Sunday, August 23, 2015

4 O’clock Coffee

‘MAYA’ was a small, newly developed "Smart’’ city to the north of Mumbai. It had outgrown Mumbai in no time. Maya was the new Singapore, a better Bangalore and a faster Mumbai. The ‘Corporate City’ called by many, who were the denizens of this city; as many corporate headquarters shifted to Maya. Despite the small size it had outclassed Indian cities by having the state of the art infrastructure, connectivity, cleanliness and hygiene, almost all the facilities at disposal; in fact it was the apple of everyone’s eye. People, not only from India, but also across the world aspired to be a part of Maya- the city of illusion. The external charm, glamour and the folly of thinking everyone is happy and rich in this city got thousands to this city, but truth be told the people of Maya worked day in, day out like zombies who only understood hunger. Mayaians, as the denizens were addressed, also partied to de-stress themselves; leaving Mayaians with scores of places to hangout. Maya was a golden sparrow—golden and lively from outside, but dark and lifeless from within.

Anywhere, but here!

‘Please, stop here,’ requested an excited, yet nervous Maya to the taxi driver. It was her first day on the job; she had an hour before reporting. Meticulously gathering her work paraphernalia and her blazer she got down; with nothing to kill the time, she thought of sipping some coffee and having a bite of a toast or two. She got into the Starbucks on the ground floor of her corporate office building. Coincidently, it was the first day for Starbucks as well; she had a medium Cappuccino. Ever since that day she visited it during breaks. Thus, Maya and Starbucks, both on their first day, developed an ineffable, entwining relationship.
Mayatula Longkumer—Maya—a pinkish-fair, slender mongoloid, was from the Northeastern state of Nagaland. Nagas are world famous for their music and football. They have inherent ability to pick up any form of music in the world and play it seamlessly. She came from a modest family wherein her father was a football coach in the morning, a guitar tutor in the afternoon and a guitarist at night in a restaurant in Kohima—the capital of Nagaland; whereas her mother was a tuition teacher and a home maker. Even she had her way with guitar and mouth organ. Maya adored the small love story of her parents and how they fell in love with each other in guitar classes trying to make fun of each other. She always wanted to have the same, simple life full of love and music in the cold and beautiful valleys of Kohima.
As was written in the fate, with no siblings, she grew up, perfectly strumming the strings and kicking the ball right, but alongside, she also grew playing with numbers; an ability no one in her family possessed. She was a stellar performer in academics, yet she aspired music and love. Her parents wanted something else of her.
‘Beauty with Brains is a rare combination,’ advised Maya’s mother before she was to leave for her job in Maya. ‘You have both! So, beware! Take care of yourself in the foreign land, my dear.’ Maya had unenthusiastically completed her MBA in Finance because of her parents’ wish. They wanted her to be well educated and break the stereotypical Naga attitude. She easily got placed as a research analyst in a one of the best investment banking firms in India, located in the heart of Maya. Finally, capitulating the dream of living the simple life; feeling indebted to parents she moved to Maya trepidatiously.
Maya, like the meaning of her name and this new city, was like an illusion of multi-personalities, as perceived by the people around her. Her beauty ran parallel her brains; especially with her tall, lean frame and small, stretched, dark-brown eyes complementing her light-pink, small-lipped smile. Her hair
was buff-brown, long, silky-straight. She was a bashful young girl, yet full of gusto for achieving her dreams or her parents’. She was only 23, when she first landed in the ‘Corporate City’.
The city of work engrossed this little being in its lucrative webs of incessant grubbing. Maya, was comfortable with research analysis and drawing a conclusion based on company profiling. It gave her an unfathomable kick for exercising power. She loved it, at least initially, when her working hours were regular and had to deal with smaller companies and clients with lesser responsibilities but a humongous pay.
One year had passed since she had assumed her position in the firm. In this one year, things changed. Maya had become confident, self-sufficient and most of all independent. She had rented an apartment for her own, as she loathed living with six girls packed in a small room. Her introvert nature helped her only make acquaintances; hardly any friends. The first year, apart from working, went in her comprehending the lustrous beauty and varied locations of this city bewitchingly. She, along with her parents, was always insecure about the racism done to the Northeasterners by the mainland Indians; because of which she felt apprehensive of the mainland Indians and couldn’t be comfortable with them or in their groups; leaving her alone in her apartment. She made new friends- books.
Two more years went by, she was promoted twice based on her unmatched performance. By now, she had mastered her lone time at home by strumming her beloved guitar, reading voraciously, cooking occasionally, or dancing alone; for she still was a loner with no social life. ‘Why don’t you guys move in here, forever? We have nothing there? Besides, even I’m alone here,’ she implored her parents, but they simply denied saying they can’t adjust to the urban lifestyle. Her parents visited her at least once a year and if not then, they made sure that they kept sending her some home-made Naga dishes or some traditional jewelries. For them, to end this loneliness she should marry and settle down with some guy of her choice. Maya loathed getting married.
Maya was approached by many guys for her beauty and independence. She simply would snap it off politely making reasons even unknown to her, hitherto. ‘C’mon Maya, today is Saturday, at least today allow me to take you for a dinner, just as a friend,’ beseeched Rahul. Rahul was one year senior to her and like her from a different city—Delhi. He was flamboyant and over the years had gained a good amount of Maya’s trust as a friend. He had started falling for her and hence, made few gestures insinuating his attraction towards her. Maya, in return, liked his company and the small laughs they shared, but kept him off the bay by showing no signs of interest in him. Besides, she didn’t want to create a scandal in her own office. Nevertheless, he kept gaining her friendship and trust and she kept feeling secure and cared; something different from her otherwise workaholic life. They started hitting the Starbucks at 4 O’clock for coffee when time permitted them.

New responsibilities got her extra workload, working hours and salary package. The earlier self-occupied Maya, now, after returning home, was too tired to even strum a riff, open a book or cook her favorite dish; all she did was to get in bed and go through the meaningless, eclectic posts on social media in her phone of her colleagues or friends from back home making her gloomy until sleep overtook her. This had become her new routine, killing those activities of self-occupancy and leaving her loathing her life even more with every passing night after going through others’ posts. She couldn’t help about her emptiness but brood about it. Her only respite was her 4 O’clock coffee at the Starbucks.
It was July; monsoon at its peak. Maya, like always, was sipping coffee, in an otherwise empty Starbucks. Amidst the crowd she was alone and had grown desperate for a change in life. She saw a beautiful girl, half drenched, walk-in through the door, dressed in rich formals and shoulder padded blazer. Since, the café was running full, she walked up to Maya. ‘Hi! The café is full, if you don’t mind then can I sit here?‘ Maya, only happy to have a company acceded. ‘Hi, I’m Sanyukta,’ she said getting her hand forward to shake hands with Maya. ‘I work with M-Tech, just across the road as a marketing consultant.’  Sanyukta was from Mumbai, recently placed after MBA; she was very genial and exuberant. They both hit it well on the table rendezvousing about Nagaland, Mumbai and their respective lives. Sanyukta got Maya talking and clicking with her, effortlessly.
Sanyukta, just like Maya, had break at 4 O’clock and they met over coffee every day. Meanwhile, Rahul got occupied and couldn’t match his timing. Sanyukta was vivacious and Maya liked the energy and positivity within this little girl. Over a few weeks they became close friends, as they only had each other in this dark city of continuous slogging. Their friendship ascended from a coffee break to hanging out together, drinking, partying, late night chatting, full night talking on phones and even sleeping together at Maya’s place. People would look at them in awe, be it in café or someplace else, when this two were talking or having good time together. Whenever Maya had free time, she would call her over. Maya would harangue about her work life; whereas Sanyukta would only comfort her by hugging and listening to her. It took them nearly three months to make love to each other. Finally, somewhere in her dark world she found her prince, in this girl.
Sanyukta’s behavior perplexed Maya; she would never meet Maya’s friends or accompany her with office colleagues. She wouldn’t take photographs with her, no public posts dedicating Maya on social websites, not meeting Maya’s parents when they were in town, not even meeting Rahul, the only person close to Maya after her. Sanyukta made sure that no one from her workplace or Maya’s should know about their relationship, which was taken to be as a taboo. Maya resented this ambiguity, but over looked it as she was head over heels in love with Sanyukta.
‘I love you, I always wanted to say this but couldn’t...,’ proposed Rahul to Maya. Maya very gently snapped the proposal and disclosed to Rahul about her relationship with Sanyukta. ‘I don’t believe this. You are using that as a pretext to reject my proposal.’ Maya, knowing that Sanyukta wouldn’t meet Rahul, she plotted a plan, wherein the next day over coffee with her, he should catch them red handed.  As per the plan, Rahul hid himself for Maya’s 4 O’clock coffee. Maya and Sanyukta had a normal coffee session but Rahul never showed up. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen around for quite some time.

Four months later, market hit its lowest in the decade. Downsizing was on. Workload quadrupled. Maya couldn’t make time for anyone; not even for her love. She stayed stressed, irritated all the time; working hours doubled lest to get kicked out of the firm. She ate less, slept even lesser and least cared for her personal life. Maya got cranky with Sanyukta’s constant complaints regarding lack of attention; they only fought, getting mad at small things; her new routine made her forget about the absence of Rahul from her life.  She stayed depressed, unhealthy, pale all the time. She was turning mad because of the mounting pressure and the hateful life at home. She wanted to quit. Sanyukta, on contrary forced her to continue. She kept forcing, threatening about breaking up. She simply wouldn’t let Maya have her space, continuously nagging her every single minute making Maya crankier. The already frustrated Maya, couldn’t stand the pressure as well as Sanyukta, who all of a sudden had become a thorny cushion to rest on, called for a break-up. To Maya’s surprise, Sanyukta declined and haunted her wherever she went. Sanyukta kept harassing and pushing Maya until a point where Maya couldn’t take it. After a thousand tries, knowing that Sanyukta wouldn’t go anywhere, she opted for the last resort.
Maya, took Sanyukta for a night walk in the alley. The frenzied Maya with this clingy, spiteful girlfriend, taking advantage of the night, stabbed Sanyukta at least for 20 times; leaving her dead in the backyard of the alley; she went to have coffee. She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf and she pondered over the heinous act she had performed. She couldn’t complete her coffee as she could see Sanyukta everywhere; afraid, she beseeched Rahul for help.
No sooner Rahul and Maya entered her apartment than she started sobbing ceaselessly. Rahul comforted her by hugging. Slowly, steadily Maya confessed him of  her crime. Rahul was aghast, not because she murdered Sanyukta, but because she was ignorant; he took her in arms and started opening up to her. He explained her how that day during catching them—Maya and Sanyukta—red handed, he never showed up because he saw her talking to herself; that she was hallucinating and suffering from Schizophrenia. He had confirmed it with the café staff, to which they agreed saying, ‘it’s the quotidian show of this mad woman. She keeps speaking to herself...’ He presumed that she knew about this and hence never brought it up as it would seem crass.
‘Maya, there was no Sanyukta in real life; she was only in your head. You didn’t murder anyone or how else can you say that you don’t have a single picture of her or her social media page because she never existed. In fact she was the whole of corporate world in one imaginary body, which you couldn’t stand, created by your mind because of the prolonged lonely hours and a desperate need for change. That only means you hate this corporate life. Break free yourself from the shackles of this world and seek what you love, then only you’ll be alright,’ explained her with an unfazed efforts. With shock and understanding of the highest order Maya tried comprehending the whole scenario. Maya had realized that she had been sucked deep down into this corporate swamp and it causes the void in her life. It dawned to her after being brought to senses by Rahul. A big burden was brought off her chest. That night she slept in his arms like a four year old sleeps after a nightmare in his mother’s arms.
Next day, the first thing Maya did was resign. Later, called her father asking, ‘Is your Guitar coaching still on? I’m coming!’


  1. "In a Sufi fable, the elephant fell in
    love with a firefly, and imagined that
    it shone for no other creature than
    he; and when it flew long distances
    away, he was confident that at the
    center of its light was the image of an

  2. Very nice, well-written short story! Interesting twist ending; shall I call you M. Night Shyamalan? :O