That’s how T said the word. I didn’t meet anyone before who would mention ‘coffee’ like that. But I heard about it. Two years back, when I was visiting my cousin from Rockville Centre, his landlady pronounced the word like that. My cousin told me. When I heard T, it brought back that memory.
“With or without milk?” I asked.
“Black” T replied.
I added some whole milk in mine. A smile appeared in my lips thinking had it been J, I probably would have to explain whole, 2%, 1% or fat-free, the number of spoons and the puffs of sugar. But T was simple. I handed him the cup. My white cup with cyan borders. He tried taking a sip but instead smiled and said, “Too hot!”, and then looked up at the October sky through the window.
The window. The only window in the tiny apartment. When I first found this apartment, I called up my real estate agent friend D in California and exclaimed,
“I finally understand how this works. More the number of windows, higher is the rent!”
D laughed and almost screamed “Yay! I’m so happy for you! You are finally in New York!”
Yes, I was finally in New York City. And from my East Village studio apartment, I could see the clean, bright, blue sky. I don’t think T ever saw the sky through my window.
The first time T was there, I was tired. We had brunch at the corner of 2nd and 7th, in a pretty and small Italian place. We walked to SoHo and visited the Leslie-Lohmann museum. After we walked back, I requested him if we could go upstairs to my apartment and rest a bit! At that point, T was not even ‘T’ to me, and nothing felt different. He was aware of my obsession with tiny apartments and he was telling me how he appreciated some of the interior design choices I made to make the tiny place look warm and welcoming. We sat at the small, green, mid century modern loveseat facing the window and drank Chilean cabernet souvnion.
Another time, before heading out to Brooklyn, as I finished changing my clothes and came out of the bathroom, I found him standing by the window and looking down at the courtyard. I think the spring flowers interested him. Or, perhaps he was looking at the fire escape. I don’t really know. But, as I think about that time, I resisted a strong desire to hug him softly, without breaking the moment, even though he was facing the window. And every time, I ask myself, “what if I did!”
T was an enigma. I never knew what he thought. For the first time, someone like me, who spent a lot of time training in sensing feelings of the atmosphere, developed emotional intelligence and applied them in communication with close friends and colleagues, was not able to read someone. To make it worse, T could finish my sentences. He took information, paid attention, connected the dots and expressed those in words as I started to explain. I think that’s what hit me so hard right in my gut.
I was very proud of my rooftop. The apartment office said it was not legal to go up there unless it was an emergency. Well, when my friends visit my tiny studio apartment and I feel the need to brag about looking at the Manhattan skyscrapers, it was an emergency! Everyone, no matter where they were from, always snapped pictures with their phones on my rooftop. Everyone, except T.
It was probably the second day T came to the city to spend the day with me. I met him at the tourist-flooded corner of 34th and 7th and we walked along Broadway towards lower Manhattan. He mentioned his family and his sister’s dog. I made him watch a Bengali art house film on my laptop in my apartment. We walked along the shores of the East River and ate Ukrainian food. And during dawn, we went up to my rooftop. He enjoyed the view. Most East Village apartments were pre-war like mine and they all were of the same height. So, you can see the one world tower as you look downtown. Similarly, you can see Empire State Building if you turn back. Instead of looking at these architectural landmarks, I did something for the first time. I looked up at the sky.
Right above our heads were seven bright stars. They formed a part of the Great Bear constellation. The part that looks like a question mark. And immediately, all the literary and romantic references, I read and wrote, started to flood through my mind. I started telling him the Sanskrit names of those seven starts and how they are connected to the North star which I’m named after. There was a beautiful moment, when even T, who never stops talking, was silent and I could only see the silhouette of his face. The Caucasian nose, the thin lips and the dark eyes. And I didn’t have the courage to reach for his lips.
I did reach for his lips another night. He was picking up a book I got for him at a literary event. He was standing at the corner of the street and looking around for me. I waved at him, crossed the street and kissed him. After a brief moment, he said softly, almost sounding surprised,
“What are you doing?”
That was my turn to be surprised too! If I remember correctly, just 2 weeks back, at a live music venue, he kissed me. After little bit of confusion, I kissed him back. That night, we walked in Bushwick, took the L train back to the city, ate street food at 3 AM in the morning sitting on my rooftop under the sky before falling asleep in my tiny bed. Was I dreaming all of these!
T reminded me of our neighbor’s flowering tree when my parents lived in the big house with garden at all four sides of the house, far away from the city. The tree was right across the fence of our garden. But it belonged to our neighbor. It would lean towards our side of the garden, drop its yellowish, white flowers during a very windy night. And yet it was not our tree. There was the fence. To remind me that it belonged to someone else. That occasionally, it would share its happiness with me. But I have to eventually learn to live with just that bit and not reach out to hug its broad, entangled, leafy branches.
In big apple, people have big heartaches. In big apple, Sarah Jessica Parker says “Meh! Move on! He’s just not that into you!” There are so many chance encounters and possibility of finding funny, kind and intelligent companions. But T wasn’t from big apple. T said “Cawffee”.