She sat there, at the innermost section of the coffee shop, the venue which we had mutually agreed upon for our first meet. She was constantly looking at her high-end smartphone. I observed her for a few seconds from the bookstore opposite to the coffee shop, wondering why it was a big deal to meet her.
She was synchronously setting and ruffling her hair, pouting her lips and making faces on her mobile screen. She is funny. That was her first impression on my mind. And cute too. My alter-ego added up. Her head turned around at regular intervals from her smartphone to the entrance. Maybe she’s waiting for me in anticipation. I thought. Or probably she needs to answer nature’s call. The voice in my head was sending me funny signals. Shut up. I told myself.
‘Rosalyn LeRoux or Rosalyn la bella de Nissa—the beauty from Nice,’ Grammy had already made up her mind to choose Ms LeRoux as her granddaughter-in-law, the girl whom she had met on Goa-Paris flight. Apart from sharing Indian roots, they also shared a need for casual tête-à-tête to kill boredom in the tedious eighteen-hour journey. I must confess, Grammy has had a good knack for reading people. But her choice of Ms LeRoux, what on earth made her think so? I cast aside my inhibitions and went back to augur her traits, though I was never as good as Grammy. In a rational universe, a bride hunting suitor would give more preference to boobs and butts. I come from a parallel universe. I needed someone who has brains. Now you see, intellect in itself is a kind of sexiness. Most of the girls work hard on their physical appearance. They jog. They gym. They tan. They swim. They go under the knife to cut off that extra ounce of fat, to look younger, bubblier and cuter. But Ms LeRoux seemed to have landed from another planet. Girls like her, happen once in a blue moon and take their admirers by the storm. I assume that she must have broken many hearts and killed ego of many men by the way she carried herself.
Oblivious to the surroundings due to my assessment assignment, all it took was a chaotic din to break me from my trance. A crowd had gathered around the order counter of the cafe.
‘Tu es un crétin,’ screamed an unhappy customer, ‘Est- ce le goût d’un cappuccino?’
‘I am very sorry, ma’am.’ The gaunt barista was a nervous wreck.
‘Ça a un goût de merde!’ the lady growled. ‘Où est votre manager? Vous devriez être viré à la fois.’
French was to me what the Konkani language was to non-Goans. It took me a while before I could make out that the lady had screamed on the barista, a person who works in a coffee bar, for a distasteful cappuccino. She was swearing at the poor lad who looked like anything but a French inhabitant. The rest of the onlookers were engrossed in watching the showdown, but the lady didn’t care about the hundred eyes set on her. Out of the blue, Ms LeRoux walked towards the commotion.
‘Dude! Looks like she is going to take up the cause of defending the poor barista. Does she think of herself as Hermione?’ whispered one of the teenagers to his cronies.
‘Where are the elves?’ the other teenager giggled.
Some were in awe while some looked smugly at the proceedings as Ms LeRoux took centre stage. Looks like she loves taking up the baton. I thought.
‘Excusez-moi Madame. Y-a-t-il un problème?’ Ms LeRoux intervened.
The ingrate lady gave Ms LeRoux a ‘bugger off’ look, but she stood firm without getting intimidated.
Ms LeRoux. That’s your cue. Mind your own business. Stop behaving like The Maid of Orléans. I hoped that I could transmit my thoughts to her. But she was hell-bent on playing Joan of Arc.
‘What happened?’ asked LeRoux.
‘She asked me for a cup of cappuccino, and I served her the same. But I don’t understand what she is saying. I am just a poor student working here to pay for my university fees.’ The poor lad had turned white with fear. Another threat and I was sure that he would break down into tears.
‘Il ne comprend pas le français.’ Ms LeRoux explained the dissatisfied lady that the boy didn’t understand French.
‘Et alors? Je m’en fou. Ce n’est pas mon problème. Pourquoi restent-ils ici s’ils ne comprennent pas la langue?’
So what? I don’t care. It’s not my problem. Why do they stay here if they do not understand the language? The translation bot inside my head made me realise that the imprudent woman was in no mood to reason.
‘Probably conversing in English will be a better idea if you want him to understand your needs.’
‘Le français is my national langue. Why do I speak Anglaise?’ The irate lady kept ranting, ‘France has gone to dogs. Syrians, Asians, Indians. All the same. Bloody réfugiés!’
Something snapped inside Ms LeRoux. ‘You shouldn’t have spoken that, woman! Do you know that while you are warming your seat in this air-conditioned cafe, there are thousands of non-French nationals who break their backs, sweating whole day for giving a boost to the country’s economy? Do you know that while you don’t care what happens in your country, there are patriots who aren’t French nationals by birth but still put the interests of this country above the rest? And mind you, they don’t do such things out of compulsion, they do so as a service to this country, whom they consider as their motherland. And you call them bloody refugees! Sadly, you are correct. France has indeed gone to dogs. But not because of la réfugiés, the credit goes to imbéciles like you who bring this country a dishonour by promoting racism.’
Ms LeRoux delivered a speech as a woman possessed. An old man stood up from his seat and clapped. Soon the rest joined the chorus.
Now that was one hell of a bashing. I thought. But it wasn’t over yet.
‘Ferme ta gueule,’ growled the indecent woman. Just shut the fuck up.
It was high time for me to step in and ease the tense situation but Ms LeRoux fired a cheeky salvo, ‘S’il y avait une taxe sur ton cerveau, tu n’aurais plus un rond!’ The crowd burst into peals of laughter before the situation settled down as if nothing had happened. As for the irate lady, she left the cafe in a huff.
I performed last minute checks on my appearance, groomed my hair and strolled towards the place where she sat. I stole a glance of hers—elegant. Intelligent. Definitely better than the other files. Actually, well above the rest. B.M.S. Beyond My Standards. Her skin tone belonged to the fairer side, resembling pretty close to the models that feature in skin cream commercials on TV. She wasn’t decked up, maybe just a touch-up of the compact. Casual top, comfort fit denim, a stole worth admiring; her dressing sense oozed confidence. Her wrist was tattooed with a couple of stars and a small symbol:
G > Λ V
God is greater than the highs and lows.
Interesting. I thought. Her looks could easily give List-A females a run for their money. Natalie Portman, Emma Watson, Gal Gadot, Penelope Cruz… I could go on putting her on a pedestal with the Hollywood hotties but my thoughts unsettled when she looked straight into my eyes.
‘Ms LeRoux.’ I stammered as I held my hand forward for a handshake.
‘Sorry?’ That hit me out of the blue. I regained my shaky confidence and continued, ‘I mean, Sorry. Mes excuses pour le retard.’
‘Apology accepted.’ She grinned. I could swear, her smile was as killing as her looks. Her cheeks were adorned with dimples when her lips took a U-shaped curve.
Her Maker must have worked pretty hard to design this masterpiece.
A lull engulfed between us as my brain failed to help me start a conversation. ‘Ms LeRoux,’ I said.
‘Rosalyn is fine.’ She beamed. And there flies another arrow into my heart.
‘Okay. Rosalyn.’ I continued, ‘What makes you travel here from Nice?’
Fuck. What sort of a guy starts a conversation like this? You deserve to die a bachelor. I thought about myself. Sadly, my thoughts synced with her puzzled looks.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ she replied confusingly, ‘To meet you, Mr Rij—’
‘Rijkaard. Rijkaard Jacques.’ I interrupted.
‘As in Rij-card Jacuzzi?’
‘Nope. It’s pronounced as Rickard Jacks but spelt as R-I-J-K-A-A-R-D J-A-C-Q-U-E-S.’
‘Okay, so it’s Rick…’ She mentally noted the pronunciation before giving up, ‘Ah! Never mind. I’ll settle with Jack.’
JACK? I thought confusingly. As in ‘Jackass’ or ‘jacked off’? I caught my reflection in a glass pane and imagined myself with a donkey’s face waving hand while Rosalyn walked holding hands with some other man. Sigh! The first step towards being friend-zoned.
‘I hope you don’t mind if I call you Jack.’ Her tone sounded pleading as she continued, ‘Hey! You can call me Rose.’
Jack and Rose. Wow! That sounded pretty good. Like Leo and Kate romancing on Titanic. But I shrugged off the thoughts for two reasons. One. Mine wasn’t a love story. Two. There was no way that I resembled Leo.
‘Sure,’ I said, ‘call me by any name that comforts you.’
‘Call me by any name that comforts you.’ How about calling you a jerk? My subconscious smirked. It looked as if Karma was settling some scores with me by jeopardising my aspects of having a normal meeting with a woman. A fascinating woman, to be honest.
‘Hello, Rose. I am Jack.’ I made another lame attempt to break the ice.
‘Hello, Jack. I’m hungry.’ She cheekily replied.
‘Damn! I almost forgot.’ I laughed.
I looked at the food menu and noticed her adjusting herself at regular intervals.
Stop ogling at her. I bridled my gazing eyes.
‘Coffee?’ I asked.
‘No. I am on a detox mode.’ She coyly answered.
I signaled the barista and said, ‘un café filtré s’il vous plaît pour la dame ici et un chocolat chaud pour moi.’
‘He doesn’t understand French well.’ She said.
‘Oh yeah! I had completely forgotten.’ I replied.
‘Really?’ She enquired, ‘How do you know?’
‘Well. I saw your Joan of Arc performance sometime back when you bashed that manner-less lady.’ I confessed.
‘Hahahaha.’ She laughed, ‘A good lesson on etiquettes for her.’
‘That surely was.’ I affirmed. ‘A filtered coffee, please for the lady here and a hot chocolate for me.’
The boy smiled at her in acknowledgement for saving his job and returned after some time with our order.
‘So?’ She asked.
‘So?’ I replied cluelessly.
‘How was the performance?’
‘You mean about the one before I arrived?’
‘No. I mean about the one which you were scouting before your grand entry.’ She grinned.
‘Well! That was a good one. Except for your last punchline that I failed to understand. What was it? S’il y avait une taxe…’ I paused to recollect the dialogue.
‘… sur ton cerveau, tu n’aurais plus un rond!’ she filled in the sentence.
‘Yeah. This one. What does that mean?’ I asked.
‘It means, if there were a tax on your brain, then you wouldn’t have any money left.’
The rest of the evening passed by putting each other in splits through light conversations until we bid goodbye to each other.
‘It was nice to meet you, Captain Jack.’ She said.
‘The pleasure’s all mine, Madame Rose.’ I added.
She smiled widely.
‘Careful, Madame. Your dimples may puncture your cheeks.’ I flirted.
‘Aw!’ She seemed touched by my gesture.
That’s enough, jackass! Disperse!
‘Au revoir, Madame.’ I said.
She placed her hand on my mouth and spoke, ‘Never say goodbye. It isn’t considered to be a good omen. Always say See You Soon. That’s what all good friends say. Because they never part.’
I stood frozen as my brain and feet found faults in responding. Her touch sparked the current in me as my blood vessels competed as if there was a Grand Prix. The magical words escaped my mouth somehow without realising that there may be future repercussions.
‘I love you.’ I immediately regretted it.
‘Sorry?’ She didn’t see that coming.
‘I mean, I love yoghurt.’ I quickly rectified.
‘Hahaha. You’re damn funny, Jack.’ She turned around and waved me goodbye.
I love her. I thought she didn’t hear it. But The Gods had some other plans. It looked as if I was destined to goof up.
‘Did you say something? I actually heard I love…’
‘I love… Here,’ I stammered, ‘I mean, this place is good. I love here.’
‘Okay. I will see you soon.’ She smiled and walked away.
Phew! That was close.