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09 May 2011

The Coffee Shop

by Innerdialect

The Coffee ShopIt sat bang in the middle of Commercial Street - food vendors, pedestrians, milled around. Higginbothams Books stood next door like it had for the past 60 odd years. To the right, The Daily Herald. Three floors of grey stone housed coffee-lovers, doodlers, insomniacs and others.

There was a 'kicked up newness' about The Coffee Shop this year. Fresh painted off white wall, front door burnt brown, black handle, terrace garden first floor, stairs spiralling off a tiny reception, pine freshener, new varnished tables, wrought iron window grill, peeling wood bench out front that local Traffic police ignored during road widening procedures when metro railways re-structuring first began. The Coffee Shop's name plate stood thick with pigeon droppings and feathertuft wedged in rust.

Yes, there was a newness here...in the way of old garden cities and new fly-overs.

After chairs went down that morning, a few regulars walked in glassy eyed, to smoke, stare, have their cup of freshly ground coffee in white cup and round bottomed saucer. Nice people in states of non thought apparently contagious.

Ginger and the four cats, including New Lady, hung back in the terrace. Mij wasn't in yet so no leftovers! No one ate. Coffee and cigarette butts. Shrivelly match and ash. Eeeeyeow. Things hadn't changed much at The Coffee Shop.

He sank in his fur and shut his head. New Lady looked away unimpressed. She was, but wouldn't show it. Ginger knew. Which was why he shut his head. The ways of the female species weren't new to him. They were all quite human if you looked close. Indiscretions to the fore and immensely ignorant of the fact that the covers to their psyche were sheer glass. Oh, you could read a human like you could read New Lady here.

Why people did not 'read each other' confused Ginger. It could simplify everything. Like peripheral vision. Did they use it? Nah! Other species yes, but humans? Maybe some women did. And some sleuths. Specifically trained. Or stock brokers. And some journalists.

Four that evening, Mij finally came in. Ginger and others settled into more mobile peace. Life began. Mij looked strangely content today; hadn't fussed with her hair as usual - somehow that helped. It hung flat either side of her wide face, softening it. Fifty nine and in bright purple T shirt, white heels, skinny jeans, workday - even if you hardly got off your high chair with laptop and pictures of ancestry?! Mij was originally from "Persia". Parsi!

Oh. Ah. Ginger purred inside - all over. See, she asked no rent; coffee bags behind the kitchen brought in rats, mice. Why complain?

5pm. Time moved in one slow amber stretch. Amber because of the late Indian summer sun slanting in thru Mij's windows overlooking the City's park across. High red walls and Asoka trees that landmarked The Coffee Shop. Girl with plait hadn't arrived yet (French plait meticulously braided from the top, sometimes even with white and pinky pearl or satin twine. Salon? What, every day?).

Table 6 was busy again. Tall man with leather briefcase. What was he? Real Estate? Mattered? Nah! Just that people walked in with their lives. Little untuned edges sometimes rankling like a raspy guitar. Black silk dress tie tonight, ok. Okay-ee! Third coffee, loosened silk tie, he was slipping down till one socked foot stuck out under table. Doped-sleepy.

New Lady had one green eye, the other was blue. Striking in her white fur, Ginger thought. She was long jawed long boned, hind feet ambling like a big cat's, hmmmm, ATTITUDE!! Lineage. New babe was thinking privileged class, uh.

He stretched loudly across so she had to hop over Table 6's long socked foot. What can you say. These were the ways of a street cat. Don't try dress him up, gold trimmed deep streaked fur, tail like a christmas tree, and all. Mee Maw!!! Velvet brown eyes unsafe to look into, not till you were ready. But then he had a wildness that slipped out without warning. Almost like people. She retreated to the Monsterra pots outside to do her nails.

7pm. Just walking space left. Even over by the maroon benches along the left wall with the Mario black and white murial. Mij's paintings kept her away from the madness. The shop was a gift from Ma who had dreamed of an Art Studio, back when young ladies had no business thinking that way. Grandpa thought different...

Well, the dream died. After ma moved on, Mij, single and somehow better at 50 than 40, made her decision. Yeah, there was a time she used to think "Soul Mate" would walk in, sweep her off her feet, tall, dark, raggedly handsome, unlike Slick there. Sure he had a girlfriend in tow, but she wouldn't recommend him for any one she knew, he was just too smooth was all.

She must've smiled at the young couple across, Slick and the girl; they smiled back good naturedly and Mij felt a pang of bad. Sometimes she was really so bad. Wicked streak from her dad for sure. He was a rash one. Mij tried to remedy familial curse (there was also cancer, arthritis, colic, ulcers and spinal curvature running rabid in the family, so you wanted to wash that out, specially here where you needed 'nice', and work, for pitys sakes, without generational mess). That explained her Feng Shui crystals, mirror and single laughing Buddha at the entrance with petals in round earthern water tray. And river stones.

Oh, too many accessories for a Coffee Shop? So? She had snacks. Samosas, khari biscuits (flaky light wheat biscuits, reminiscient of her years in Gujarat), some lassi & yoghurt recently, tangy-chillied Lime pickle bottles for sale in tall shelf, but coffee was coffee. Fresh ground from Coorg in the hills, best hill station south of India, Mij knew no other. The aroma of it rose to the rafters, spilling out to where Chaat sellers swirled puffed rice concoctions in tender mango shreds, tamarind preserve and coriander spiked potato crunch. You bought your Chaat for Rs 30/-, walked in for coffee. Mij didn't care. She leaned on her elbows like she were looking in at the window sills of the world.

Girl with plait was dazzling in blue tonight, black long earrings, sparkle in the loop. Very nice. The nails were painted bronze, subtle. 22? Maybe, 23. Med school, or architecture. Yeah they had that look, PGs.

Ginger wished they would change the music. It had a whine, which was alright some nights, but not with moon and Moghul outside, at it. Moghul was a dignified dog, polite to felines, so they all looked out for him, except that his whine put sad sitars and shennais to shame.

Plait girl was smiling. Oh. Ah! purred Ginger. Humans could express so much but mostly did that to themselves. Like personal truths were for individualised governance of the Galaxy. He prefered cats. What you saw was what you got. Male cats. Humans were big on emo. Superficially, see? Like New Lady. A species dedicated to self.

Table 6 was sorting out his shoes. Short man in the corner and woman with bags from Garuda Mall were actually eating. Girl in plait hadn't stopped talking into her phone. Whoever she was waiting for better arrive soon; there were three waiting for that one chair.

Next to the Billing counter tables in front of the mirror filled with delegates from a seminar. Glossy badges, happy plastic smiles. Ten of them squashed into room for six.

What did Coffee do? Kick the nerve centres? Soak up happy spots? Made humans feel better looking? Couple at table for two, snuck glances at long mirror. It was great being a non human, you could stare at anyone anytime, for free. The woman so very, very pretty, but needed confirmation all the time? Pouty slow smiles into the mirror when he wasn't looking. Funny thing was he did the same. Like they were in love with their own face, or some other people...

Ginger was wide awake. The family with teenagers were here. Six of them, each a silent stone. Had their coffee in silence. Why would they want coffee like that, once a week? A pact, counselling tip, payoff for Dad? Did they talk at home? Did they get the bus here? They did not look like BUS people.

8pm. Sara Pai arrived, hunched in her own designer brand of clothing, white salwar kameez, red shawl. Relished her coffee like it were the last thing before paradise, to the last drop before paying up, no tip and a swipe at the Cumin seed sweetened bowl, one tissue for the road and she was gone like she had arrived, leaving behind a trail of Eau de cologne, old cotton and napthalene. Yeah she was used to nice things. And some rough.

Mij straightened her shoulders, deciding not to charge Sara Pai anymore. As a tribute to...life. There was a niceness about changing the old routine. Tomorrow she would clean up the name plate outside. Not that anyone noticed. It was a relic. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and started. She was beginning to look...nice. Then she studied herself with heels, without heels. Ginger knew she wouldn't touch the relic. It was her good luck charm. The last time she tried cleaning it Janam, the cook, fell ill. Humans were odd when they thought no one was looking. It was great being non-human. Night vision for one thing. Oh-ah! The things you saw around The Coffee Shop when the shutters were down.

New Lady spat. Na-Da. Mij would do the name plate tomorrow. Today she had found a worthy human trait. Dignity. And beauty. Even a legitimate degree of pride. Maybe it was about Sara Pai and tributes. To life. Mee-Maw!

Her blue/green eyes were striking she noticed, preening in the mirror, utterly pleased to finally say it out loud. "We have something more than basic vision, anyway, sir! Feminine instinct..." New Lady watched Ginger through the tip of her tail and padded into the kitchen.

Photograph: 'Smile' © Jamie Koziura

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