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Wednesday 28 October 2015

# 18 - The girl at the coffee shop

[NOTE: What follows is a short story I wrote sometime back, and which I now deem blogworthy, meaning it's good enough to be published in this blog, and this blog only. While it was written in a hurry, this pathetic excuse for a story has been redeemed by my editor (you know who you are) so far as grammar and language are concerned. The plot however, is beyond redemption. Nevertheless, have a look.]

As the in-charge of a coffee shop outlet, my day to day life may seem mundane to most, including myself to be honest. I have quite a few responsibilities, such as checking whether orders were being timely prepared and served, taking stock of the inventory, being responsible for the cash flow and so on.
This was a pretty important branch in a very important part of the city, terminal 1B of the domestic airport. My reputation for being a bright and resourceful employee had ensured my quick transition from a store clerk to the outlet in-charge, and it was pretty routine work by now.
This morning though, I had quite an unusual situation to tackle.
It was around 9, the store wasn’t quite packed yet, but there were nevertheless a few fliers who had reached early to the airport, the 10.10 flight to Kolkata, and of course the ones who had landed from Delhi at 8.50.

I knew that the store would be pretty much jam packed in another 20 minutes or so, around 100 people, including the ones who had no intention of buying anything, but were merely sitting for the air conditioning or the wi-fi, or worse still, checking out the crowd.
I continued staring at the girl who was making me sweat in spite of the famed air conditioning. What was she doing here?
She sat in the 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.... her pancake lay barely eaten.
She looked moderately well to do, and was pretty enough to merit a second look, but it was the tainted knife that was playing on my mind. It was a potentially scary situation, I had no way of knowing what this girl at Table 3 could be up to or what she had possibly done.
Luckily there wasn’t anyone at the adjacent tables, and I seemed to be the only one who had caught sight of the knife. But, a few minutes of inactivity on my part could drastically change the situation.
I pondered the options I had, the security guard who was already dozing off at 9 in the morning clearly wasn’t equipped with the brains or the tools to handle the situation. Neither were the five other staff present in the cafe along with me. I didn’t want to create panic at the store. The last thing I wanted was a murdering, 20 something year old wielding a knife and threatening to kill the customers.
I had to call in the airport security, I had no other option. I went to the back of the store, from where I could see her, and dialled Rajesh’s number.
Rajesh was in the airport security department, and more importantly, a friend. I could explain the situation without too many worries of a publicity nightmare.
- “Hello Suhit, what’s up?”
- “Hi hi. Listen, I have got a situation here.”
In an instant his tone changed, and I told him of my predicament as quickly as I could, keeping track of the time.
- “Okay, I am sending a few plain-clothes fellows, four to be precise, they will meet you outside your store, you show them where the girl is, and they will take care of it, but you’re sure right? It’s a knife?”
- “Of course I am sure man. Else, wouldn’t have called you, how long are you gonna take to send these people?”
- “5 minutes max. And, listen, if she gets up to leave and all, don’t stop her, we’ll be able to track her down. I’ll also check if there’s an ambulance nearby..worst case scenario, send it over, near your shop.”
- “Yeah, okay, please....”
- “Will give your number to a guard, he’ll call you when he’s there.”
I hung up and went back to the counter, status quo, she was still looking outside. But there was no steam coming out of her cup, she was done or about to be done. I prayed that she would leave the store, as selfish as it may sound, whether she got caught or not was none of my concern, the well being of my paying and non paying customers at the store was.
Her blue scarf hid the knife, to everyone else who hadn’t been as observant as myself, she looked like just another customer.
And then, she stood up and with an air of familiarity and waved, “hey Aaraav, over here!” probably louder than she intended to.
The said Aaraav, who had just entered the store, was a handsome man of about the same age; he looked over at her, smiled and promptly sat in the empty chair opposite the girl.
I swore mentally, now she wouldn’t be leaving the store, and who was this guy, an accomplice, a potential victim? Neither of them looked like criminals, but in this day and age, there’s no way to tell, looks could be deceptive.
I looked at the time, five minutes had flown by, no sign of the airport security, damn it. And just as I was done mentally cursing Rajesh, he called me up.
- “Hello, where the hell are your security fellows man? She’s just been joined by a guy.”
- “Just come out for a second, we are outside”
I hung up and ventured out of the store, crossing the girl’s table hoping to hear what was being discussed, I managed to hear the words “police”, “evidence” and “court”. My panic had somehow disappeared, the fact that security men who were here and knew their job well had boosted my confidence. Dare I say it, I now even looked forward to a confrontation.
Rajesh was accompanied by four men in tee shirt and jeans, who seemed ill at ease in them; they were clearly used to wearing a uniform of some sort, much like me, except theirs commanded authority and fear, mine....not so much.
I quickly briefed them about the situation, gave a brief description of the girl and her ‘friend’ Aaraav.
The plan was to wait for a while to get an indication if they planned something here, figure out whether they had committed a crime inside the airport premises or outside, and preferably catch them at a place where no one else was present, to prevent a situation of possible alarm, but if the circumstances demanded, we needed to tackle them here at the store itself. This was a matter of national security after all (possibly).
We stepped in and Rajesh and his fellow men sat at a table close enough to intervene if required, and far enough to not draw attention. I headed back to the counter, imagining the possible headlines that may appear in the papers tomorrow...
“Brave store manager risks life, nabs criminals, gets promoted”
“City man helps in catching terrorist, flooded with matrimonial proposals”
“Sir...?” I came back to reality as a not-so-bright employee who felt that he had something important to discuss nudged me.
- “Not now please, in the middle of something important here..”
- “But Sir, this is important too.”
I stared back at him, but he failed to get the message, “What is it, tell me quickly”, I growled.
- “Sir, we are out of Swedish pancakes, we need to order fresh ones.”
- “Okay, remind me this evening.”
  He goes away and I get back to staring at the criminal couple. I wondered about their back story, jihadis, parents opposed to marriage, it could have been anything.
I have always believed in sixth sense, and mine told me that something more than what met the eye was at play here. But I couldn’t actually put a finger on it, well, it would be over soon enough.
Without warning, the girl and Aarav got up, Rajesh and his guards too, simultaneously. She carefully got hold of her scarf and her handbag, the blood soaked knife was not visible but I knew that that was what the scarf hid, and to my horror, both of them started approaching me at the counter.
Rajesh made a gesture and his guards immediately got behind them, close enough to get involved if the need arose. He also signalled me to be calm.
Not really convinced, but knowing that I could do nothing else about it, I tried to look as normal as possible as the girl walked up to me.
- “What is going on here? What are you serving ya?”
I really didn’t expect to hear this, I managed to blurt out a “w-what?”
- “Have a look at this....I am keeping it man. I will sue you.” She wasn’t loud enough to be heard by anyone far.
She carefully unwrapped her scarf, and the blood soaked knife was there again for me to see.
- “There’s f****** blood on your pancakes man!” her voice got louder. Her companion joined her “we know our rights dude, consumer violation. We can sue you for crores.”
I was too stunned to reply, by then my dim-witted colleague had joined me, he took hold of the knife and smiled, blissfully unaware of what I had been going through “oh madam, you shouldn’t bother Sir over this. You had ordered the Swedish pancake no?”
- “Yes we did. So?”
- “well madam, this is the ‘Blodplatter Swedish Pancake’. Blood is an ingredient, it’s mentioned in the menu itself.”
The couple were as speechless as I was; Rajesh came up to the counter and asked no one in particular what was going on. He didn’t look too pleased with me.
“Oh Rajesh”, it was time for me to say something, anything, I gave a feeble smile and a wave of the hand, “don’t worry, its nothing, it’s fine, everything is alright...some confusion about a dish.”
My sixth sense was right, something had been at play indeed, and looks could indeed be deceptive, be it the girl, or my not-so-stupid colleague.
Come to think of it, even Rajesh, his face was turning red, a lot like the main ingredient of the Blodplatter Swedish Pancake, and I wasn’t too sure if I could call him a friend anymore.

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