"Is anyone sitting here?"
I was at Raju's dhaba. If it were not for the large hoarding for a local aerated beverage, it would have been like any of the non-descript dhabas that exist on the fringes of colleges; maggi, chai and sutta were always a hit among the college going crowd – the menu didn’t really matter much if you sold those three; you had a nice business up and running. But it was the proximity to the college and the hostels, the cheap tasty food and perhaps Raju himself, that kept this one full of interesting people, streaming in and out each of them in their own little worlds.
I was about to reply when she pulled the rickety plastic chair and sat on it. The question was rhetorical then. I sighed and returned back to the second hand Tom Clancy paperback that I had picked up on the street the other day. This was another reason I liked Raju and his dhaba. He didn't mind if you sat for hours together having neither chai or coffee or any of the piping hot omlettes that his wife prepared in the kitchen.
I felt my phone buzz. I shuffled uneasily in my chair as I reached for the phone in my jeans, upsetting the metal tissue holder on the table which fell down with a loud clank. I picked it up and set it on the table only to find her eyes on me. I nodded at her for half a second as an apology, before pretending to be lost in my book, the thumbed yellow pages revealing its age. Now, with the book as a shield, I let my gaze linger for more than a moment. Her hair fell to her shoulders and the fringes looked new. She was definitely new to the place, a fresher perhaps. I was about to take a discreet peek again when I find her staring at me.
I stare at the pages for a moment, embarrassed, not reading anything in particular, hoping it would provide some inspiration for an perfectly plausible excuse in case she did ask, and at the same time impress the brown eyed girl that sat opposite me. I was in the middle of framing a five minute explanation of how much I adored modern art, and was once really good at sketching faces and I found her intriguing enough. I must have been really lost for her words startled me.
"I like the way you read."
"Huh?" I reply confused, still in a daze.
She takes the book from hand, flips it and puts it back in my hands.
I turn red.
chai - tea
sutta - cheap local cigarettes
dhaba - a roadside restaurant.