He entered the restaurant to escape the heat outside. He was early again, as always. It would be another fifteen minutes at least before his friends showed up. He didn't mind. Being alone in public didn't hassle him.
The heat had leapt at him like a beast once he stepped out of the air-conditioned confines of his office, even though it was now rapidly getting dark. So he entered the nearest A.C. restaurant he could spot. Of course, he thought, looking around, it would be wrong to call this a restaurant. It was one of those new fangled places that offered you coffees and salads and crepes and things. Could one call it a delicatessen, he wondered.
Whatever it was, it felt comfortable, he thought feeling the cool breeze from the AC duct on his face as he sank into a big sofa and dumped his laptop on the floor. And he could use a cold drink. He browsed through the menu, tempted by the variety and the pictures. Finally settling on one of the cold coffees. Not that these places would call it that. They seemed to think that it wouldn't sell if it didn't have a fancy name.
He rolled up his shirt sleeves, settled himself more snugly into his seat and looked around. Mainly couples everywhere of course. A few chatting away earnestly, one playing coy eye-contact games, a couple who looked like they were trying to ignore each other. The whole world had found a mate it seemed, he thought cynically. There was an after-office group too who seemed to be in high spirits. Thank God its Friday, he thought. He looked away not wanting to let work-related thoughts seep into his mind even unknowingly. To his mild surprise, there was also a group of elderly uncles and aunties. And not the hoity-toity kinds. More like the parents of somebody one knew. They looked like they had wandered in here by mistake and were making a brave attempt to go with the flow. The crowd, the music (popular English numbers from the 90's!), the menu (sandwiches for Rs.150), it all seemed to perplex them.
People watching could be an interesting and diverting sport he thought. He was well-versed in it, having spent enough time waiting in airports in his travels around the world.
His eyes drifted to the LCD TV that hung silently in a corner punished by the 90's music. An IPL match was on but his favoured team wasn't playing. He had just about checked the match score when the lights went off. A loud murmur rose from the crowd and fell just as swiftly. A power cut after all can happen anywhere and who in India is not used to it. When the lights didn't come back on within a minute, he heard a lady asking the waiter about it. The waiter made reassuring sounds.
The power cut had transported the restaurant into a different space. The place had huge glass windows on two sides and the darkness was partly lifted by the glow of streetlights that poured in through the windows. It gave the place a strange intimacy and anonymity. He was surprised to find that he liked it this way.
There was a mild breeze outside and he could see the shadows of the swaying trees on the walls. He felt lulled by the hushed whispers, the tinkling of glasses, a womans' laughter...somebody was sharing a funny story and he was an unwitting listener too. He caught a flash of golden. It was the drink on a stranger's table glowing amber amid the surrounding darkness and silhouettes. He was struck by the visual wishing he had his camera with him then. He thought, not for the first time, about the beauty one finds in unexpected places.
The side doors swung open and a girl entered. The lights came on almost immediately. The girl seemed a little taken aback by this and a little bemused. She had beautiful kohl-lined eyes and the hint of a smile hovered on her lips. She was scanning the crowds...looking for her mate, he thought.
Just then his cell phone burst into song. He told his friends where they could find him.