“Coffee World” was filled with young people . The background music was perky without being too loud to interrupt conversations. The young waiters in their T shirts bustled up and down taking and delivering orders.
Biju looked closely at every girl who came in . He had arrived half an hour ago and positioned himself at a strategic location inside so as to give him a view of anyone who was entering. He had kept the bouquet of roses he had brought on the chair next to him. He did not want to draw attention to it before he could present it to her. It had been an impulsive buy. He looked up at the door, a pretty young girl in jeans and a kurti was entering. She sat down at the alcove opposite him and started fiddling with her phone. Was it her he wondered? He felt his phone every now and then to see if it was ringing. The girl opposite was now talking on the phone to someone. Her voice was shrill and loud. No it was obviously not his beloved.
Two girls sitting to his right were staring at him and giggling making him feel a bit self conscious. He smoothened down his hair nervously. They were joined by two young men and Biju was relieved to find that their attention was now off him.
A blind girl walked in and felt her way around the shop with her stick. She was sitting to his left. From the way she was talking to the waiters there, it was obvious that she was a regular.
He tapped his foot impatiently wondering how he was going to kill the next fifteen minutes. He decided he would call her at 5.10 if she did not come by 5.00 PM as she had promised.
It had all started a month ago when Biju had called the toll free number printed at the back of his credit card to seek clarification on his billing for the month. Her voice had been soft and warm answering his queries in a professional way.
The voice at the other end had captivated him so much that he had called back again trying to speak to the person whose voice it was. Unfortunately, the second time he had encountered a male voice which was equally helpful …but help was the last thing on Biju’s mind. He was trying to get the voice that called itself “Nina” to talk to him.
After several failed attempts he discovered over the next few days that he was most likely to speak to her if he called between 2.30 -4.00 PM. And thus had begun a routine of calls with questions that were very obviously made up and imaginary. He wondered how long he would be able to keep up this charade. He was sure that she must have guessed by now that he was calling to talk to her. She was always professional and polite , brushing off the questions that she could not answer or transferring his calls to others. He always disconnected when these transfers happened. He was not sure he could keep up the charade with someone else.
He had tried to look for her through social networking sites like face book. But it was obviously not so easy considering there were about 100 “Nina”s that the site kept throwing up. He had patiently gone through twenty of them but had given up after some time. Besides, his friend Unni had told him that most employees at call centres like the one that handled his credit card queries used assumed names.
Unni, was his only friend in the city. As a new migrant to Bangalore from Cochin, Biju had been drawn to a fellow Malayalee. Both of them worked in the same IT firm, albeit in different teams. Unlike Biju, Unni was a native of Bangalore having grown up there. He had introduced his “country cousin” ( as he liked to refer to Biju) to various haunts in the city. Unni often made fun of Biju’s strong “Mallu accent”. Of late he had taken to imitating Biju on his afternoon trysts with the toll free number.
“Dude, you don’t have to find her. She will find you! An accent like that is hard to miss” he had said once laughing loudly at his own joke. Biju listened to him good humouredly. At least Unni had not said that Nina would be put off by that accent.
Meanwhile, he spent all his free time thinking about her. Her voice was the sweetest thing that he had ever heard- not too shrill like that of most girls or too husky in a way that would intimidate. He had often imagined how she would look. Probably fair , small built with long hair he thought. He did not know why but that was the image that came to his mind.
Unni had teased him mercilessly when he had shared these thoughts with him. “ Do you also imagine she applies coconut oil to her hair? And idiot, how do you know she is fair? Stop these Mallu fantasies built around what your Velliya Ammachi and various Kochammas talk about” he had said. Biju had been a bit embarrassed after that. But he knew there was some truth in what Unni said. A Syrian Christian from Kerala, Biju Varghese knew that his idea of femininity had developed from what was considered beautiful in his native Cochin. And anyway, it was quite possible that she looked like he imagined her. After all, God worked miracles in strange ways. And he was a god fearing young man. He had never missed a single Sunday at church except when he had malaria as a boy. He was sure God would reward him for this uninterrupted attendance in more ways than one.
The almighty had finally decided to reward him yesterday. Unni who had been doing some “detective work” for him on the side had had a sudden windfall.
“ You remember my cousin, Usha? I ran into her yesterday at a wedding. She mentioned that she works at a call centre. And good friend that I am I quizzed her for more details and found out that she works at the same call centre that handles queries from customers of your credit card company. I asked her to find out about your Nina.“ Unni had said , his eyes flashing mischievously.
Biju couldn’t believe it! Fate seemed to be smiling at him. He just hoped that this Nina whose details Usha Chechi had promised to find out would not be some matron with four kids. And hopefully, her last name would be Kurien ,Cherian, Chacko , Mathew, Mathai or any one of the hundred odd Syrian Christian names that cropped in his church in Kerala. He was not sure how he would deal with it if it was something else. What would Ammachi say? Appachen might disown him if she was from another religion or region.
He must confess, he was a bit worried when he finally heard her full name- “ Nina Rao ” !!
“She would have to convert” he thought folding and refolding the paper napkin under his saucer. He looked at his watch 5.15 now. It was safe to call her now. He hoped she had not ditched him. But she had promised to meet him here at 5.00 PM after her shift got over when he had spoken to her yesterday. He did not think she was the sort of girl to play such a cruel joke on a small town fellow like him.
He took out his mobile and called her number all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the entrance in front of him.
“Hello Biju” she said. He felt a bit disconcerted to hear her voice. It seemed to be coming from somewhere beyond the electronic device that he held to his ear. Yes, indeed it was… a real person was speaking . Ignoring the voice in his ear he turned left in the direction of the voice. He did not have to look at her to know who it was !!
“Hello!! Biju? Where are you?” said the blind girl, speaking into her mobile.
He watched her silently as she repeated her question again before he disconnected. She was thin and fair with long hair, exactly as he had imagined but her eyes were covered with dark glasses.
He wondered if he should go up to her and introduce himself. But something stopped him. He could deal with a Nina Rao, but not a Nina Rao who was blind!!
He rose and signaled to the waiter to bring his bill. He slid out of his seat quietly and walked towards the door trying not to look back at the blind girl sitting inside.
“Sir, you forgot your bouquet” shouted the waiter running after him.
Biju walked faster turning around the corner panting. He did not want to bear the burden of those flowers. Those were meant to be carried by a much stronger man!