Chapter 5: Nothing can happen over that Coffee

Read Chapter 4 here.

Afreen knocked at Deepak’s door, her hands still trembling. The accusation that she had a thing for the boss had made Afreen angrier than expected. Deepak was nothing short of repulsive to say the least.

But she was worried…enough to turn her stomach rock-hard. The recklessness Sumanth lacked in life, he sometimes made up in coding. And lashing at her, of course.

Also, did Sumanth know more than he had let on?

She entered, taking in Deepak’s leery smile, as if he’d always known she’d be back for more. She mused sometimes, that man could make a fine Indian Vampire, not particularly attractive, but fair-skinned enough to think of himself as the office stud. And with a reputation for squeezing out life from his team for the mere thrill of it. He was polishing the idol of the Lord Krishna that sat on the table, overlooking all of Deepak’s paraphernalia and photographs.  Because what was the point of travelling if the world didnt know you did.

“Come in Afreen,” said Deepak, beaming at her as if he’d seen the moon, “You want to see the flute I brought from Italy?”

“You went to Italy? Said Afreen, as he began fishing through his bag for his latest toy.

“You didn’t know?” said Deepak, almost pained at her ignorance. “Preethi and I….we took the Golconda rides. The — were singing…oh it was all so beautiful” Preethi was always an invisible participant of Deepak’s conversations, and Afreen mused that she was just a prop to show what a romantic he was.

And it did nothing to reduce his more-than-necessary interest in female colleagues half his age. Deepak handed her the golden piece of wood, carved with intricate leaves all over.

“I didn’t know you played the flute.” said Afreen,

“I don’t,” said Deepak grinning widely, “But Preethi and I, we are big devotees of the Lord Krishna, you see. Sometimes I tease Preethi, and tell her that she loves the lord more than me. Here,  try it.”

“…I don’t really know how” said Afreen.

He giggled, “Its a flute. Blow it. I mean…you know how to blow well enough.”

Afreen sighed, ignoring the burn in her throat, took the damn thing, and blowed, making a sound that was more like a high-pitched fart, or the flute gagging at its own gross misuse. She noticed Deepak’s eyes, settling on her lips, and dropped the flute on the table. “Can we stop this Deepak. I’m here to talk something serious. Its about the code. And the failing modules.”

“Oh?” Said Deepak, darting a hurried glance at the door, “Good you brought that up. I am worried. Between us, the Directors know something is up. I mean, Vodafone is seriously breathing down their throats. We’ve promised them the world this release. And now, even the code is not working. Do you know what the problem is?”

“I….yes….its in the core…” said Afreen.

“Oh you found it!” said Deepak, “Great Job! Whew! I always knew I could rely on you. You are the smart one…I mean. You remind me of myself when I was young.”

“Huh?” was what she could respond to that.

“And this calls for a meatier role, don’t you think?” His teeth sparkled at her, as if straight out of a Colgate Ad.

Afreen brought her focus back, “Well, I haven’t fixed it yet. Its a memory fault.”

Deepak’s eyes widened as expected. “What? But what….how…”

“Don’t worry, its nothing big,” she lied, “We are trying to fix it…Sumanth..Sumanth…he” She felt her tongue freeze on her. She had to tell him or they would be in trouble. In a haze, she was twelve years old again, telling her 5th grade teacher that a boy had pelted her with a paper ball. The thrashing the boy had received in front of the class and the bleeding lashes on his body had brought tears to her shocked eyes, “There’s something else. Can you…talk to Sumanth, urgently. Before he does something stupid?” The effort of the sentence made her breathless, as if she’d been running or crying, and Deepak looked at her oddly.

“Are you alright?” Said Deepak, “Of course, I’ll talk to Sumanth. Did he do something to you? What is wrong?”

“Just, talk to him…” She said, before running out of the room.


When Afreen ran out of Deepak’s office, she had a somewhat disturbing image of dunking a cup of hot coffee right on Sumanth’s head in lieu of predicament he had landed her into. Predictably, she found herself in the breakout area, the designated zone for the much that happens over coffee and tea and occasionally chocolate milk (if the company thought it was doing well). It was mighty crowded, with all seven tables occupied with loud, boisterous people, dedicated, Afreen decided, to avoiding work altogether, which was a way of stress busting too.

Afreen stomped to the beverage vending machine and pressed for Coffee with little expectation. It pissed out for her a sludge of watered down coffee. So much for artificial intelligence. This machine had more of an attitude problem. She dragged a chair to the edge of the zone, as outside it all as she could, and slumped over it, and then noticed Pinky.

Pinky looked like…well…like she’d stepped out of a nice make-out session somewhere. Though knowing Pinky…that was clearly far-fetched. Her hair was tussled, and her clothes had a hurried look to them, at least for Pinky, a careful yet boring dresser.

Pinky was getting her sludge from the machine, green tea probably, and not a good one judging by the crinkling of her nose, because the machine had taken the culinary liberty of adding a string of milk to the water. Pinky’s shoulders just slumped at this, as if this was what life had in store for her, whether she liked it or not. But she brightened as she turned and caught Afreen’s eyes, and walked over to say HI.

“That machine is why I can’t quit smoking,” said Afreen, as Pinky dragged a chair over.

“Not the noise?” said Pinky, smiling.

“Yes, that too. You drunkards are such a loud lot. But smokers, we want to take it all in with….tranquility.”

“Cheers to that, then” said Pinky, raising her glass of green tea, “You should try green tea, its slightly better than the coffee here. You could lose weight, and even quit smoking…”

“Spare me the lecture” Afreen cut in, “And tell me why your hair looks like you just made out with Rambo.”

Pinky scoffed running a hand through her hair, “You wish. I probably should get a hair cut. Anyway, I don’t want to think about myself. Tell me, how was your weekend?”

This suited Afreen, “This weekend, I had Swedish for dinner…” said Afreen, with a grin. “Ordered it right off Tinder.”

Pinky’s eyes largened as expected at the juicy gossip that Afreen had served, “Ooh…was it good? ”

“Stupendous. Would recommend it for everyone.“ She was beaming, as if with the afterglow, if the morning events had not ruined it yet.

Pinky smiled, almost in earnest “We should plan it together then..I’ve never had Swedish food. And i’ve never heard of Tinder. Is it into food delivery?”

Afreen laughed, “Only if the chef is part of the package! No girl, its a dating app.”

Pinky looked sufficiently scandalised at her mistake. But Afreen continued, excited by her own jokes, “Besides, its more of a one-off thing for me. There is only so much Blueberry soup an Indian can eat. But I can set you up with him, if you want. Swedish food and Swedish massages on the menu!”

Now Pinky was blushing. Or so it seemed to Afreen. Only she looked more like a consitpated pufferfish that had just too much water and was about to puke it all out. Afreen’s felt a sudden cold spread through her, as she realised that Pinky’s chest was heaving, and then, it came, as Afreen watched terrified, before the whole noisy beverage drinkers, a bucket load of tears.

This was exactly the kind of situation that Afreen was not equipped to handle, and she was blabbering, “I….listen…I can see the guy again if you want. You can come too. And, And…we can go get another green tea, I’ll drink too….I mean…how bad can it be….from another vending machine….not this one…a good one”

This went on for a while, until Pinky looked up at her through her tears, and burst, this time into giggles, her nose running faster than a tissue could handle, “No silly, I’m just crying because…I’m crying because…” she was wheezing now, “I don’t know why….it just seems so…pointless…and…I can’t get a hold of my own life.”

Afreen retrieved a few tissues, gave them to Pinky, and kept one for herself for stress tearing. There was no way out now, “So I take it you’re parents set you up again?” she said.

Pinky nodded.

“And I am guessing from all this….that you don’t particularly like him?”

Pinky’s nose had turned a burnt red, as she sobbed, “Vishnu is probably a nice person…I mean…he’s a bit shy, but I don’t know. And Achcha says its the best I can get. A green card holder with a Mercedes Benz. A life away from all this. He thinks I’m being ungrateful for all that they were doing…and I am not, really…I know its tough…” the tears flowed out again, consuming tissues like an Go Green nightmare, “But I just don’t feel the…spark.”

Girl troubles, thought Afreen, “What spark?” she said.

Pinky said, “You know, when you meet a guy…who is the one.  The sparks flow around.  There is music everywhere…”

Afreen cut in, “So I take it Benz boy’s spark plug is dysfunctional,” said Afreen, “So what’s your kind of car?”

Pinky looked up at her, “Anything but this one, I guess. Anyway, my father says I will never find anyone. So maybe I can be a singer. Write songs.  And if I must marrying, I want someone who understands and loves music.”

“And I take it the Benz family doesn’t?”

“Oh..on the contrary. They love music. ” said Pinky, unhappily, “The Major is a great friend of Accha, and loves classical music. Which is why Accha is pissed. That he got me exactly what I want, and I don’t want it.”

“Wait a minute. Major as in…the major from our apartment?” Said Afreen.

“Yes. Your big enemy. He asked about you too.”

“I think there’s your problem ,” said Afreen. “That man is a spark extinguisher if there is one.”

“I don’t know,” said Pinky, “He is a bit traditional.  But who isn’t.  At least, he likes my singing. Which I can’t say about his son.”

Afreen suddenly dropped her voice to a whisper, moving close to Pinky, “Are you  worried about the S-E-X?”

“Afreen!” Said Pinky turning a rude pink. “I mean…I am worried about it. Its, its…NO. Thats not it. Besides, I believe love is more important. If you have love, you don’t need sex.”

“Says the girl whose never had either.” Said Afreen, crossing her legs, and drinking her water coffee.

“You don’t need to experiment to know things,” said Pinky, glaring back.

“Oh we are doling out new age wisdom now, are we? I happen to think that if you have a lot of good sex, you’d probably not be hung up on this love business.”

They sat in silence, drinking their tea, watching the crowds.

“Do you even know what it feels like? Love?” Said Afreen finally.

Pinky said “Not like this for sure.”

“Which is what?”

“Like shit. Like I have nothing to say to him. Like I’m being put on this boat off somewhere, drifting off, no clue to where I am going. Its scary now. Just to be off somewhere with this stranger. I want to feel excited to go on this journey. I want to wake up in the morning and be so excited, to just…live. And go to sleep just thinking of the new day.”

Afreen looked at Pinky surprised, smiling, because she knew that exact feeling. At Adigas, a good shot of decoction coffee could give her just that, and fix her stupid day.

Which probably explained why Afreen said, “The vending machine gives you what it wants. But you get to find and choose what you want. Your life, your choice.”

The piece of wisdom had the desired impact on Pinky, “But, how…”

“Get out there…search for it.” Said Afreen, for that was exactly what she planned to do. An Adigas was probably right across the street, if only she looked for it.

“But…I have never…My father…” said Pinky.

Afreen pushed back her chair, stood up, pointing at Pinky, “My father never….NEVER…let me touch coffee…or smoke a cigarette…and look at me now,” Afreen stood with her hands wide open, as if at the end of a play. Then she curtseyed, or bowed rather, and exited the breakout area in search of love.


Read Chapter 6 here.