You’re no longer listening to the long-lost friend you’re meeting today. You’re, instead, looking at her.
Unlike many other lone inhabitants of coffee shops, she’s not reading or pretending to read while she waits for someone. She’s not fidgeting with her phone either. She’s just sitting by the window, looking outside, sipping coffee from her cup, enjoying it almost as though it were her last.
You have never seen a sight so rare. You can’t stop staring.
She’s not conventionally beautiful. She looks so commonplace, forgettable, even. Her skin is the color of coffee, not so celebrated in a fairness-obsessed country. Her greying hair’s a mess, too. She’s beautiful nonetheless.
You wonder who she is, and why she seems so, well, battered. You move your chair a little so you can see better. First, your eye rests on the printed blue saree, the golden hoops that hang from her delicate pink ears. Then, you notice a tan line on her ring finger, and a scar on her cheek. An ugly divorce from a cheating husband, perhaps? Or an abusive partner? She seems extraordinarily calm. Maybe it isn’t that complicated and she’s just a confident woman having coffee by herself. But that doesn’t seem right. There’s something off about her, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
She grows aware of a pair of eyes burning the left side of her face. She turns to look at you, and your heart stops beating. She looks away almost immediately and lifts the cup once again and stares at it for a long time.
Then, it dawns on you. It’s the way she holds the cup. Sure, you know plenty of people who don’t hold the cup by the handle, but this one’s different. She’s clutching the cup so hard, her fingers seem tired by the effort. You know what this means. You see her and this is beginning to scare you.
You panic when she pulls out a small piece of paper from her bag and a pen. She begins to scribble, and your heart starts thumping in your chest. So loud. You know exactly what she’s writing. No, no. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve been there. Don’t do it! You may not have chosen this life over the one you wanted, but it’s still a beautiful life. But she keeps writing, her jaw clenched and her fingers taut. You almost jump out of your chair to stop her but the friend wants your attention now, but he can’t have it. Not now. You explain, and he laughs at you, but you don’t care. You have to stop her while she’s still here.
Suddenly you realize she isn’t, anymore.
The piece of paper lies on the table, unattended. You run to the table to read it. But it isn’t a suicide note, only her name and phone number.
The friend calls out your name, and you wince. You should see the look on your face, he says, I wish I had a camera right now.