11/04/2015 by Siddiqui Fayesal
They spoke quietly as if afraid that they will draw attention to themselves. Though they were aware of it, they pretended to not notice the stares that followed their every moment. They pretended that it didn’t bother them. They took care that they broke off pieces of their kadak pavs slowly, mitigating the crunch of dried crusty yeast to the barest minimum. They were careful to not let the tea drip from the pav and onto the table when they hurried to get the hot tea soaked bread into their waiting mouths. What if that waiter, the one with a cloth carelessly thrown over his shoulder, asks them why they couldn’t be more careful? It would be non-verbal for sure, but the fear was such that they’d prefer being incognito.
They were not bothered of burning their tongue or their palate in the hurry to prevent the drip from falling. They were not bothered that the scalded tongue will not allow any taste to please them for at least another day. The 24 hour discomfort was acceptable but drawing attention was not. Drawing attention meant being the subject to scrutiny and being at the answering end of questions. Of course, of course, they knew they were in a café or, as the folks here called these tea shacks, “restaurants”, and there wouldn’t be much of a reason to question innocent people like them. Of course, the folks here didn’t French it up. To them, the ‘nts’ was just as much important as the remainder of the word. They called it a rest-aw-rent. The fools.
If you’d think they corrected the guy wearing the parrot green shirt (on brown corduroy slacks, I tell you) about the manner of pronouncing the word you’re mad. They’d never have stopped to even ask him for directions if they had noticed he was scratching his crotch. In public. Imagine.
But they were here, so it was all going good. Or, so they thought. They still hadn’t noticed the old man sitting across them munching on a piece of toast. They call it toast too. Funny. He had a trail of tea drops stretching from the edge of his glass to the edge of his table; probably on his lap too. He didn’t care much though.
He just stared blankly at them. The lady felt something. Do we still it intuition these days? The 6th sense, perhaps? Whatever it was, it made her turn back slowly. She saw him look straight into her eyes. She straightened up and pulled her top a bit lower, scared that her shirt rode up her back and her white, blemish-free spine was being ogled at. It wasn’t. But, it was established that the old man was looking at her, from top to bottom, although concentrating his optical strength on her lower back. She was sure that she covered up her “modesty” so she was at least safe at that.
But despite that, despite being covered from head to toe (almost) and despite taking care not to drop tea on the table, despite not talking to random strangers this bloody old man was staring at her. The nerves.
The white lady dropped her nonchalance and tapped the table to attract the attention of her husband. The bloke was relishing the tea. He was enjoying this place with the cobwebs and dirty wash basins. It reminded him of the Dickensian London he had read about and the picture was alluring (not necessarily happy) to say the least. She tapped hard and he, suddenly aware that the tapping didn’t come from the pedestal fan behind him, looked at the source of the noise with such enthusiasm that he ruined his hand-eye coordination. He smashed the wet, hot bread on the bridge of his nose.
“Ah, sodding hell!”
They had attracted attention.