It was Wednesday afternoon. Bano was done with bridge and Adar had come back from the stock exchange. With their greater purposes of the day done, they rendezvoused at one of their oft frequented coffee shops. Bano ordered tea and cakes; Adar ordered a latte. The foamy brew always fortified him in the presence of his wife. He was up to any conversation then.
“He’s such a show off”
“He come to the cafe in his father’s mercedes. You know the one in that strange yellow colour – like a sick canary. It’s the only one of its kind in the city ….”
Adar looked up, ears prickling with a mixture of curiosity and indignation. It was Giallo Modena, the colour! He and Farshad had especially had it custom-painted. He shifted in his chair but the occupants of the table behind him remained infuriatingly out of sight.
“We had decided to meet up at The Veranda. You know, that new cafe. Well everyone else was there too! First of all he walked in late -“
“Don’t say that. That’s also my X’s name … ugh!”
(A giggle from the next table)
“Anyway, he then insisted on taking ten minutes before he finally made his lumbering way to me. You know how he walks – like he’s holding a 40kg bag in each hand”.
(More giggles from the table)
Bano looked straight ahead, stlll, statue-like. Her outraged ears had taken centre stage on this occasion, their lack of tongue notwithstanding.
“Why’d he take ten minutes to come over?”
“Because he had to stop and talk to Aliya and Maham. These two are always desperately in his way. Uff!”
“Anyway, he came over and gave me a kiss. No, three. You know, I think he was making sure everyone saw it. Like marking his territory”
“Like a doggo”
“Farshad the grey hound in the cafe!”
“Farshad the poodle around you!”
Adar shifted to the right. He was riveted. If only he could get a glimpse of the conversationalists. Bano continued to stare straight ahead with the stillness of the ocean just before it roars into a tsunami. Between the couple sat a pause so pregnant that the tea brewed twice over, creating two or three increasingly caustic versions of itself, and the latte simply collapsed into a tattered frill around the inner edges of the mug.
“Then what happened? Tell me na, is it lurrrve?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell. I mean he’s so full of himself. I can’t tell whether I just make him love himself more or whether I figure in there somewhere too”.
“So he’d gone to get his visa and apparently he’d told the consular off at the American embassy”.
“She’d asked him how long he was going to the US for and he’d told her for far shorter than she’d been resident in his country”.
(Laughter from the next table)
Bano’s lips twitched in an indecipherable expression. Adar grinned in spite of himself.
“…so arrogant, like he’s god’s gift to everyone!”
“…. yeah … but he’s good looking!”
Bano turned her face ever so slightly towards the next table. There was the faintest hint of appreciation for that bit of sensibility that had trickled into the otherwise unfiltered barrage of adolescent angst.
(More giggles from the other side followed by a request for the bill and finally an exit).
“It’s your fault you know. You spoil him”.
“Don’t you start with me Adarmard. I’m not in the mood”, said Bano uncharacteristically, turning her face away from battle and from her instigating husband, to look again at the display cabinet of cakes. The pineapple upside down in a curious way, reminded her of her own state of mind at that moment: displaced, askew, jangled. She sniffed haughtily as if one last vigorous whiff of the ambient unpleasantness would turn things the right side up again. She hadn’t even glanced at the girls in front of her who’d been describing the Unwala scion in those … pedestrian terms; making him seem flawed and reduced. The art of knowing is also knowing what to ignore, someone had sagely said, and this unpleasantness which had already been denied her sight, was also going to be steadfastly put out of her mind. She sniffed again for good measure and took a long, cleansing sip of her tea.
Adar Unwala looked at his wife for a while as a panoply of emotions skipped across her face, each dealt with and dismissed in quick succession. Then she had looked away and detached herself from the entire episode leaving him with the hatchet and the axe. The thought that she may retrace her steps later to retrieve them bared its teeth unkindly in the back of his mind.
He sighed at his wife’s erstwhile profile, turned studiously away from him and also from any exchange that might have been had to let the air out of the bloated atmosphere that once again sat between them. He blinked once, twice and wheezed into a napkin, clearing his mind and bolstering himself with the din that ensued from his vocal chords. After a little while he smiled widely and wondered if he should have another latte.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/21/the-dna-lottery-part-one/
* Late Latif: Urdu colloquialism for someone who is habitually late.
* Phir: “Then” in Urdu