Café Mocha, Suresh had learnt, was coffee with a little squirt of that chocolate syrup they had in squeeze bottles. It’s what he always ordered at coffeeshops now. Coming from the state with the oldest and largest coffee plantations in the country, Suresh found it curious, even unfair that Indian cities had suddenly woken up to the delights of coffee. It wasn’t like the filter coffee he had grown up with, but Suresh considered himself adaptable enough to find a new favorite.
She was already there when he arrived, dressed in a bright blue drapy material. Her hair was black today, he noticed. He was glad the brown streaks were gone. He didn’t mind the rest of her make-up even though there was so much of it. He just wished she would leave her hair alone. It was so lovely in its natural form!
She spoke with little animated gestures and Suresh noticed more than one person in the café turning around to look at her. Her lips were thin, though. Today, he could see that she had applied lipstick a little outside the lips. It was a neat job and from a distance you couldn’t really tell what her lips usual size were. It made her look more pouty, he expected, a bonus in her line. Either way, thin or thick-lipped Suresh loved her smile. She flashed it every now and then, the line growing across the breath of her face and framing bright, white teeth. It lit up her eyes too, which was really Suresh’s favorite part of her smile.
Suresh got up to get something to eat along with his Café Mocha. When he returned, he turned to observe the man at the next table, tucking into a chicken tikka sandwich. Ketchup smudged on his face and a little fleck had landed on his collar too. His shirt did nothing to camouflage the paunch straining over his brown trousers. Suresh noticed his chest hair visible between the buttons contained plenty of grey. His toes in leather chappals echoed this with tufty hair on the toes. He could afford to look the way he did, in an industry run on good looks, and he knew it. Probably a producer or casting agent, thought Suresh.
This area thronged with the like. Three coffeeshops set facing each other around a little circle and yet they did whopping business because they catered to the amateur, small-time glamour industry. Models, actors, assistant directors, choreographers, dancers flocked here hoping to get spotted. And like the man at the next table, there were the other kind circling around looking for pickings. Suresh had been quick to judge the first time he visited here. But as this café became a weekly haunt for him, he came to believe that it was a far more complex organism at work. At least two beautiful faces/bodies that had passed by him at this café, he had seen on the television (and once on the big screen) months later. Everyone was hunting here.
Suresh finished his quiche and stopped at the counter to pay. She had already walked out and was standing on the pavement outside. He neared the door just in time to see her kiss the ugly old man on his cheek and walk away. The man spat out a paan stain onto the pavement and then got into a Honda Civic that had pulled up. Suresh turned to look at the girl. She had walked to the corner and she waved to the Civic as it passed her. After it was out of sight, she crossed the road and hailed an autorickshaw. As she climbed in, Suresh noticed the back of her high heels were scratched and streaked with dirt. Those heels had done more walking than they were supposed to. She sat down, yanked her dress down over her thighs as the autorickshawala leaned over the back, asking where she wanted to go. Suresh turned away.
The next weekend was a long one, abutting a Friday off so Suresh decided to take a trip home. When he returned, monsoon had arrived in Mumbai and the café was not a more crowded than usual for a Sunday, the regulars from outside forsaking their cigarettes and taking shelter from rain, within. Suresh ordered his Café Mocha and sat back waiting. He wondered where she was. She had been at the café every single Sunday that he had visited. But an hour passed and there was no sight of her. Suresh paid for his coffee and then did a tour of the other coffeeshops. He spotted the old guy at the café with the sofas but the girl with him was a different one. She had red coloured hair high in a ponytail and a tattoo on the back of her neck. Instead of a dress, this one was in baggy six-pocket pants with shoes. But her green strappy top was tight and so low-cut, the men around were not even attempting to camouflage their gazes. Old guy was staring unabashedly at her cleavage while she chatted.
Suresh went back to the first café and ordered a sandwich. By evening, he had seen three old guy types walk in and out with pretty things. One of them was even Ms.Cleavage from the other café. She had changed into a tight skirt and pulled on a denim jacket buttoned at her stomach. But it burst open at the top, showcasing her assets as she waited to be hired. The second old guy though, didn’t seem interested and only kept staring at her thighs. Suresh got up and left.
He returned to the café several times in the next three months. Ms.Cleavage turned up in a saree and heavy jewelery in a television soap opera a month later. Suresh was sure he had spotted one of the old guys in a suit, giving an award at a film function on TV. But he never saw the girl again. Maybe she had gone back home. Or somewhere worse.