Usual Order, Please

They lived in House number 6, in Marble avenue since 2011. Shyam and Muskaan had just celebrated their 40th anniversary five months ago. He had decided to spend their anniversary week at a resort which she did not know beforehand. She had had to cancel all arrangements for the surprise party she had planned one day after the anniversary. But the holiday was worth canceling the party, she thought.


Their sons had asked them to come live with them ever since they got jobs and settled into their respective careers. One of them was a professor and the other worked as a team lead in an IT firm. Muskaan had expressed her desire to visit their sons. But Shyam had rubbished the idea insisting they cannot ever become a burden on their children. Visiting them was out of the question.


Shaym and Muskaan had large extended families and Shyam usually decided which weddings, house warming ceremonies, funerals, naming ceremonies and graduating ceremonies to attend. Muskaan would appropriately plan travel and pack their bags and communicate with the family that would host them. Shyam was a reasonable man. He would not differentiate between his own folks and his wife’s.


When he retired from work five years ago, he invested in this house and moved out of the bustling city to a smaller town because he wanted to enjoy a quiet and peaceful life. Muskaan had to bid farewell to her satsang group and her group of organic gardeners who met regularly to exchange seeds and planting techniques. She gave away her potted saplings to enthusiastic first generation gardeners.


Ever since they moved to Marble Avenue, Shyam had marked their territory by frequenting a public library that housed translated works from Spanish and Italian, a park where they took their evening walks and the regulars knew them by name, a small newspaper stand at the corner of the street where he bought the Times of India every morning and a quaint little café one block away where they had authentic filter coffee.


As Muskaan sat down at their favorite table by the window and lay her copy of the Times of India in front of her, a new waiter approached her with a beaming smile. She wondered for a brief second about his life, his family, his ambitions and she smiled back warmly at him. His badge flashed his name. Pritam. Shyam always addressed waiters by their names, which made them more comfortable.


Muskaan said, “Pritam, what a nice name! Get us our usual order, two filter coffees please.” She froze. Pritam looked at her awkwardly. Muskaan realized a minute too late that old habits die hard. “Make that one filter coffee, please.” Shyam had had a fatal road accident two months ago. After all the last rites were done, her sons flew back to get on with their lives. They still could not coax their mother to travel with them.


She continued to live in Marble avenue, visiting the library, walking in the park and stopping by for authentic filter coffee. The slanting evening sunshine rained through the window. After years of walking in his shade, Muskaan noticed for the first time her once erect, now frail shadow on the floor of the café. The owner of the shadow now had to learn directions.


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