He was a man of few words. Very few words. He was also a man of routine. There never was a day when he did not follow his fixed schedule. He diligently woke up as soon as his alarm rang. He pulled up his laptop every morning to go over his emails, answered them while rolling himself a cigarette. As the smoke went inside his body, the nicotine gave him the necessary kick to loosen his body up. Then came a bowl of cereal and bananas. All the while, soft classical music playing in the background. After washing himself up, he took the usual route to his office, taking a short detour to the café, his café where he knew the people. He didn’t have to utter a single word, his double espresso was always ready for him. Sometimes, the homeless man in front of the café gestured for some help and he usually parted with a few cents.
His time at work was no different. Social etiquette was non-existent and sometimes people spent hours without uttering a single word to one another. All this suited him well. He did not like to speak his mind, in any case. Lunch time was specially tenuous for him, he mostly pointed to the items he wanted to the lunch-lady. Occasionally, he indulged in confectionery. One strudel at a time, he thought would not recede his already diminished lifeline. Work was over, as soon as the clock stuck five. He packed his bag and proceeded to the lift smiling occasionally to people who were still in their desks. He went back home by the same route he took in the morning. After carefully mapping various alternatives, he found this one to be the most conducive. There was a supermarket, a tobacco shop and a bar on his way. Everything he wanted in his life could be found in that route.
Dinner, usually was spaghetti cooked with olive oil and tomatoes. Sometimes, if he felt particularly adventurous he would make chicken curry and try to eat as much of it as his stomach could endure. Most often, the next morning would be a particularly smelly affair and the janitor had complained on quite a few occasions. After dinner, he would open his laptop and watch some of his favorite TV shows. Thank God, they had invented Netflix for him. Whenever, sleep came he would make his way to his bed and lay down. His mind would then wonder into the past and he would imagine scenarios of what could have happened if he had done something differently. In a matter of minutes, he would fall asleep again to repeat his cycle the next day.
Weekends and holidays were slightly different. Instead of work, he would randomly hop into an underground train and get down at whatever station caught his fancy. Then he would roam aimlessly for a while, until something caught his eye. He would sip some coffee at one of the numerous cafes in the city and sit and observe the volume of human communication around him. He never uttered a word to anyone. When his mind and body would tire, he would go to the bar. Not any bar, but his bar where they knew him. He would not have to say anything, because the bartender would offer him his whiskey on the rocks. He would sip away a few glasses of the whiskey listening to whatever the DJ fancied playing that particular night. After a while, alcohol would make him drowsy and he would trudge back into his room. There would be no dinner and he would fall asleep without any thought. His normal cycle would begin again the next day.
That morning he woke up with the usual tingling sensation in his head. He cursed himself for drinking slightly too much the other night. He tried to follow his usual pattern and went on with his activities. As soon as he entered the café for his double espresso, he sensed something was different. He waited patiently for his turn and when he came upon the counter, he realized the difference. His usual barista was nowhere to be seen. The young lady standing at the counter gave him a smile. He returned her gaze with a speculative smile.
‘What would you like to have today, sir?’
He was tongue tied. Words would not escape his mouth. The young man behind him was also feeling the same. After all, it was not everyday that you see such a beautiful barista.
She wondered, maybe he was a tourist and didn’t understand her language. She asked gently ‘Cappuccino?’
He just shrugged, she took it to be an yes and gave him a large cappuccino. He paid her and left the place, instead of staying and reading the newspaper for a while like he always used to do.
The coffee was unpalatable for his taste. He did not like milk in his coffee. But he didn’t want to waste it and offered it to the homeless man, who gave him a toothless grin and snatched it from his hand.
He went back home, angry with himself for breaking his routine. He made himself an espresso and gulped it down in a single shot. He took out his rolling paper and tobacco. Hurriedly rolling a cigarette he opened the windows for the smoke to go out. Pondering for a while on what had just happened, he realized it. How could she have recognized him? He barely recognized himself now. He had grown a beard, dropped his glasses for contact lenses and wore formal attire most of the time. The many late night conversations he had had with her, came into replay in his mind. He decided to skip work that day. He sent an email to his boss explaining about his inability to go to the office today. He would not be missed, he was almost invisible. He neither talked with anyone nor did anyone try to talk with him.
Cigarettes and coffee kept him company the whole day. His hunger had whetted and he decided to take a stroll along the park nearby. He never did that before, but something made him want to that evening. His thoughts returned to her as soon as he sat down on a park bench. It had been many years since he had seen her. So much had changed. So much he wanted to say to her. A pang of sadness filled his heart as Vivaldi’s ‘L’inverno’ played on his headphones. He went to his bar and again indulged in the single malt. His alcohol addled mind was no longer thinking straight, he barely managed to walk up the stairs and open his apartment door. He fell on the floor and sleep embraced him.
The next morning he woke up to a pile of his own vomit. Again, cursing himself like the previous day, he cleaned it up and tried to carry on with his activities. As usual he went to the café, she was still there. This time, she gave him a knowing smile.
‘Same as yesterday?’, she queried.
He nodded in agreement. Paying her, he left the café, gave his coffee to the homeless man and went back to his life. At least, he tried to go back to his life.
It has been over a year now, the same thing kept on happening every day. She gives his coffee, he pays and leaves, giving the coffee to the homeless man on the way. His life has turned upside down in the matter of one year. He no longer had a fixed routine. His heart was smitten. But words refused to escape him. He decided the time has come for him to act. He thought about a plan, and hoped that it would succeed. But like all of his life plans, he held some trepidation that this one would also backfire.
He rose earlier than usual that morning. Taking great care to shave himself, he put on his old glasses and took out his old jeans and shirt. After dressing himself, he looked at the mirror. Yes, he still looked like he did in his youth. The beard had hidden his handsome face. He was sure that she would recognize him at last. He made his way to the café, and entered. When he saw the counter his heart sank. His old barista was back and handling orders. Dejected, he went and picked up his espresso, giving a weak smile to the barista. He sat down and picked up a newspaper after a year. As he was reading it, he felt someone peering over the pages. He looked up and saw her standing there frozen on the spot.
This time, she was tongue-tied. Tears flowed through her eyes, and then he saw it. There was a ring on her finger. She was getting married. This was perhaps her goodbye moment to the staff at the café.
Her voice was soft, when she asked ‘Why?’
How he wished he could answer her! Without looking anywhere else, he went out. He stood on the pavement and shouted as loud as he could. It was at that moment, the truth hit him. He gasped for air as words failed to escape his mouth. After a while, he calmed a little bit. He sat down beside the homeless person and rolled up a cigarette. The homeless person mumbled something which he did not hear. He tried to say something to him, but only smoke escaped his mouth. The homeless person understood. This man who had been so kind too him all this while was mute. He could not speak.