Withdrawal Syndrome – A conversation

Author’s Note: ‘Conversations’ is a series of fictional short stories comprising of conversations between the fictional ‘ME’ and a fictional ‘SHE’

SHE – Who drinks coffee at 1 in the afternoon?
ME – (grins) Well, if you walk into that coffee shop with me, you would know.!
SHE – Wow.! Instead, why don’t we walk into that FINE-DINE across the road and find out who on the freaking earth would have lunch at 1 in the afternoon..!

Was she irritated? I grew confused and kept quiet for a moment.

ME – Okay.! Tell me one thing. On a scale of 1-10, how hungry are you?
SHE – Well, I don’t know about hungry.! (pause) But if you ask me how angry I am on the scale of 1-10, I would say that the scale is about to snap now.

She was certainly irritated.

ME – Did you have coffee in the morning?
SHE – No.. I didn’t..
ME – See.. there you go..!
SHE – What?
ME – The withdrawal syndrome!
SHE – (confused) Eh?
ME – You consumed zero caffeine today.! And you have already begun to show the withdrawal syndrome..!
SHE – Look! I don’t even know if that was an attempt at humor. But I am real hungry now..!
ME – There you go.! Symptom number one – Increased Hunger
SHE – (restraining anger) Do you even realize that you are seconds away from getting yelled at?
ME – And that would be the second symptom. Irritability coupled with anger.!

I grinned, but she didn’t. My laugh died a silent death.
She stared at me for a while and began to walk away. She entered the restaurant and I followed her into it. She sat down and I picked up the menu.

ME – (surfing through the menu) Okay listen.! You want to start with some soup?
SHE – Yes..! Let us..!
ME – (confused) But they don’t have soup in here.!
SHE – (shouts) Then for god’s sake, order something that they have in here..!

The entire restaurant fell silent for a moment. I fought awkward glances from everyone in there.

ME – This has gone out of my hands.!
SHE – What?
ME – First it was caffeine withdrawal syndrome. And now you are showing ‘Soup withdrawal syndrome’.!

She didn’t respond, not with words. She grabbed the menu card from my hands and quickly glanced through the items.
Waiter arrived at our table.

SHE – Give me number 4 in the starter and number 7 in the main course. And make it spicy.!

She passed on the menu to me. I snubbed the menu card and placed my order.

ME – (to the waiter) Listen. Give me number ten in the starter and number nine in the main course.!
WAITER – (confused) But there’s no ten in the starter.!
ME – What? No ten? You got a nine in there?
WAITER – We got only eight items in the starters sir..!
ME – What’s the eighth?
WAITER – Lava chicken sir..

I think for a while.

ME – Why don’t you do one thing. Prepare Lava chicken and make it extra spicy. Make it your tenth item in the menu, name it ‘volcanic chicken’ and bring it to my table.

I grinned at the waiter and he threw an unhappy smile at me, before exiting into the kitchen. And we dived deep into 2 minutes of silence.

SHE – Okay listen.! I am sorry.! The hunger got on my nerves.! And the mood swings thanks to the cycle of my month..
ME – That’s okay.! (smiles) Thank god I stayed calm..!
SHE – (smiles) Else?
ME – Else, I would have missed an opportunity of having starter number ten, main course number nine with the lady number one.

She smiled, gently. And then, Silence…

ME – And wow.! Look at us.! I was a lunch boy and you were a coffee girl.! But today we have opposite cravings..!
SHE – (smiles) Well.. Things gotta change right?
ME – Yes..! Like the coffee that they served in your favorite coffee place.
SHE – What about it?
ME – Earlier it was a bad coffee place..
SHE – (laughs gently) And you like it now..?
ME – Na.! Now they have gone worse.! But things not good for you, that’s what we get addicted to..!

Gentle laughs exchanged. Soft Jazz in the restaurant, continues to play. Soft Jazz in the restaurant, continues to play.

SHE – (smiles) You have changed.! A lot.!
ME – How about my sense of humor? Still intact..?
SHE – It”s like my favorite coffee place. It has gone from bad to worse (laughs)
ME – Ah.! Beware.! You might pick addiction.!

We both laugh gently, yet again. Followed by, awkward silence..

ME – Anyway.. As you said, things gotta change and so should people. We are meeting after a year and I sincerely hope that I am coming across as a better person and not a different one

She didn’t speak. Me neither. Waiter arrived at our table with the orders. We slowly began to munch the starters.

SHE – What was running in your mind, when you asked us stay away from each from each other other for a year??
ME – You know I am weird, don’t you?

SHE smiled softly.

ME – Hmm… you know when you start watching movies, reading stories, you sort of begin to imagine the ‘would be happy moments’ – Scripted beautifully, executed to perfection.

I grabbed a tissue, wiped my mouth and continued.

ME – I thought an year of staying away, would induce longings and when we finally meet, it would be one of the happiest moments in our lives
SHE – (poignant smile) Did that work?
ME – You tell me..!
SHE – Well… I don’t know.! This is strange. It’s completely awkward (pause) It’s like I know you, but I don’t. And it’s this strange confusion.! If all the memories that we had together, was it real or was it figment of imagination? or a beautiful dream that I had as a kid that’s appearing blurred now?

Poignant silence…

ME – Tell me one thing?
SHE – What?
ME – Am I coming across as a stranger?

silence..

SHE – May be… yes.. (pause) I mean, I can still see the weird you.! But I think it’s me.! I think I’ve changed as a person
ME – So you no longer interested in trivial talks? weird conversations and poor humor?
SHE – I don’t know..
ME – Well.. I know..
SHE – What?
ME – It’s the withdrawal syndrome..
SHE – From coffee?
ME – From ME..

Silence..

ME – Well… I guess, you are right.! We are strangers….

I get up and made an exit from the restaurant, leaving her in pensive silence.
*****************************************************************************
After ten minutes….

ME – Are you expecting someone?

I walked into the restaurant and pointed at the chair across her table. SHE frowned in confusion, and then smiled gently.

ME – Ah. I am here in the town after an year. The town has changed, a lot. Afraid that I would be lost, I was looking for a person to have a lunch conversation with. Would you mind?

She smiled gently.

ME – I shall take that as a yes…

The waiter arrived with the bill.

ME – So lady, what will you have?
SHE – I had my lunch. I could stay until you finish yours..
ME – Oh.. Then how about some bad coffee?

Without waiting for her response, I turned to the waiter.

ME – Get us two cups of bad coffee
WAITER – Sir.. but we have only latte, espresso, cappuccino, Macchiato..
ME – Well.. Any of these would anyway make a great bad coffee.. Get us two cups..
WAITER leaves in confusion.

ME – (smiles) So..Let me start with the formal question. What do you do for living?

She held her silence, before she spoke.

SHE – Listen… I know you are trying hard. I want to smile, I want to talk to you. And as much I think about it, its making me increasingly uncomfortable and filling me with awkward feelings.. And I am certain that we can never get to being the old us..!

There was a strange sense of pain. I looked at her for a while and smiled. The jazz playlist continued to play.

ME – May be you are right.. We can never get to being the old ‘us’.. That might spoil all our beautiful memories, the happy pictures that we have in our mind (Pause) But we could try being the new ‘us’…


SHE – And what is the new ‘us’..?


ME – Two strangers.. who’ve met for the first time.. Have a long memorable weird, funny conversation. And while they converse, they also know that this would be their last ever meeting..

I smiled. There was a long silence, before the waiter arrived at our table with the orders. We picked the coffee cups and took our first sips.

SHE – So..Let me start with the formal question. What do you do for living?


                                                                                                                                                       -Chan

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Painted face.! – A short story

“Have never met a female clown before”, he said and put aside the newspaper.

The break-up of ‘Beatles’ music band had occupied the headlines of the newspaper.

She was a clown at a reputed circus company and he was into the business of paper mills. They were at a coffee shop.

“No one likes to go out with a girl who works as a clown. You are an exception”, she smiled.
“I see that you have got a dimple”, he pointed out.

She – “When you are a clown it doesn’t matter. The smile painted on your face gets the better of it”.

He – “So you don’t like being a clown?”.

“What do you think?”, she asked.

She was the only daughter of a reputed publisher in the town. Needless to say that she was rich.

“Hmm.. that mine was a wrong question”, he replied.

Their families had thought of their marriage alliance and she wanted to meet the groom in person, before giving her nod.

“Tell me something interesting about your job. How do you feel when your act doesn’t draw any response from your audience?”, he asked while keeping a curious face.
“That’s the thing about painted face”, she paused.

She took out a paper napkin and started scribbling something on it.

“If you see audience laughing their heart out you feel like peeling off the mask and revealing yourself. For, you want the person who is doing the act to get the accolades and not the ‘clown’. Because, no one’s going to remember the person who did the act. For them they are all the same”, she smiled.

“A clown”, she added and held out the picture of the female clown that she had just drawn.

“And what about the times when your humor doesn’t work?”, he said while taking the paper napkin from her hand.

She took a sip of the coffee.
“You feel good that the audience haven’t seen your face. For the audience, it’s the clown who has failed at the act and not the person behind it”, she laughed.

“That’s a nice picture. I shall keep it with me”, he said and buried the napkin in his coat pocket.

“That’s not the only thing about the painted face”, she continued from where she had stopped.  “It helps me hide my anger when our boss yells at me. It helps me bury my boredom when I am in the middle of a boring talk”, she said.

“Are you hinting at our ongoing conversation?”, he asked.

“No”, she laughed. “I was just trying to endorse it – the painted face. How i wish everyone had the luxury of wearing painted faces even outside the act”.

He stayed silent.

“Like the other clown”, she exclaimed in excitement.
Excitement in her tone drew his attention and he grew wary.

“Like whom?”, he asked.

“There’s the other clown who works at our company. He is yet to perform on stage. He never removes his make up. Not even when the act is over”, her excitement was persistent.
“That’s interesting”, he responded.

“No. That’s not the only interesting part. Everyday before the show he comes up to me and hands out a rose to me, a red one”, she paused.

He dropped a sugar cube in his cup and started stirring it.

“And he has never spoken to me once. All that he does is giving me a rose and bringing his hand close to his chest”. He could notice her eyes gleaming while narrating the account.

“Probably he likes you”, he said.

She could sense an element of discomfort in his voice.

“Ah. Probably.! But he has never really confessed and it would be wrong on my part to draw any inference without really understanding his intentions”.

Both stayed quiet for a moment and silently took a sip of their coffees.

“So what do you do every time he hands out a rose to you?”, he asked.

“I just stay quiet and put up a confused smile”, she laughed.

“He must be looking terribly disappointed every time you do that”, he raised his concern.
“I don’t know”, she paused, looked at him and smiled.
“That’s the thing about the painted face”, she paused again. “It lets him bury his emotions under the makeup. And all that I see is his painted smile”.

“Oh.!”, he smiled – for the first time in the entire conversation.

She caught the dimple on his right cheek.
“I see that you have got a dimple”, she pointed out.

He stayed quiet for a moment and smiled broader.

“When you are a clown it doesn’t matter”, he kept his coffee cup on the table.
“The smile painted on your face gets the better of it”, he added.

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——————————— THE END ———————————-

CHAN

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

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