Her presence in the Irani cafe was enough to brighten up the whole place; her smile could charm anybody, even the crabby old man who would sit near the cash register. The surly waiter smiled when she placed an order for brun maska and Irani chai and got her food in record time. Preeti sat there sipping her tea, nibbling on lavishly buttered brun and waited for Vijay to turn up. After 45 minutes (a record time for somebody being allowed to sit in an Irani cafe) she paid and left.
She returned home and dialled the number. “I am willing to accept the offer.”, she said quietly and after exchanging a few pleasantries she hung up, tears rolling down her eyes. She could remember each and every word exchanged during their fight two weeks back. Vijay never took her seriously and when she finally asked him in anger what she meant for him, he replied, “To me, you are as precious as a grain of salt”
She walked out, promising never to look back again.
He kept calling her and at her weakest moment, she picked up.
“Meet me in the Irani cafe. Just once. Then you can decide whether you wish to leave India or not.”
She agreed and only to be stood up once again. He was calling her again, incessantly, but she decided to switch off her phone and sleep. Easier said than done.
London was a treat for the eyes, everything she imagined as a child. She felt like she had walked into a Bollywood movie, only in this case, there was no hero.
Preeti let her work take over her mind. In the morning, she would go jogging; even as she pushed herself to run another mile. After a breakfast of eggs and toast, she would go to the University and start preparing for her lectures. In the evenings, she would sink into her bed with a book and let sleep take over her, whenever it so desired. Her routine never varied, except on one day of the week. On Fridays she organized a special meeting for her students, where all of them had the freedom to present whatever they want. It could be a new book they read, a poem they had written or maybe some recipe they had decided to try out. It was a fun evening and it was one of the few times she smiled with all her heart.
“18th May, today is 18thMay”, her heart kept on saying.
“So?”, her brain said angrily. “It’s just another day.”
“But…” her heart started.
“Not a word more”, said her brain and shut her heart up.
In the evening…
“Hey, Preeti. All set for today?”, Sam called out.
“Yes”, she said smiling.
She entered the room and saw a familiar set of faces grinning at her.
“So, what are we going to do today?”
“We are going to do something special today,” Darren spoke.
“Like we do every week?,” Preeti asked laughing.
“Nah…trust us tonight’s gonna be a good night” chipped in Karen.
“Going Black Eyed Peas on me are, we?, asked Preeti, with a twinkle in her eye. “Let’s begin guys”.
“Tonight dear Professor, we are going to tell you the importance of salt.”
“Salt?,” she asked.
“You just sit back and relax”, John told her pulling up a comfy beanbag.
“ Our body needs electrolytes to function and one of the electrolytes it needs is salt”, Sylvia started.
“Salt triggers a goofy thing in our body that makes us drink water and when we drink water…”, carried on Joanna
“Our kidneys send adequate electrolytes into our blood which ensures that…”, said Darren
“The blood pressure is constant” completed Susan. She continued “What’s more, salt is important for our nerves. Do you know that you can jog without any pain because salts prevents muscle cramping?”
“Salt prevents sunstroke, ensures that our bones has enough calcium. It also helps us digest food and absorb all the good nutrients” Laxmi added.
“Here try this, my latest creation,” said Stephanie, handing Preeti some casserole.
“How is it?”, she asked.
After gulping down whatever she had in her mouth, Preeti replied, “Frankly, it’s bad.”
“As it should be, “said Stephanie. “Salt kick starts amylase, an enzyme which helps you taste food. This dish, doesn’t have any.”
“Do you know that our stomachs have the capacity to digest itself and salt ensures that it doesn’t do so.” asked Juno
“If a person doesn’t have any intake of salt in your body, our body temperature can fluctuate from one extreme to the other. The body can go into a state of shock and you can die.”
“That’s interesting” Preeti said “I…”
“And that is why my dear, you are as precious as a grain of salt.”, said a surprisingly familiar voice from nowhere.
“Who…”, Preeti started…
“Vijay, who else?” the voice replied.
Her students just disappeared and she was left alone in the room, her heart beating in a crazy rhythm of its own.
Vijay entered the room and just stood there.
“What are you doing here”, Preeti asked.
“Just hoping that you will be ready to talk now. I have been miserable without you.”
“What do you mean by that? You did not even show up”
“Yes, I didn’t. There was an emergency. One of students needed help and I could not leave him. I was sure you would understand. I kept calling, not wanting to turn up at your door step. Thought you would like to have some space.”
“You were never serious about us.”
“I was going to ask you to marry me. This salt performance, I had practiced it again and again in my head. Was just waiting for the right moment, which you gave me when you asked, what do you mean to me.”
“Then why didn’t you call, message. You were not there for me. You let me go, leave you and come here.”
“I tried to get in touch. You had blocked my account. The emails kept bouncing back. I tried calling you, but you did not pick up the phone. And on my salary, I could hardly afford to fly to London, whenever I desired. After a few months, I decided to give you some space. I thought, the farther we are, the closer we will be from here,” he said pointing at his heart.
“How did you manage to come now?”
“ I couldn’t bear being without you. I tried to save as much as possible and here I am. I worked up the courage come here to give my story a ha…” he stopped and then continued, with his eyes closed, “an ending. Happy or otherwise”. He grinned, without that laughter reaching his eyes.
She was so wrong. All his jokes, that laughter…she never realized that he loved her. She took a decision on the spot, walked close to him and looked into his eyes. Slowly, she pulled out the scrunchie from her hair and bent down on one knee. “I don’t have a ring, just this scrunchie that remotely resembles one. I hope our story gets a happy ending. I am a temperamental, tantrum throwi…”
“Shh” he said, pulling her up and wrapping his hands around her, “I will never leave you”
And he did fulfill his promise for the rest of their lives.
And he did fulfill his promise for the rest of their lives.