Meera sat at the same spot on the bar from the night before. The place was empty now, save for a few office goers waiting for their takeaways, and looked much bigger from the party with all the corners clearly visible. The cafe was average-sized and usually seated up to 20 people at a time. But Riya had always made a big deal about her farewell party – that one last hurrah with all her friends before she said goodbye.
Over a 100 people were invited – closer college mates, long-lost school groups, the never-forget-me childhood pals and the recently acquainted office colleagues. Dubai was a mere three-hour flight away, but everyone knew the distance would be far greater when it came to talking with friends.
Feroz had spent months planning the event. He had demanded all of Riya’s friends attend, adamant and at times irritatingly persuasive. He had popped the question just two weeks ago, catching Riya off-guard in office at lunch one day. No one expected a jumpsuit-clad Feroz crawling outside her window, pretending to be a glass cleaner. Yet there he was, daredevil, lunatic, and now fiance. Riya was in her notice period then. Everyone thought it was Feroz’s last attempt to convince her to stay. That did not happen. Instead, she started sending his resumes to companies in the Gulf – hopefully, more than assured.
Meera was a final addition to Feroz’s plans. She hadn’t spoken to either of them for nearly six months now. No wonder she was perplexed at seeing his email inviting her. ‘Come,’ he wrote. ‘You won’t be seeing us for a long time. Don’t end it like this.’ Meera flung open her cupboard and tried to find her best attire. Amidst the growing pile of clothes on her bed, she finally found that one dress she knew would make an impact. It had the history.
The party began as expected. Riya was so surprised when she walked into the cafe she let out a screech just a few frequencies short of glass-shattering. There were no drinks allowed in the place despite hosting the word ‘bar’ in its name. There was cake, confetti, an open buffet and all the coffee in the world. Feroz was into his third espresso shot when Meera walked in. For the first time that night, he could actually taste how bitter his coffee was. After all the hours spent organising, even he could not have foreseen this.
It was the same dress Meera wore the last time the three of them were together. The black material perfectly adoring her curves. The butterfly clips gleaming in the low light. Her long slender legs highlighted by her stilettoes. She had twirled her hair, a few long strands falling across her face which she was gently tucking behind her nimble ear, exposing the silver earrings dotting it.
Riya had noticed Meera walk in as well. Her stomach sank a little, but it was a night for brave encounters and Riya was in no mood to create a scene. She excused herself from the group and started walking to the door. Feroz was already there, ushering Meera towards the coffee bar. Her initial courage seemed to abandon her on seeing the dress. Riya was desperately wishing this party was now happening at a pub.
Meera spotted Riya walking up to her and let out a customary wave. They shared hugs, asked the mandatory questions of each other’s well-being and order two hazelnut lattes. Feroz was a passive observer all this time, interrupting them to either add his occasional ‘yes’ or let out a tentative laugh. The three of them talked for about ten minutes before Riya’s other friends finally dragged her away to dance floor. Someone had sneaked in a bottle of rum and soon everyone had spiked their drinks, expect for Meera and Feroz.
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ Feroz muttered not looking away from the dancing Riya. ‘You knew how she would feel, how I would feel. This is NOT about you anymore.’
‘Isn’t it? Hasn’t it always been about me?’ Meera said, her long fingers playing with the cup. The music was getting louder and soon some popular Bollywood songs were on – Riya’s weakness. There was no getting off the dance floor now. ‘I don’t want to talk here,’ Meera said looking into Feroz’s eyes. ‘I can’t hear myself.’
Feroz led her to the staircase and they went upstairs to the smoking area, the only quiet place in the cafe. They talked for a few more minutes about the issue, until Feroz had had enough. There was no winning. Settling this issue was the only thing that mattered. He told Meera what he truly felt since that night, speaking calmly and in a manner that was impossible to fathom a year ago. The incident had changed him. He grew quiet and thoughtful, even considerate. All this coming from a person who had punched three guys in a drunken fight to prove that he could still hit after four drinks.
Meera grew tired of listening and whipped out a cigarette. She had picked up this habit six months back, a coping mechanism for her nerves. She lit it and took long drags, aware of Feroz’s resentful eyes. He hated her smoking. He hated her standing there looking pretty. He hated that she was not in love with him. He hated her for becoming friends with Riya. And now, he hated her for coming to the party. Meera was not even looking at him. Feroz was speaking to a person oblivious to his presence.
It was just like before. They were madly in love, and then she had a change of heart. A trip to Himachal was all it took for her to realise she did not want to be with him, and that life was yet to be explored. Within a week, she was out of their shared apartment and blocking Feroz across social media. She gave no reason, she shed no tear and was ignorant of all his calls, texts and feelings. There was no going back for her.
Riya met Feroz the night Meera left him. She was at The Coffee Bar when Meera called a cab and left Feroz in the rain. She got him an umbrella, only to witness Meera come back moments later to ask them for change for the taxi. Riya took Feroz to her place that night, and they talked till he was fast asleep on her bean bag. They met again the next day and the next. Soon they were sharing pictures on social media of their weekend getaways, stay-ins or even the regular walks in the park. They went to bookstores together, liked the same movies and sitcoms, and ordered the same food as well. She was the reinforcement he needed to know that it was not his fault.
The potted plant was like any regular cafe decoration – low on cost but high on quality. The owners bought several of them together and lined it up on the balcony. A few of them bore burnt marks near the plants’ roots where people had extinguished their stubs, ignoring the disposal bin just a few feet away. The pots were neither very pretty to look at nor easy to ignore. The owners had thought about replacing them with some soft lights, like the ones you see on top of gates. Little did they imagine they would have to replace them as early as next week.
Riya was sprawled across the floor, blood lined her head, her lifeless eyes cast wide open. Meera handed the pot to Feroz and started to wipe her dress. She finished her cigarette, her phone call and walked downstairs. The police sirens were getting louder by the second.
Feroz was rooted to the spot, unable to move. Riya was alive just a few moments ago, dragging him back to the party, dragging him away from the rain, away from her. The potted plant was out of its holder and heading for Riya’s face. Meera hated that Riya was so nice and perfect. She hated that Feroz was trying to forget her. She hated that they were engaged and that he was considering moving for her. She hated that he was willing to ignore her. She was talking to a person who was starting to believe in himself. She was falling in love with him again. She wanted to be with him again. She wanted Riya gone.
The waiter recognised her from the night before but said nothing. She ordered a hazelnut latte and browsed through the pictures on her phone, swiping left on every person. After a minute, she stopped on a profile. He was into sales and liked kayaking. She swiped right, set aside her phone and sipped her coffee. A buzz interrupted her. She looked down at her phone and smiled at the message on the app. ‘Hi, I’m Feroz. It’s great we matched.’