Saturday, June 7, 2008
A Rendezvous with her smile - A short story
“What went wrong?” Greg asked himself over and again, ploughing his hand through his dark unkempt hair, not realizing that he was the one who kept condemning the answer every time it came up. The dirt of their conversation hung like a halo, this one in front of his face. There were the accounts to be verified, tenders to be quoted, ledger to be checked, but everything lay haywire waiting to be attended. It had never been like this before for the fastidious boss he was. Blame it all on her! She was the disturbance but the most beautiful disturbance he had ever known. And he knew in the heart of hearts he wanted to be disturbed all his life. He stood up, slipped on his tuxedo jacket and left. It was late alright, but better late than never.
Greg Travolta was the only heir to Travolta tea plantations company Ltd. which spanned eleven tea gardens apart from the seven estates it did business with, had found immense success ever since his grandfather put his private blend of tea into production and proposed allied industry businesses. Smart and nifty, Greg had quite a reputation for his adept way of playing the stakes at such a young age and the figures had seen a hike in the annual turnover since he took over the business after his father.
Things were going systematic as he wanted them to be, until that fateful day when he took a diversion in the route he usually goes jogging- a diversion not just in the route. Usually he trots along the path that winds through the estate plantations, the north side of the hill that is. He rarely ventures into the southern side that encloses a valley comfortably nestled between a range of hills but that day a bit jaded with the usual, took to the southern path through his bike and up the woods jogging. On the either side of the so-called path stretched an unbroken line of trees – alpine, pine, oaks and chestnuts – rising and falling in gentle undulating lines as far as the eye could reach, colouring a soft, deep yellow green, the whole effect alluring and strangely at home. Hither and thither were kisses of wildflower beds and the air clean and cool with a delicate floral scent. He could distinctly hear the sound of the small stream gushing by the foot of the hill, rushing past the heart of the valley to meet with the crevice where it disappears.
All of a sudden he stopped short on his path beside a flower bed. Is that just the reflection of the morning sun around her head, or could it be . . . ? No, it couldn't possibly be a halo. On careful scrutiny he found there were no wings sprouting on her shoulders. But she did appear angelic, that mysterious woman who was gathering flowers with deft hands. May be an enchanting ghost, he looked for her foot. It was there, one dainty foot that seemed to fit the glass slipper he didn’t know he was carrying all along. Her radiant beauty seemed to eclipse all of that around. The woman having collected what she wanted started down towards the valley, away from him.
She was like a dream flitting so quickly as a rule, but he decided to be too quick for this enchanting dream. He ran to her and uttered a blunt, “hello miss”. She stopped, staring into the face of the icon Travolta himself, taken by surprise. “Hello” she echoed blankly excited and confused at the same time. He was much younger- looking and striking than what she had imagined.
“Isn’t it a great refreshing place for a morning jog?” Greg remarked
“Indeed it is”
“Have you come for a morning jog too?”
“No, I came to pick up some flowers for my vase. I run a café down the valley.”
And saying so she pointed down to a small cottage that was wedged on the valley overlooking the stream. She was carrying a huge bunch of flowers, but her face looked like the biggest and most alluring one amongst them.
“Nice…. Guess I can drop in sometime for tea”
“Sure, my pleasure”
“Alright then…. I should be kicking off for the day. Bye!”
“Hey there’s something in your eye!!” he exclaimed suddenly
“What is it?!” She rubbed her eyes frantically,
And he jogged off wondering what these butterflies where doing in his stomach when there were so many flowers around.
He was at the café the very evening, not that his mind was anywhere else all day. A few cars had already found the tiny road that wound besides the clear running river in the valley and into the small car park of the café .He observed it was something of a cross between a continental restaurant and an old world cafe, and a great stopping off point for coffee or a light snack- a lovely place to sit and gaze out over the rolling trees and hills.
When he checked in, his eyes searched the place but she was nowhere to be found but his eyes caught the huge vase near the entrance brimming with wild flowers. Deciding to have a drink and wait, he walked past turning faces and murmurs to a seat beside the window overlooking the stream. The view was breathtaking. He could almost make out the fishes darting in the stream, too and fro. The café itself had been tastefully built. He observed the insides of the café. Original hardwood floors, and chestnut beams in earth tones gave a gentle, welcoming feel and a sense of timelessness. Bold, densely patterned tapestries looked quite exquisite against the walls that were painted a blend of deep cream. The chairs had vivid emerald green silk on their seats and the table was of green and faded gold. Aromatic candles and a brass vase with little flowers adorned every table. Pulled against a huge window was a lofty cushioned sofa with a table of the same hue of the chairs, most suitable for friends or ladies to chat over the teacups. The curtains were of three layers- deep olive green, soft mulberry, and faded golden gauze- so delicate in texture and colouring that they rendered a fascinating effect when light streamed through it. He went through the menu, a repertoire of tantalizing dishes. The idea was simple: make delicious food with what's local and what's fresh.
“What would you like to have Mr. Travolta?” a familiar voice chimed. He turned around to find her standing, fresh, with a well pressed white shirt, a grey skirt, an olive green apron and a warm smile on. “A coffee, a mushroom sandwich and if possible some of your time” he replied. She beautifully failed in trying to suppress a smile. She informed something to a waiter who was serving food around and returned shortly. They chatted for sometime as the last rays of sunlight dispersed itself in tones of gold and sepia into the café. Then a strange thing happened. The sun was setting behind the hills. He saw another sun setting into the casement of her eyes.
She chattered on cheerfully. He learnt that her name was Kathy and he also learnt that he was bitten by the love bug. He felt that the sound of the stream gushing by seemed to rhyme with every of her words and the trees ruffled as if in response to the giggles that she would punctuate her never-ending sentences with.
Kathy belonged to the small town beside the valley. This cafe restaurant and its glorious location had been the realization of her life’s ambition. When her mother passed away she sold their rather huge house and started the café. She’d seen to each and every aspect of the café – the design, location and the food to be served. She had carefully collected the best of dishes, tested and modified to provide what was the best. Naturally success shone on the cafe restaurant enterprise as easily as the sunlight from the valley streamed though it. The small town people loved it for it served healthy, delicious food at reasonable rates with an enchanting view of the valley. There was also Kathy’s bubbly charm. She would freely chat with everyone and make them feel at home. Now and then Kathy would try her hand at a different dish and that would instantly create a sensation among the people there.
Greg saw more and more sunsets in Kathy’s eyes after that day. She liked his air of careless cheerfulness and grew fond of him. The bug had not spared her either. They continued on with what seemed like a perfect relationship until that tumultuous conversation they had. She felt the slow, creeping blight of a rich guy’s pride that distorted and soiled all that he was when he remarked about her shutting down the café after their marriage. She grew furious about him not understanding how much she loved the café. He was irritated about her not being practical and felt it should be plainly obvious to her that a Travolta cannot go about serving tea and coffee around and that it was beneath them. When he voiced it all out, they went into such a brawl that they had decided to call it quits.They vowed never to fall victim to the illusion that gluing together the broken pieces will recreate perfection in what has once been seriously flawed.
Greg went into the café as his heart hammered against his ribs. She was there sitting behind the counter, reviewing bills. He sat in his usual place beside the stream but she dint seem to notice. He went near the counter, pulled a stool and sat beside her.
“What would you like to have, Sir?” she asked sharply.
“And till last week I had a name”
“I’m sure you still do. What do you want?”
“You had it, more than your share”
“But I want it for all my life”
“I just run a café. I’m no good at house keeping. You have the money you can have as many nannies as you want.”
“I’m sorry for the things I told you the other day. What you do is a noble act. You serve people, something ordinary people like me can never do”
“Words come easy to you, don’t they?”
“I wish they had. I wish they had”
He stood up, took her by hand and hauled her to the seat by the stream and made her sit down. Then he went behind the counter and wore her dough- smeared apron upon his crisp tuxedo, took a tray of coffee and walked past a shocked group of diners. Humbly he served her coffee. People around cheered and clapped but his ears were deaf to all sounds but his thudding heart. Then he looked up at her face. A smile started like a ripple at the corners of her mouth and spread across her face- a smile he knew he could live with for a thousand years and more.