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A single lamppost lit the empty street. No one else for as far as I could see. The rows and rows of houses stretched on forever. Windows shut, door bolted, lights off. If not for the sheen of the cars parked in front of some of them, you could have told me that no one lived here and I would have believed you.

As my steps carried me, one after the other, the echoes of them hitting the ground was the only sound disturbing the silence of that night. My watch told me it was ten minutes past ten, but otherwise it seemed as if time had frozen over. As if I had walked into this suspension beyond the realm I inhabited. Death was in the air, and impermanence seeped through my mortal skin.

And there, jutted out in this landscape of hollowed life, was the glow of a defunct signpost. The words C-A-F-E shone weakly, a dirty yellow glow marking the glass that no one had bothered to wipe in a long time. The light on the name didn’t work, and in that darkness I couldn’t really make it out. And thus it was in that café whose name I never knew, in that place I never walked through again that I had my first rendezvous with him.

A thin layer of dust hastily cleaned away seemed to have coated the chairs and the tables hidden by the dim lights overhead, ones that managed to light up only the tables with the space between them left in darkness. It was as if the entire space was floating on emptiness.

There was a lone girl, late twenties, at the counter. And at first it seemed like there was no one else in there besides us. She was the one who came in to take my order and passed them on to someone I couldn’t see hidden away behind a door.

It was in the moment that I looked around waiting for my coffee and sandwich to arrive that I first saw the guy. He was on a seat beside the window looking out. The light fell on him strangely as if being sucked in, a shadow unable to be lit. You could see the contours of his coat but not exactly the man wearing it. The table in front of him empty, and his attention outwards, waiting. His eyes even though I couldn’t see felt like they were present everywhere but at that moment his interest lay on the road that passed beside the window. Something I couldn’t see seemed to be guiding my attention onto this guy. His outline and his presence in that café. My eyes fixated, my breath unsure. I couldn’t bring myself to look away even though it felt like the very act of looking at him felt like I was trespassing onto something I had no business with.

It could’ve been a minute, it could’ve been fifteen, I don’t remember now. The girl came back with my order and broke this trance I had been suspended into, my gaze lost on this guy. One who seemed to be paying no attention to me, but somehow I knew that he was aware of my presence, and my intense gaze on him. I sipped on the coffee and ate the sandwich at leisure, tasting it as I gently chewed it down but my mind was still fixated onto that seat beside that window.

The door creaked with the force of someone who didn’t seem to have any patience to get in and broke my reverie. I looked, and a heavyset man walked in. Mid-forties, Specs that seemed like they were a size smaller than what would have fit his head. A man not really mindful of the space around him, as he dragged out a chair and sat himself down on it.

I looked back the guy beside the window and his gaze had shifted to this new entrant. And now I could see hints of his face. A rather plain one, something that you would easily forget. Expressionless, he stared at the man for quite sometime. Then he resumed looking out the window, only to return his attention back to the guy, when the girl came back with his order.

It was as I was winding myself down with my last bite, that I heard the man choking, gripping his specs tightly with his free hand. The man by the window was now standing beside him. And in that moment I knew, I was the only person in that place who was able to see him. That was the reason why there was no food on his table. For them, he was not there. He just stood there looking at guy on the chair who had now dropped his specs and was clutching at his heart and then at his neck, I realized the man beside him had no intention of saving him and just like that I knew who I was looking at.

The girl, alarmed by this choking man, came rushing in but by then the chair he was sitting on lost balance and went down along with him. I was too frozen on my seat to move, but I already knew that it was no use trying to rush. This man on the ground, with his specs now shattered beside him was already dead.

And it was at this instant, when I just realized about the death, that the stranger shifted his attention. He looked in my direction and he knew. He knew that I was seeing him. And what seemed like a smirk flashed across his face. And I understood the message he was trying to convey to me.

We will be having another rendezvous, him and me. But that time, I will be the one he would have come for.

Ashwini Udgata

27 November, 2023



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