The long walk to the café never felt long especially today because it was about to rain. It was my favorite weather. Grey skies with a soft breeze, sending a message that thunderstorms were on the way. And like the last week, even today they will be roaring with anger at humankind. I entered through the turquoise colored door with a smile to greet Mr. Khanna, he was the owner of the café. A young engineer who left a very successful career behind to open a café here in Simla. It was my favorite place in the whole city. There were so many colors in this café that it was tough not to smile even when there was nothing to be happy about. the best feature of the café other than the delicious coffee of course, were these two big glass walls that had colorful drapes that were always tied to let the beautiful view in. I loved the very quirky locally produced comfortable chairs to enjoy the views. Everything about this place made me feel welcome. I always sat in the corner on the pink armchair and was happy to see it empty waiting for me.
The moment I sat down, Sumit bought me a big mug of coffee, I was a regular here. The valley looked so calm ready to greet its faithful friends, thunderstorms, and lighting. It was the kind of rain that time tunnels you to the world you rely on to remember what real comfort feels like. It was that kind of afternoon when I had no classes or assignments to work on, but enough time to just sit back, think and watch the rain.
It was the smell of his cologne that I noticed first. ‘Black’, I smiled looking up at him pulling the chair out next to me to sit down. The café was suddenly very crowded. The rain had made everyone rush for cover. I smiled at him, moving my feet so he could pull out the chair for himself. He said something but I had my earphones on so could not hear him but smiled back. His smile had the warmth I did not even know I was looking for that day. So I took my tiny earphones off and said, “Hi. Sorry I did not hear what you said just now.”
So he repeated for me in the most soothing voice, “Oh, I was just saying, it is a stunning view and perfect rain. Nothing important.” I replied with an even bigger smile, “You like rains?” He was now sitting comfortably with legs stretched out straight under the table and feet crossed comfortably like we were already in a deep conversation. “Yes, I do. Especially the kinds that make you miss home. Correction! ‘The childhood home’.”
I was now nodding and did not even realize when I too sat down with legs stretched and feet crossed trying to match to his height, staring at the view. “I remember going on bike rides with my brother during monsoons, looking for frogs.”
I could see him almost laughing looking at me. “Now that is an interesting story. Why frogs if I may ask?” “Yes, you may!” “Honestly, I think I was attracted to the very loud and creepy croaking and of course their balancing skills. Our bike ride was a success if we could spot 5 frogs sitting on top of each other. 3 frogs were ‘ok’ 4 meant there is hope for 5 nearby.” He was now laughing sipping his tea. Yes, he was drinking tea, I noticed it the moment he pulled that chair next to me.
“What about you? No frog stories of your own?” I asked feeling comfortable in his company.
“Oh, I have many. But they mostly involve playing cricket with friends in rain. I miss that. And then, we used to sneak behind this tiny old house near the playground and smoke.” He kept talking, “it now seems like a different world. A world I can’t remember actually existed or was it all just my imagination?”
“You must be really close to your friends?” I asked. He quickly replied, “Yes, I am lucky to have great friends”. “We have been friends since we were 5 years old.” He smiled, still staring mostly at the stunning grey clouds floating.
“Wow! I envy that. I am not big on friendships. I always had trust issues and was extremely shy so I have just 2 friends. But they are like family. They are my everything. We have been friends since 10th grade.” I noticed him looking at me listening intently. I pulled my hair back in a bun for I did not need to hide behind my hair today.
“Shy? I cannot believe that. Well, at least not anymore.” he claimed.
“Well, I blame the rain and coffee. I get high on coffee.” I tried to joke hoping he would smile again.
And he did. In fact, he laughed. I don’t know why it made me feel content watching him laugh like I had been waiting here all my life just to meet him one day and then make him laugh. I shook my head and picked up the coffee only to realize it was finished. It was all going so well; I did not want to get up and leave the conversation in the middle. And the café was too crowded for me to expect Sumit to bring me a refill. So I just sat there hoping he would continue to talk because I needed at least one thing, either a refill on coffee or a conversation.
“So what did you smoke behind that tiny house?” I had a big smirk waiting for him to answer. “Well, that question requires a refill. Can I get you anything? Coffee, right?” I smiled a big one and said, “yes, black coffee for me, please. Thank you!”
I did not even realize when the afternoon changed into late evening or when the rain stopped. We had been so lost in our conversations about friends, school trips, favorite books, and movies, that for those 5 hours I even forgot what day it was?
He was talking and listening. And for a change, I was interested in making conversations and not hide behind a book. His soothing way of storytelling, laughing effortlessly and eagerness to hear my words made me feel like I was back in his presence. At that moment I realized how much I missed this? It had been 9 years since his death, yet I had not figured until this moment what I missed the most about my dad, the friendship. I missed having my best friend. The one who could talk to me about anything. The one who was always interested in all my stories, even when I repeated them. I missed this feeling of comfort. And here I was sitting in a café with a complete stranger, well not complete since we had been chatting for 5 hours now, thinking how much he reminded me of ‘my superman’; my dad.