The doorbell rang thrice. I was watching the NFL on my new 29-inch TV.
“Will you answer the door please?” called Madhu from the kitchen. I was watching the Red dragons take on the black pandas in the NFL.
“Just a second” I said and just then the referee adjudged a foul in favor of the pandas. The pandas were leading 1-0 and this was a golden chance to extend that. I quickly got up from the sofa and went to attend the doorbell. The dragons were arguing with the referee then.
“Hello there! Anybody home? Raju, Madhu come on yaar, open the door. I am totally wet,” howled my friend from behind the door.
“Great heavens Manish! What were you doing out there in such rain? You have missed the dragons Vs pandas match by half” I said as I took his umbrella and put it in the strainer. He was soaking wet.
A tragedy king, I would call him because a half an hour ago, there was no rain and this poor fellow might have got out without his raincoat. It happens with him always. Perhaps he was the bunny for rain god. He had turned up totally drenched three times in past six days. Anyway, he was my friend Manish, Manish Kumar. We were together since the school days. He was more intelligent than me but as luck would have it, I got more marks almost every time until he beat me by 4 marks in the HSC. It was like he was waiting for the final punch. He lived nearby only. Today was a Sunday and I had invited him for the evening match. Mrs. Kumar was not too keen to join and chose to sleep instead.
“Hi Manish” said Madhu as she came out of the kitchen “Why Preeti did not come? Did you call her? I bet you forgot conveniently, eh?” she demanded from me.
“No, Dear. She is sleeping right now,” said Manish before I could speak anything “but she will come after some time. She wants some thing from you. A recipe based on lemons, pumpkin, sugar, flour and some other thing I couldn’t understand but it sounds yummy”.
“Oh! She might be talking about the pumpkin purees. Great! I will make them today and she will have an on-job training” said Madhu and again went in kitchen.
She never spends more than an hour or two in the kitchen daily. And today, she was there more than three hours. Something was going on, I thought and now I knew what her idea was. Preeti, Manish’s beloved wife, was coming for a cooking lesson. I better stay away, I thought and incidentally today was the semi final of the NFL. Funny isn’t it that I had met her in a coffee shop three years ago and I owe it to my friend Manish for introducing me to her in his shop on a lovely evening I would never forget.
The local coffee parlor Café-de-Café was located just five minutes away from my home. It was a nice place to be at in the evenings. The dim lighting, the light brown wall finish, the serene drapes in white on the windows, the all so heartening music in the air and the fresh smell of the coffee brought a soothing effect on the nerves. I used to go there many times. The shop owner, Manish had become my friend as he was of all his customers. He was an interesting character with his haircut in the latest trend and his clothes bearing a stamp of simplicity, more so ever reflecting his personality. He had a habit of pulling out jokes out of thin air and every one loved him immensely for that.
So, it was another day at office. Another day I had looked at papers of all sizes and contents. I had visited the sites for something or the other. I had to shout at a fellow for being careless and what not, I thought. It was an eventful day. I was tired at the end and chose to take coffee at my favorite coffee bar Café-De-Café.
I liked to visit the shop not only because of the coffee but also due to its owner, my friend Manish. His father owned the shop and he attended the guests in the evening for a few hours just to relieve his father of some work. He was a family friend in fact. I liked the variety of coffee available at his café. Right from the ordinary to quite exquisite was the range. My favorite was Choc-Café. It had a little chocolate added and was made from pure milk. I liked the black coffee also.
I was enjoying the coffee and just then a girl walked in, medium height, wheat-brownish complexion and formal clothing. She was wearing a white shirt, a gray coat with three quarters sleeve and gray trousers. She was looking like an executive. Manish saw me looking at her and whispered in my ears “Name is Madhu, visits my shop every day and today is late by two hours.” He went to her as she ordered her coffee.
Manish was very friendly with every body and I wonder how he managed that. He called me from her table “Hey! Rajesh! Come here.”
“This is Madhu”, he said as if he knew her for ages and was introducing her, “and she has just shifted to our town three weeks ago.” He added as I bowed my head. She smiled back and said “Rajesh! Nice to meet you.”
“You seem to occupy a high position!” I could not hide my curiosity.
“First things first. Who are you?” she asked sipping coffee from her cup.
“I am sorry! I should have introduced myself. Rajesh Paralkar. Engineer with the government of India. I cannot disclose my exact whereabouts and I am sorry for that. I am a regular at this shop since time indefinite. Nice to meet you and welcome to our city” I said in one breath.
“Myself Madhu Deshpande. I am a Team manager at ProTech Inc and it is my pleasure to work here.” She said and we smiled at each other.
“Nice to see people coming to this remote place. Otherwise, there has been a steady outflow,” I remarked as I took a chair and asked “Can I sit here?”
“Suit yourself. This is the usual trend nowadays but this is a nice place. In fact I had come to see this place before choosing my placement. As long as they give me a good house to live in, it works for me” She said.
“Well! I hope you enjoy your stay. The software jobs are volatile, I have heard and very soon you might be changing your job”, and I had asked a particularly debatable question.
“I know. But, it is also up to the individual and it is then down to the job-satisfaction issue. I have found that this job is good and I have no problem till now.” She said as we sipped on to our drinks.
“What is it like being the part of a government company?” she asked as she paid her bill at the counter.
“Hmm… That is a tough call. It is just like the private sector with all the work in the world but, with your life in a slower orbit”, I was frank,” But, it also depends on the individual.”
We had paid our bills and she took leave. She left the shop ahead of me. I waved at Manish and said “Great coffee Manish. I some times suspect you drug it,” as I took my bag and took leave of him. He just gave a mischievous look. She was standing outside besides her car. I went to her and said “So! Good night. I don’t really know if I could be of some help, but, this is my card and only if you would find it OK to take it”, I said as I handed over the card.
“Well! Here is mine.” She took a card from her bag in the car as she added, “We do not have purses like you guys and so I could not give you the card in there and also, If you think it is OK for you to take it” she almost copied my tone and I took it with a smile.
That was the first time I had seen her and then I saw her in the same shop six weeks later. She was wearing a beautiful aqua blue dress with white frills attached at the arms. She looked more or less like a doll this time.
“Hi! What a surprise,” she said “So, you found some time to have coffee. And why are you still dressed in formals! Today is Sunday, for god’s sake!” she added as she sat opposite to me at the table.
“You look nice today,” I said.
“Thanks. I did not know if the government paid any attention to people on the streets,” she said and we had a laugh.
“Can I buy you a drink tonight?” I asked and she nodded.
“Manish! You know her favorite. The bill is on me” I called to Manish.
“Right pal!” He called back.
“I have been busy lately as there is a project to be completed within this month. My boss is also working overtime of late.” I said.
“So! You do work”, she said giving a very mischievous smile, “and Manish! We always say that the government does not work well. And with such smart people in their bag, which boss won’t like to work” she said.
“What was that? I heard a citizen praising our government! The times have surely changed.” I said and we giggled. Manish had brought her drink and as he put it down he said, “But, do not praise him too much. Their project is already delayed by six months and that is how he remains invisible, may be underground somewhere, working on it-that little secret. He never told me what he does and is never going to tell you either. He will just tell he is working. I don’t believe him” and he literally ran away.
He was heard to say, “Sleeping all the day on the chair. See the hair at the back of his head. They reveal that he has a chair with a nice headrest. And pity they do not provide the mirrors in their bathrooms for him to flatten that hair antenna” And he left us laughing.
“Really half mad fellow,” I said as she was still laughing and I suspect she tried to testify Manish’s theory of the antenna of hair standing on my head. “But, that is why I like him. He does show some of his wits. But, I told him the first day itself that I worked with the Government Research Labs and he was howling the next instant. You know what he said after he could hold his breath a bit?”
“What?” she asked.
“He said that no wonder the government delays projects. You take on an average three times the time to drink your coffee and two times the time to pay for it as compared to the others. That little sneak! I wonder how he does that” I replied as she started laughing again. For next hour or so all three of us were playing jokes on each other and she was the heaviest receiver due to the fact that there were orders of magnitude more jokes possible on software people. She took it sportingly and enjoyed.
“I have got an overseas assignment. I will leave for Ireland next Friday,” she said as we were walking on the street towards her house some days later after a snack at the Café de Cafe.
“Fantastic. But, do they really have software industries there? I have only heard their haunted castle stories. The ghosts will be too glad to welcome an Indian there. The land of the divine, as they call it,” I said and we chuckled.
“Don’t worry about the ghosts. I can shriek just like one. They will love me. By the way, is your project finally complete?” she asked.
“Yes. We completed it about eight months late. It has become a routine though. We should really find a way to cut that time. I hope you can tell me some quick ways to cut time.” I said as I looked up the stars. The night seemed a little cold and the wind was chilly too.
“Hands up! I once handled a software contract of a government company and when I saw the amount of paper work you guys do, I was filled with a sense of pity. There were almost ten papers as attachments for one relevant paper and if this was not enough, it went through about three layers of scrutiny and signing. My subordinate had shed five kilos only by transferring documents from one office to another. That was his great achievement, I could recall. But, yes. You have a lot of paper work and you have no other go. Buck up. That is what I would say.” She said.
We shared some more pleasantries before I left her on her doorstep. I went home and thought a lot about Ireland. I tried to search on the Internet also about the isle and the city where she would be working for about a year. I would miss her, I thought.
I drove her, Manish and her luggage to the airport. Manish had brought special coffee packs along with him and we enjoyed them as we waited for the flight. She took my hand in hers and said “I will miss you officer” and she turned towards Manish who looked to burst in tears but had restrained them with great force, “and you too Manish.” And he could resist no more. He took out a big handkerchief and blew in to it and Madhu and myself were left sniggering. He looked like a small child who had just lost his favorite possession as he wiped his eyes and nose. I caressed her hand and felt a little sad too. She left for the flight and left us two wondering why were we feeling worse. Yes! We had lost something precious. Our friend.
“But, she will return soon.” I said to Manish as we sat in the car.
“Yes! Two years is not a long time. I will still worry for her, as she would have to save a lot of money if she has to return. They do not pay much. And we do not know Ireland. May be she will turn up next year in a wedding dress and with a tall and handsome Irish husband.” Manish was saying and I felt that he had returned to normalcy. We shared a lot of jokes as I drove him to his shop and had a good laugh at all the comical possibilities in which she would return. Manish was ruthless when comedy was concerned. He would trap you and you wouldn’t even know while others would be guffawing at you.
We kept in touch with her regularly through the Internet. What a fantastic tool is the Internet. You can share your information, cry on a web cam-video, send a variety of digitized greetings, chat, hack, lie wonderfully to a friend miles away and do so many other things. Madhu used these listed facilities at leisure. She sent thousands of photographs; of people, of places, of vivid flowers, of castles, of streets, her house, her new friends and so many. My hard drive had to sacrifice two Gigabytes for accommodating the photographs. My mother also saw those photos. She even asked me if we could someday visit Ireland, as it seemed very pretty in the pictures and resembling a village based country. I wished that too.
After 748 days of her stay, she wrote that she was coming back after refusing an offer for a pay rise and another three year term in Ireland. The company liked her work and as expected, she was asked for more. I wrote back if she was mad to refuse such an offer. I wrote that she should in fact settle in Ireland itself if she had been promoted to the post of Project in charge there. The village she lived in was a beauty on earth as described by her and what else she could ask for, I wrote: A place to live, a job to do, a life to enjoy. She got confused instantly, as ever, as Manish also seconded my thoughts. We had also written had somebody should be there abroad so that we will find a reason to visit it at least once in our lifetime. Manish had never gone beyond the district limits and the idea of setting him loose out of the city seemed to be fantastic. The only problem was the high cost of such a visit, even if it was to materialize.
She wrote back after a few days later “I would love to be in Ireland forever. The scenic beauty here just pulls at my heartstrings and I feel lovely working here too. But, what good is our life if we stay away from those who we love so much. I have tasted all sorts of coffee drinks abut none was as sweet and as lovely as I tasted at Manish’ Café De Café. Tell Manish that he has a great chance of opening a café here in this place. And that he would surely find a bunch of eighty year olds every day to gag with his antics.” I read it with a smile. She further wrote, “If I accept the offer, I would get the best of my life as far as money and lifestyle is concerned. I may also be promoted to the post of Vice president, Overseas Operations in Ireland but girls think differently than boys. I don’t know what you may say to this but the dearest things to me as of now are not the job, fame or money but my family and you.”
I stared at the screen for more than a few seconds until the words faded before my eyes. The last few words meant so much to me. I sat there thinking of her for some time and then wrote back “Hey. Cool down. Enjoy your life there as far as you are there. Do not become so sentimental in these issues. All of us are waiting for you back here. See you in a few days.” And I could not write more. We boys are usually shy of writing or speaking their hearts out as easily as the girls can. Yes but I loved her and I wasted no time in telling my parents about us. They were as skeptical as they could be at first. Then they agreed to the case and now she is known as Madhu R. Paralkar, my beloved wife.
Manish was crying at our wedding and I had to hold him in my arms and gag him and do all sorts of tricks I got to pacify a child to make him stop. I sometimes suspect that he was a psycho who had served a term at the mental care institute. But, with such psychos set loose the earth was a happier place to live in. We then had a great laugh riot as Manish entertained the guests with his ever-amusing talks.