I was sipping a short Americano with soya milk. A short lasts me an hour. Two shorts over two hours is my usual at Starbucks.
On my right, a Sikh, and with him a man who could’ve been Japanese, or Chinese, or Tibetan, but was probably North-East Indian. The table on my left, not taken. The table further left, the last of a row of four two-seaters, taken by a man aged about forty-five, his coffee served cold in a glass, the straw wet on the table. He was concentrating straight ahead.
The Sikh and the North-East Indian both wore shorts. On his feet the Sikh sported black flip flops, and his companion, green soft-shoes. Both men appeared to be marching happily through their thirties.
“The moment the idea hit me I thought of you,” the Sikh man said to the North-Eastern, who laughed. They were bent toward each other, the Sikh’s forearms were folded on the table.
“Believe me,” the Sikh said, it’s true. And it’s no small deal. There will be only millionaires in this thing. Cool forty-million.”
For businessmen in Bangalore, the dollar is the currency of choice, although sometimes they settle for the euro.
A woman walked toward our row, tray in one hand, handphone over her ear, held there by a raised shoulder. She slid under the table left of me. My eyes were on my Kindle (open to Less by Greer) but the black of her skirt and the white of her shirt flashed on my eyes when she curved in. I also took in how she arranged her tray, the croissant, and coffee — her workday breakfast, I presumed.
“He was very good,” she was saying into the phone. “He has energy. He’s aggressive. He’s the guy I want for a partner.”
Her listener — a female voice issued from the phone — said something.
“No, no,” my neighbor answered. “Vikas is too calm. He is too settled under his skin. No energy. His vibes are terrible, I tell you.”
Meanwhile, the Sikh was better detailing his proposal. He was saying, “Let me explain why you’re the perfect fit for this.”
But I’d tuned out of him and his friend. The thin high confident voice of the lady on my left had taken possession of my ears and my mind. Her voice and something about her presence suggested this was a woman in her twenties. By now I’d registered that she was very fair, but I hadn’t seen her face yet, I didn’t see it at all, because just then I shut my Kindle and rose, deciding that this morning, one Americano would do.
Because, you see, in just a few minutes the men on the right and the woman on the left had force-fed me three shots of stimulus, adding to the effects of the Americano, sending me high and making me addled. On top of all that, I‘ve been wearying of business for some time now, and lately any talk of commerce hurls me outdoors, gagging, seeking fresh air.
Walking out, I saw the man at the end of my row still looking straight ahead, to the wall where cups and coffee-presses and other Starbucks stuff were on display. Tall man. Grey hair gifted with a touch of bounce and wave. His skin had the sheen and texture of the rich and accomplished, but his eyes were soft and collapsed and watery — the eyes of the defeated.
It was sunny when I stepped into the street, Church Street. It was not hot, it was not too cool. I chose to walk off the sidewalk, away from the shadows, thinking of Vikas whom the fair lady had so vehemently rejected. With what eyes was Vikas seeing the world, this calm man whom I don’t know, whom I’ve never seen?