The first conversation between a ME and a SHE

ME – That’s a nice book.?

SHE had buried her face in a fat novel. We were in a flight, SHE was my co-passenger and that was how I chose to kindle our first ever conversation.

SHE – (smiles) I Know.


She adjusted her large round glasses before returning to her novel. She hadn’t answered my question and I had to bother her again.

ME – Oh no.. That was a question..!
SHE – (acting surprised) Ah.. Was it?
ME – Yeah. See. that’s the thing..
SHE – (confused smile) That’s the thing about what?

ME – About spoken English..! It’s different from novel reading. You need to master the art of picking question marks and punctuations..! I asked ” That’s a nice book?” and you thought it was a compliment.

SHE – Ah.. ! All this while I thought mastering the art of basic grammar helps. For instance, had you asked ‘ Is that a nice book?’, it would’ve made both our lives a lot easier.

Was she being sarcastic? I grew confused and forced a smile. I returned to my silence and she returned to her book. After a while..

ME – Is that why you read novels, to learn the grammar?

SHE looked at me and this time the smile had grown fainter.

SHE – Na.. I read novels to kill time. But right now, I don’t think there’s any such need. Because you are anyway killing my time and mood..

Awkward silence. She was about to resume reading.

ME – (confused) Did you mean it in a good way or bad?
SHE – (sarcastic smile) Ah.. I am sorry. That was me offering compliments.

Silence…

ME – See that’s the problem with mastering the art of grammar. People with poor grammar, the ones like me, can’t sense the mood and understand the meaning..
SHE – Ah..! Perhaps paying attention to the tone and expression of the person would help.

My smile dropped, mind grew numb and repartee went dry. She turned the other way and to the next page of the fat fiction. Or maybe it was a non-fiction.

ME – You are irritated..
SHE – (irked) I am sorry.. Was that a question?
ME – Ah.! No.. Your crash course on grammar has helped. I said ‘You are irritated’ and that was a statement.
SHE – Good.!
ME – What’s good? Me learning the grammar real quick or you looking irritated?
SHE – The fact that you could finally sense that I am getting irritated, is good.

Both of us looked at each other for a while. Odd silence.
The airhostess arrived at our seats with the drinks cart. I grabbed a beer and she an orange juice.

ME – cheers

SHE took a real deep breath and put up a straight face.

SHE – You do know that you have been irritating me, right?
ME – ( stutters) Yeah I guess.!
SHE – And you still continuing to do it, you know what is it called?

I began to think for a while and when nothing crossed my mind…

ME – I don’t know.!
SHE – This is stupid.!!

I returned to silence for a moment and then..

ME – (sighs) Man.! Thank god.! I thought you would mistake it for indecency. You know what, you are not only good at grammar but also good at reading faces.!
SHE – So does that mean you are stupid?
ME – Stupidity is a very subjective thing.
SHE – (irked) Care explaining how?

ME – Do you know that light shifts its path when it travels from one medium to another?
SHE – Yeah I had chapters on ‘refraction of light’ during my primary schooling..
ME – Yeah.. and you do know that light travels at 3Lakh km/sec
SHE – In Vacuum yes. but in air it’s a little less..
ME – Good.! Now see, the person behind us who is overhearing our conversation would think that you are a science genius..

SHE quickly turned back and the passenger behind us panicked. He smiled uncomfortably and rushed to the lavatory. She looked at me and laughed Mildly. I shrugged my shoulders and continued.

ME – But you thinking that I am stupid and yet discussing the high school physics with me. Now I would see that as stupidity.!

Her smile disappeared, but then it returned, rather quick and with far greater intensity. She burst into laughter.

SHE – That was offensive, you should know that.!
ME – Well, I do. But the fact that you are laughing, your right shoulder favouring me now and you no longer crossing your legs, tells me that you are interested in furthering this conversation.

She grew conscious, shrunk her smile and crossed her legs again.

SHE – So you think your poor sense of humor piqued my interest?
ME – (winks) Na.! I think it was the high school physics!
SHE – (smiles) And what else could you decipher about me?

ME – The one common between you and your book.
SHE – (confused)That both of us are fat?

I thought for a while.

ME – Okay. Now I know two common things about you both. One, that you are fat. Tell me the other.
SHE – (laughs) That was offensive again. But anyway.. I’ve no clue.. You tell me.
ME – The names.. I don’t know both your names..!

She laughed like she hadn’t in years and then held the book towards me. The title read ‘Chicko – The street boy’.

ME – That’s a nice name. And what’s the name of the book?

She laughed again, but I chose not to. That was the thumb rule – Don’t laugh at our own jokes.

ME – Ah.! That’s the name of the book.! So what is yours? Would I find it on the first page of the book?
SHE – Why would my name be on the first page of the book?
ME – (curious) So is it there in the last one?
SHE – (laughs) Nooo..! Why would it be there?
ME – I don’t know.! People with large round glasses have this habit of writing ‘THIS BOOK BELONGS TO’ and their name, with a dirty looking signature.
SHE – (laughs) Sorry to disappoint you. But I haven’t picked the bad habit.

ME – (winks) Ah.! I can help you pick habits.!
SHE – That was kind.! But no thanks.!

ME – Lady.! What should I do to know your name?
SHE – May be wait.!
ME – And for how long?
SHE – May be until we cross paths again.
ME – That we would.!
SHE – Was that a prophecy.?
ME – Na. That was me praying! ( laughs mildly) And your grammar wouldn’t help you understand that.!

We smiled and took a sip from our respective drinks can.

ME – So if I decide to write about you, what should I be calling you in the story?
SHE – You could call me ‘SHE’
ME – SHE is beautiful.!

We both smiled.

SHE – And what should I be calling you?
ME – The first adjective that came to your mind, when I first spoke to you.!

Silence…. and then she smiled.

SHE – That was Stupid..!

-Chan

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