It was a cool, winter evening when Alan entered the restaurant compound, his usual hang out during the evenings. The place was only just beginning to fill up with people. Quickly, he occupied a table meant for two, kept somewhat at the centre of the compound, and placed an order. Nothing in particular occupied his mind. It was going to be yet another evening of yet another uneventful day, and he was to go back home soon.
Alan was a frequent visitor to the restaurant. He had recently moved to the city for his studies. With very little to do in the evenings, he loved to go out, experience new sights and sounds, and meet new people. It gave him more pleasure than spending time with his group of college friends. His mind yearned for stimulation. Meeting new people, visiting different places and encountering new things quenched his mental thirst.
The Internet too had just come into Alan's life at the same time. He loved the whole experience of typing website names in the address bar and watching web pages open up like a Pandora's Box. The flashy, attractive icons on the desktop, the progress bars, error messages, email accounts and mailing lists, all this excited him to no end.
Yet, something was amiss from his life. He was a young man in his early twenties, and like all young men and women, his mind secretly longed for his natural complement, someone to become a part of his destiny; his girl. It was too early for him to think of marriage, but he longed for a companion. To tell the truth, he was more prepared for a physical union at this time than a relationship.
His shyness had always been a big hurdle in the way of interacting with the opposite sex. He was also a far cry from being muscular. Add to this his own doubts on entering into a relationship while his career and future life were still undecided, and the combined result was a young man pulled in various directions by unfulfilled desires.
It was in this state of mind that Alan often went out during the evenings, in particular this restaurant situated at a walking distance from his residence. The restaurant served only snacks, drinks and confectionaries, and was a popular hanging spot for young boys and girls who came from all over the city for a quick bite. It was neatly divided into two parts, an indoor cafeteria that kept food and drinks, and a compound outside with multiple rows of tables that could seat nearly 15 guests.
Alan had taken up a chair facing the cafeteria, with his back toward the compound entrance, a position he felt to be secure and comfortable. The restaurant was now abuzz with noise and activity, and he had barely begun sipping on the milkshake when a young girl came over and occupied the seat opposite him.
Her extraordinary fairness caught Alan's attention. She appeared to be in her late teens, and had come alone, probably waiting for her friends to join her later. Her head was covered with a woolen cap, right upto her ears, which gave her a rather odd appearance for a girl of her age.
They took a few, quick glances at each other, and soon a small conversation broke out between the two.
"Hi!" said Alan.
"Hi!" replied the girl, with a short smile.
"Do you come here often?" Alan asked her.
"No, only of late. I am waiting for my friends," she replied.
They looked at each other and smiled. She soon understood that Alan was alone, and was looking for friendship. He told her where he studied. She told him about her interest in spirituality, something that Alan only vaguely trusted. She asked him if there were books on the subject in his college, to which he replied there were a great many.
"So, where do you live?" Alan wanted to know more about her.
"In the city!" she replied, trying to evade the question.
"Where in the city?" Alan persisted.
"Somewhere in the north!" she still evaded him.
They chatted for a while, and in the middle of her speech, she lowered her head, looked into Alan's eyes, and shaking her head on both sides, said with a grim voice:
"And I don't enjoy sleeping with men in bed."
Alan was aghast. She was straightforward, almost pointblank. He thought perhaps she had had bad experiences with men. He looked at her and smiled briefly in response to what she had said. She looked dead serious on this, as if she had gone through certain experiences.
He thought and tried to say, "Well, all men are not alike," but words choked in his throat.
It was nearing time for her to go, as her friends had arrived at the place. Alan invited her to visit his college and check out some books on spirituality. She acknowledged with a smile and left, bidding him goodnight.
A few days later, chance brought them together again at the same restaurant. She was attired in similar clothes, with a warm woolen cap covering her head upto her ears. She appeared relaxed, smiled a lot freely, and was in good mood.
Taking the lead, she greeted Alan and began to chat.
"You know, I went home after a long time!" she said in a mildly elated voice.
'So was she not staying at her parent's home?' Alan was a bit shocked.
"And I spoke to my mamma, after a very, very long time!" she informed Alan, appearing to be happy.
'So, she was not on talking terms with her mother for a long time?' Alan's thoughts were going to explode.
It was time for her to go. She got up and before leaving, turned around, and with a look of concern in her eyes, said, "Bye, take care of your studies, do well in the exams." Alan acknowledged, looking all the while at her.
Alan visited the restaurant several times, and on one occasion thought he had seen her with her friends. He wanted to know more about her and her life, and her problems. His thoughts were on fire. She was young, fair and beautiful. Barely out of her teens. What could possibly go wrong between her and her family? There was this whole world out there for her to enjoy and cherish, at her age. Alan never met the girl again, and his thoughts soon gave up on her. After completing his studies, he returned home and soon forgot the incident.
Almost a decade later, the girl he met in the restaurant is now a vague image in his thoughts and memories. A chaotic interplay of fate and circumstances brought two strangers together for a while, and took them apart, like two leaves pushed into each other by the gushing waters of a river. The currents of life meanwhile flow uninterrupted, as they always will.
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