for her mother.
She expected something bad to happen soon and hence took a flight to Srinagar.
But scarcely did she knew that , that would be her last day.
Rimika’s plane crashed that day. She couldn’t make it.
As I heard the story I realized why I couldn’t forget her.
She was living inside me. She was alive.
Alive and living as long as I am.
She wants her story to be COMPLETED.
She wants lots of things in the story. The things she couldn’t do in her life.
She wanted to live the fullest in her story.
Now I realized what was so desolate and friendly in her eyes. I realized why she couldn’t be the heroine of the novel.
Rimika was much more than that. She was alive and I had the power to make her happen.
Rimka was a Character in my N O V E L.