He was late, as usual. She was on time, as usual. They met in front of Stop Over in Ballygunge Phnari, for he could barely afford a trip to Dhaba, not on his weekly frugal pocket-money.
It was an autumn morning. She looked different in the salwar-kameez. He could not take his eyes off her arms.
Girls should not be allowed to wear anything other than school uniforms.
It would take an abrupt movement of her arm for the dupatta to slide down, he knew. He could not help but gaze at her bare arms with a longing so intense that it could stop time.
They did not meet in front of Kwality, where the entire gang met once a year, on Shoshthi. Kwality was for the world. Stop Over was theirs. Dhaba was sacrosanct.
The kameez was orange and yellow. The salwar was redundant.
It was about her arms, arms that would last only till the dupatta slid down as soon as she would do that adjustment thing girls do.
The dupatta rested dangerously on her shoulders.
They crossed Hazra Road, past that Arnica-Plus billboard, and went over to Dhaba.
That night he learned that dreams were not monochromatic. They sometimes came in bright shades of orange and yellow.
He had walked home that day, and the day after, till he could afford another day at Dhaba.
Dhaba, as he knew, had two sections: the non-AC ground floor, where three students shared one ‘side-dish’ with staples; the other, the air-conditioned first floor, where couples ordered soft drinks with their meals.
He had graduated from Stop Over to Dhaba, but not from non-AC to AC.
She had not graduated from orange and yellow. She never would. She never will.
They had graduated to sitting next to each other inside Dhaba. Sometimes he wished they had not. He got to see her eyes less. But there was her perfume, the tingling of something as she reached out...
Was it for real? Or did he imagine that tingling?
She snuggled up to his stubble. The waiters in Dhaba did not object. They had stopped noticing them for some time now.
He knew the waiters by name. She insisted they still used ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
A rogue, he was. Orange and yellow, she was. Bright, very bright, even indoors.
They did not go to Dhaba that weekend. Or next weekend. Or the one after that. They had upgraded themselves.
The waiters did not notice that the weekends became less orange and less yellow.
Dhaba waited for them. Or she probably did not. She was probably too busy catering to others as one Kolkata evening followed another, as Kolkata walked by her.
They gave Dhaba a complete makeover one day. He and she did not get to know till they passed by one evening.
That Tuesday, when she did not feel like having home food, they decided to go back to Dhaba.
The waiters did not acknowledge him as when placed their order at the counter and waited outside. She did not insist they wait in the non-AC section.
I was wrong. They had gone to Dhaba. They had not gone back there.
He was logged on to Facebook when he noticed a share: Dhaba had closed down.
He tagged her. She tagged him back in the comments section with “memories.............,” followed by a sad-smiley.
Both of them hovered their cursors on the Like button, and clicked on the Sad icon. Then they went into a heated argument on Facebook, defending Dhaba’s authenticity as a dhaba furiously with lesser mortals.
And life went on. Just like that.