“It has been 17 months, hasn’t it?”
“Longer, it seems! How have you been? Where did you move to? Did you get the job you were after? I have so many questions”, Riya adjusted her tote bag as she spoke. She wore a black outfit today. Big golden earrings and a necklace made out of seashells. The cold evening’s wind made her curly hair sway gently. It wasn’t dark yet, and she could see the effect time had had on Pam’s face. There was something Pam wanted to tell her, so it seemed, something that she could not keep to herself.
Riya asked her again. Pam stood there silently, gazing at an old outgrown tree. Riya tugged at her shoulder. Finally, she spoke. “Should we go in?”, pointing to a cafe across the street. The cafe had a large wooden archway for a door surrounded by glass windows. The windows looked out on the street through a sparse cover of trees nearby. Riya nodded. Her eyes followed Pam as she turned around to go. Her gait was different, it was rather sluggish. Riya’s phone buzzed. She silenced it and followed her.
They sat at a table by the window. A dull grey glass separated them from a quiet road that occasionally had a hawker on it. The cold weather had made the evening bleak. Pam focused her eyes on the same old tree on the opposite side of the road. “Seventeen months”, she spoke softly. “They say it does, but time really doesn’t fly.” She played with the cutlery. The tablecloth absorbed all the sound. Riya was trying to make the head and tail of the situation. You meet your best friend after such a long time, such a desolate state is rarely what you expect. The cafe played a country song, and occasionally bells could be heard. A ding for an order served, read a sign by the counter.
Pam sighed. “Remember the good ol’ college days? This was the place we hung out all the time. Remember the time we spent talking about things, unwary of the world?”, she paused, “I’m sorry for leaving you the way I did. I had no other option”. Memories flashed by Riya as she tried to contain her feelings. Pam continued, ” I asked you to not visit him, did I not? I hated him. They way he treated me. I know you still do not believe me when I say this, but he tried to separate us. And not like I loved you or something, he didn’t even have a reason. He played with your mind”, Pam choked.
Riya sat indifferent. She contemplated correcting Pam, but she thought it to be an unnecessary effort. She had a vague feeling.
“Riya, on the night you first saw Chris, do you remember meeting me here and telling me all about it? You said your elder brother had introduced you two, and you felt as though you’d never be by yourself ever after. You talked about him all the evening, how he understood you as a person, how he complemented you with his traits, and finally how he could be the one for you!”,Pam said. Riya’s attention had drifted and she no longer heard Pam. Riya put her bag on the table. She opened it and pulled out a chap-stick. As she applied it, she looked at the contents of the bag. She always carried such a diverse collection of things. Stones, strings, dried leaves, accessories, craft paper, her personal journal, headphones , her scribbled notes and so on. Something felt weird. Why had Pam met her after such a long time, and why was she discussing something that happened in the past?
Pam stopped talking as the waiter arrived with two large coffees. Riya looked at the waiter and signaled him to put both of them down. He did so. Riya began,”Why today? I mean, why today! I have missed you for so long and you decide to show up after so long. What is it that you-” she was cut by a beep on her phone. She ignored it.
Pam began, “Do you not want to know why I left? I did not go looking for a job. I lied. I could no longer keep it to myself. I had to tell someone what Chris did to me. And I had to tell someone I am close to” Pam now stared into her coffee with narrowed eyes. “He..he locked me in a room. He asked me to not contact you. He kept me in that dark room for a day! He threatened me to not tell anyone. Oh his eyes, I dread them even today. And I did keep meeting you, only rarely. I was scared. And then one day..one day he found out about it and he…”
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? RUBBISH!”, Riya shouted at the top of her voice. A man on a table nearby turned to look. “You’ve been imagining things. He did nothing to you. Chris and I might not be together but I will not have you say a single word against him. He is always morally correct, added to the fact the he is a medical student. You and I have been friends for long but I will not stand you and your delusional thoughts” Riya finished with a sigh. Pam shrugged reluctantly, “I always knew you wouldn’t believe me. All I have to say is I have seen things, I have been on the other side, an
d you don’t want to be there. I cannot be more happy at the thought of you two not seeing each other” She handed Riya a piece of paper. “Read this when you want to”. Riya threw the paper that seemed to bear Chris’ handwriting in to the messy tote bag. “Later”, she said.
The conversation drifted to a casual topic. Hours rolled by. Riya was no longer upset about not having anything to do with Chris. She enjoyed the feeling of her friend coming back to her more than losing a guy she knew only for a while. They talked about stuff. Anger and longing dissolved into humor and joy. So much so that their coffees had went cold. Riya signaled the waiter to bring in new ones. Pam never talked to the waiter, and as Riya noticed, Pam hardly talked to anyone when they were together. Riya noticed her phone, that she had put on silent mode, vibrate. She asked Pam to give it to her as it had drifted on the far side of the table amidst the mess that girls usually manage to create in cafes. Pam ignored her and continued with her other hilarious stories that Riya thoroughly enjoyed. She burst out laughing on one or two occasions, loud enough to attract attention.
“Look son, that is what a schizophrenic looks like-“, said an elderly man sitting at a nearby table, with a finger pointing at Riya.