A Pinch Of Soul

The bell above the door to the small cafe jingled as the stranger walked in. Tall, head bent low, face covered by the broad brim of his hat, dressed in greys and blacks, he walked toward the far corner of the cafe. Dropping his large duffel bag into one chair and himself in another he placed his hat on the cracked marble table and looked around at the rest of patrons.
He seemed to see more in them than met the eye. Upon some, his gaze lingered longer than others.
"What would you like, sir?"
Startled out of his reverie he stared at the young man in a checkered apron with a beret perched on his head.
"Espressos, son. And keep 'em coming."
"Sir, that is a black cof.."
"I know", he interrupted the young man.
The band on the opposite end of the cafe completed setting up. Sound tests.
He continued his survey of the people in the room. Observing them ... as a hawk observes its prey.

He observed young Mr. Kaunds. Slouching in his chair with his legs spread out in front of him, eyes closed, thinking about the interview he just had. It went well, of course it did. What if it didn't? What if I don't get the job? How am I going to pay the rent?

The young man in the checkered apron brought him his coffee.

He observed young Anchit, sweat on his brow, fidgety. He kept picking up the cup in front of him and putting it down, the coffee in it cold and bitter. His hand found its way to his pocket every few seconds, touched the diamond ring in there and came out, reassured. Today's the day! I'm going to propose to Joyce! Three years we've been together! Our parents will have a lot to say but we can handle that. We can handle that!
Anchit got up as a young girl walked toward him.

He sipped the dark, bitter liquid, savouring the taste as it stagnated in his mouth for a few seconds.
"We'll start with 'Coffee House Blues' by Lightnin' Hopkins, ladies and gentlemen." That got a few laughs.
"We hope you enjoy the evening. If you have any requests for the blues or jazz, please let us know"
The band was good. Even managed to improvise in places, just like Hopkins had back in Houston.

He observed Ms. Naik, bent over her coffee. Staring into it as though the answers to all her questions, the balm for all her aches and pains lay in there. He saw her writing on the napkin with her expensive fountain pen. He saw her shake it furiously to get the ink flowing. He heard her curse as the ink fell on her new silk blouse. Dearest Sirha, Why did you leave all of a sudden? I know that you're at your mother's. We could at least have talked about it. We could have figured out how to make it work ....

The harsh guitaring of Santana's version of "Black Magic Woman." The young man in the checkered apron brought him a refill.

He observed Rajiv and Neha Bansal, sitting at their table cooing to each other. He watched as they touched each other and quickly drew back from each other. He saw the revulsion on their faces as they looked away from each other. Two years I've been married to her! At least her father made me MD of the company. Am sure that two bit driver will come to see her tonight. I wonder what Nikki is doing now? Maybe I'll go over there tonight....

Louis Armstrong's 'Heebie Jeebies.' He lit a cigarette, the fresh cinnamon flavour spreading in his mouth.

He observed Mr. Kariwala staring at the yellowing photograph in his hand, remembering his dead wife. Staring at it as though it would bring her back. I wish I was with you. Everyday, I wish I was with you.
He closed his eyes, trying to find his dreams ... the only place he could meet his wife. The stranger observed the small smile as Mr. Kariwala found his dreams.

Wynton Marshals, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and a host of others, he heard them all. Lopez, Patnaik, Dhakad and many others, he watched them all. A number of cups of coffee, a number of cigarettes. The red sun gave up its glory to a rusted moon. The warmth of the evening dissipated into mist.

"Folks, we'll be taking a short break now. Be back in fifteen minutes."

The Stranger opened his duffel bag. Amid the collection of clothes, two boxes, one white as snow, the other black as a witch's heart.
Which would you choose this day, the power to give or the power to take away?
He placed the white box on the table in front of him and opened the catches. The flute inside seemed more than just black ... deeper. It devoured the light that touched it. A sharp contrast with the moon metal caps covering the holes in the shaft. A study in contrast, the shaft of the flute felt warm against the flat of his palm, the metal caps ... cold against the ridges of his fingertips.
The Stranger meandered through the tables and preoccupied patrons to the band stand unnoticed.

The soft notes drew everyones attention to the tall man playing the flute. Mr. Kaunds peeked through the fingers covering his eyes. Anchit and Joyce tore their eyes away from each others face to look at him ... they couldn't stop smiling. Joyce stroked the diamond ring on her finger. Ms. Naik closed her pen. The Bansals let go of each others hands. Mr. Kariwala opened his eyes to stare straight ahead. The music seemed to seep through everyone pass through everyone, it resonated with them, touched them. The notes seemed to tumble on top of each other, a hammer and a feather at the same time and yet ... it sounded beautiful.
The band joined in. Guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and trumpet. The musicians trying to match the skill with which the flute was played.

Music is said to have a stimulating effect on human emotion. The sweet, soft notes made by the flute had that effect on the patrons. Smiles broadened, frowns deepened, eyes tightened. The rhythm changed, speeding up.
Each note fanning the fledgling sparks of emotion to bon-fires. The band struggled to keep up.
The trumpeter fell first, being the oldest member. Out of breath, tears streaming down his face.
The keyboards next as two of his fingers broke on the keys, laughing as he remembered a daughter he hadn't seen in three years.
The drummer, one of his sticks broke through the membrane covering the drums. His forearms sore from the effort of hitting the instrument, the tattoo he received in prison standing out against his tanned skin. He cried remembering how he got it.
The guitarist, fingers bleeding from strumming the strings, looked down at his hands but couldn't stop playing. Finally, the bone caught on one of the strings. Falling to his knees with a smile on his face, too tired to stand.
The music from the flute became faster. The notes no longer discernible.

Laughter and sobs filled the room, but nobody heard anything other than the music from the flute ... pure and polluted at the same time ... beautiful and terrible at the same time.
The flute filled the audience with the contrast that it portrayed, pushing them all over the brink of sanity, the happy into euphoria, the miserable into dysphoria. No middle ground, just like itself.

Mr. Kaunds laughed in spite of himself, the eviction notice to his house in the table in front of him, the bills from the hospital in his hand. He gasped for breath through peals of laughter.

Anchit and Joyce, held their beautiful baby girl, staring into her dark eyes, seeing in them all of the dreams they hadn't fulfilled in their lives. Tears stopped at their lips, held wide in laughter as they dreamt of their child.

Ms. Naik, still trying to hold onto the last vestiges of her sanity, stopped herself from stabbing her hand with the pen again. A spot in the pool of blood on her hand washed away by a tear. She leaned back in her chair. She saw Sirha, a hurt expression on her face. She saw Sirha, packing her bags. She saw Sirha, banging the door behind her as she left the apartment. The tears stopped. Blood streamed down her face.

Rajiv Bansal cried as he was pushed out of his own office. He cried as he heard the laughter of the woman sitting in his chair. He cried as he Nikki ordered him booted out of the premises.

Mr. Kariwala saw his wife dancing in the rain, as she used to do so long ago. This time he danced with her. Their laughter was the only sound he heard. He choked on the words he never said.

The stranger stopped playing. He picked his way back to his duffel bag. Replacing the flute in its case, he pushed it into his bag. Left a hundred on the table and walked out of the cafe.
Nobody saw him leave.
There was nobody left to see him leave.

Knight of Yore

The distant rumble of thunder, like a low growl, permeated through a gray sky.
The kind of day I'd like to be home with a good book and a strong cup of coffee.
His eyes were fixed on the three people walking the path toward him. The man in white, flanked on either side by men in brown, had a small smile on his face and a spring in his step. He walked faster than the two men.
How can I do this? Time after time, I stand here and watch these men walk toward me. How much more of this can I take?! How many more men?
I should just quit.... they'll just find someone else. Someone has to do this.
Somebody has to clean this mess up.
I'm doing the right thing! The right thing!
I am doing God's will. I am serving the people of my country … of the world.

He stared at the three men walking toward him, each step they took kicking up the dust from under their feet. Each step they took bringing the man in white closer to him.
What if I’m wrong? Every religion in the world says that I should not be doing what I am? Every single cell in my body says otherwise.
They were now close enough for him to hear the soft sound the made by their feet touching the ground. Two pairs of feet hitting the ground in perfect unison and a third pair at erratic intervals. The man in white moved at a faster pace than the other two, realizing that he was getting ahead of the others, he slowed for them to catch up.
The man in white stopped, just realizing that there were more people in the courtyard. The man in white sneered at one of the men, an expression of pure hatred … of malice … a promise of retribution for wrongs done. Once again, the only sound was the rumble of a distant thunder. Everything just stopped, as though someone had taken a photograph and replaced reality with it.
Come on, I don’t know if I have the balls to do this. Come on … before I lose my nerve!
The three men started walking again, led once more by the man in white. One of the group watching the procession started chanting in a low voice.
The three men came closer.
There’s nothing in his eyes …he seems almost … excited. Why would he be excited about the situation he’s in? Does he believe in himself? Does he believe he’s right?
Am I wrong? Are we wrong? Should he be here at all? Should I be here?
He was trembling now, and not entirely from the cold. He lay a shaking hand on the wooden post next to him. Old and worn, there since time immemorial. He drew his hand back as if burned.
Is this an instrument of evil or good?
The three men had reached the worn granite steps, pitted now, after years of use. The man in white climbed the stairs alone. His slow, almost cautious steps seeming to take forever. The expression on his face, expectant, the look in his eyes, calm. His lips curled in a smile that became wider as he climbed.
Every action has its consequences. You are here because of yours. What about the consequences of my actions?
He touched the photograph in his pocket. Imagined his daughter playing in the garden.
No! I'm doing the right thing. No god would judge me in the wrong for doing this.
The last step. The man in white walked around the post and stood facing the way he had come. Stood ready, stood waiting.
“Do you have anything to say?” he asked.
The man in white looked at him and simply laughed.

How could you?! Those poor children! You bastard! You Monster!
He turned and fastened the noose around the neck of the man in white.
You raped and killed three little girls! How could you?!
He grabbed the lever hard. Hard enough to force a splinter of wood into his palm. He barely even felt the pain.
I don’t kill people … I slay monsters!
The sharp crack of a neck breaking.

The Silver Line

"Every cloud has a silver lining."
An age old adage whose banality borders on being almost nauseating - at least in most cases.
In ours, however, it was true ... more than true, as a matter of fact. In the dark cloud that hung over four years of our lives, the time that we spent memorising various strange symbols for the exams whose answer sheets we would fill out by vomiting all that we had forced into our brains. This, however, was an advantage, there was never a subject which built upon the concepts we had learned earlier - a topic once vomited, stayed that way.
Still here? Excellent! Now that I've made you run to the bathroom with my rather graphic description of what engineering is all about, let me tell you about one of the things that made it all bearable - "The Silverline."
No, the quoted phrase above is not a pun on the adage, it is in fact the name of the bakery that all of us used to frequent. By us, one would think I mean most of the students of said college, I, however, lived in a world of limited space and restrained by finite faculties, noticed the presence of only certain people, namely member of 'The Herd'.
A discussion inspired by this post of Furibundo's led Sketcher, Rize, Furibundo and yours truly to the conclusion that leaky memories like mine are no place to store all the events that have taken place through the time that we spent in college. As a result of said conclusion, I was nominated (for no fault of mine) to inflict upon you my perception of the times we spent at our favourite hang out. Hopefully, this will be a series, starting with Furibundo and going on with the others (maybe I can tag someone else with it [[[muhahhaha]]]]).
Silver line as a bakery was at best mediocre, but we never went there for the food. There were similar such bakeries scattered all over the country side (when we were inmates there, it really was country side, things seem to have changed a lot since then) near college, but for some inane reason we chose this one upon which to perch.
Witness to endless hours of discussions on topics ranging from why we had become friends, our individual pasts to technical details of how the gentleman behind the counter preparing our juice had managed to make even a simple order of a dozen lime juices seem like a task fit for Hercules himself, the place lacked the charm that one has come to expect from the shiny city that Bangalore represents to those who haven't been here and yet, there we were, day after day, hour upon hour, sitting in the bright sun or taking shelter from the pouring rain, enjoying the water on our face in the light drizzle or huddling up in our jackets to beat the bitter cold.
Puffs, cold and hard, buns with a filling of potato, that just refused to be chewed upon, formed the cuisine of said watering hole. We devoured it all with a fervour unmatched by any we know of.
The mango juice deserves special mention - this seasonal concoction that the rather inexperienced culinary expert behind the counter decided to prepare was possibly a masterpiece the likes of which are unparalleled in the bakery/juice industry thus far. A very thick mixture of mango pulp(?) and milk that tasted positively heavenly. I'm fairly certain the only thing better would be ambrosia and am sure that Pixie will vouch for that.
I'm sure we cheated the proprietor of the place out of a fortune over the years, we invariably forgot what all of us had ordered (the drawbacks of going in a large group) and of course, he couldn't keep track of it. I'm also certain there are a number of times that we forgot to pay and just walked out as well. :-)
It formed a place of shelter in more ways than just the physical.
How many classes have we missed and spent them sitting on the rickety yellow chairs strewn haphazardly around the place?
How many subjects have we forgotten sitting under the yellow and red striped awnings after completing the tests for them?
How many confessions have we made to a friendly ear sitting on the brick red steps?
How many times have we worried for our friends (and our bikes) who have gone riding for the first time, standing there on the broken grey concrete?
How many tests have we prepared for walking around in the muck surrounding the place?
The answer to all of these questions - we don't really care, be they three or three million, each hour .. each second was an experience to which we were all privy, an experience which while teaching us nothing of importance forms our solace ... our Silver Line.