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.

9 comments:

apurv said...

you need to get someone to have a look at you...soon

Sketcher said...

The size of your posts grow by each post and so does the quality!
I wouldn't be surprised if you wrote a novel next.. speaking of which... why don't you start writing one?

'Smee! said...

great! liked your style in this one.

Pal said...

very well writen! you can weave a story mr K :)
........several pats on your back ;)..........

El Furibundo said...

You scary fellow! Till the end, I was convinced I was one of your characters! Thank God, it didn't turn out that way!

How do you manage to look so deep, man? And yeah, I agree with sketcher. You must write.

I agree with pal and 'smee too, but most of all, with apurv. *soon*.

And hey... there's no more liqour in your posts. Guessing you've wasted all these days drinking coffee. Call me when you feel guilty enough.

Rize said...

du..wens the next post!!! this was awesome....
hehe...el furibundo haha....
oh and i know one guys who drinks Espressos a lot!! wonder what he has to do with this apart from the obvious...

JLS said...

hope u manage to stomach wat i say..to tell ya the truth...this aint the best u hav written...nah!!! ....the tip of the iceberg they say....i guess...uh?!????? hmmmm.......

Stargazer said...

Woah! Ok, one by one -

@Apurv - Am sorry I disappointed you by not committing suicide. Besides, I intend to stick around for a while longer to keep you in check. Too bad we aren't in the same location anymore. :-)

@Sketcher - Novels require more time and patience than I have, old friend. This post just kept going. Thank you. :-)

@'Smee - Thank you.

@Pal - Miss V. Many thanks. Should I go see a chiropractor now, by the way?

@Furibundo - How do you know you're not, huh? ;-)

@Rize - Soon. Not going to be a story though. The coffee drinker is just an observer, a sidewalk anthropologist, if you please. :-)
Many thanks.

@JLS - Constructive criticism is always welcome. So is the knowledge that someone reads my blog. The faith that this is the tip of the iceberg is heartening to say the least. Will try and live up to that. Thanks. :-)

Me&TheUniverse said...

Very vivid description. I could see everything.. like in a movie... :) .. great one..