Coffee Shop Stories… | Sunday Observer

Coffee Shop Stories…

7 February, 2021

Rain over Coffee:

Part 1

“Whenever I watch the rain.” That’s what I said to her. I smiled when I said it. Not mockingly. I had no thoughts like that. Wasn’t to make her feel bad. It was more like a smile that sought to tell her I was releasing myself from all the great unspoken hopes that I had that went nowhere. But not with any bitterness. Didn’t say it or make a smile that hinted bitter feelings lurking deep inside. It was more I think, yes, I think I can say it was a smile that said I had made peace with myself about what was never to be, but that I still wished her well. Sincerely. Sincerely I did and still do wish her well. And it’s true, what I said to her. I meant it. ‘Whenever I watch the rain’.

I can tell you about the first time I took her to coffee. The first time we had coffee. Yeah, coffee. Yes, but quite technically speaking it wasn’t ‘going for coffee, coffee’ in the real Colombo culture sense you know. Not ‘coffeeing’ in the true sense of how people have coffee. The Science Faculty canteen of the Colombo University is no coffeehouse after all. And here’s the other thing that you may not know. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but they didn’t have any coffee there either. Yes, that right. No coffee in the canteen.

BUT!... We had coffee there! Yes, I made sure of that. It’s not that I couldn’t afford to take her to a latte or a cappuccino at McQueens Café on Duplication Road, which was just around the corner. And back then two good coffees could have been doable for under four hundred bucks, easily. Not that four hundred bucks was chicken feed for me back then, when an undergrad. No not really. But still, quite doable. So, two lattes at McQueens Café was certainly doable under four hundred. After all for a girl like her, I’ll surely bust my savings until my debit card is as useful as a used payphone card.

Oh, by the way, do payphone cards still exist? I mean seriously, are they still around? The obsolete street payphones are still seen here and there once in a while in lesser revamped parts of Colombo. Ghostly relics of the era before the universal right to cell phones dawned in Sri Lanka.

Remember how it was back then? Payphone cards. As schoolboys my friends and I used to pool money to buy a phone card every month. It was a collective pocket money enterprise for the sustenance of our early teen romances. Oh man, those were the days. Mid 90s. Cell phones were only affordable to the kind who could shell out seventy five thousand rupees without batting an eyelid for a black plastic brick with an antenna jutting out from its head. Nope. No cell phones for us schoolboys of the 90s.

So yeah, we used to pool money and buy a phone card each month and every one of the five in the clique was entitled to use it to make two phone calls each week to the girlfriend. I mean each to his girlfriend. Not that the five of us had one girl in common. Just giving you a bit of clarity on the matter in case that sounded like how I thought it could have otherwise sounded! Yeah so, it was quite a spectacle I’m sure to anyone who passed us by.

A clique of five boys in their mid teens crowded around one of those yellow payphone booths on the street making successive phone calls. We had our designated days of the week and time slots. Most of the time it was a case of each just starting a conversation with his girl for like twenty seconds and then the boisterous jibes and jeers start from the others hanging around.

The girls knew it was very much a ‘collective affair’ as far as phone call romancing was concerned. It was the fun of it really. The reason we did the whole pooled payphone card scenario was because two guys were not on the phone and the rest of us simply had tyrannically strict parental supervision at home that was not at all conducive for calling girls. Fifteen year old boys were not supposed to have girlfriends. That was that. But it made it all the more fun. Yes, no denying that.

The love letter writing in school while lessons were going on in the classroom, and then plotting course to deliver it at a prearranged time and place afterschool, timing exactly the right moment to hand it to her, making sure no one sees the letter delivery happen, say like being seen by her sister or a cousin, or worse, a teacher from her school! That would be curtains! Being seen in the dirty act of accepting a letter from a boy! Oh yeah, those were lovely times.

So, our payphone card pact ran its course for about four or five months. We then realised it was not working out. I mean you really can’t have a real boyfriend–girlfriend phone call with four other guys hovering over your shoulder. Doesn’t go too well for long with the girlfriend when she can’t really begin all her confiding and problem telling to you when she knows four idiots are within a breath’s range of the phone receiver her boyfriend is holding so preciously to his ear. We devised other means gradually. Calling from homes of friends whose parents were hardly at home became the most favoured option. Especially if those friends were single and in awe of the fact that you had a girlfriend. The benefit in return was of course dispensing advice on how to approach girls and become a man yourself.

The advice didn’t always necessarily work out for them. Especially for one particular classmate who for some inexplicable reason thought the world of my advice and took it as gospel on how to chat up the girl he desired more than life itself.

His whole maiden romantic pursuit finally ended with him in hospital after the ceiling fan in his room proved incapable of bearing his body’s weight when he decided to hang himself using one of his mother’s sarees. The ceiling fan gave way of course and the mad bugger ended up with some fractures and serious head bumps after landing hard on the floor with the ceiling fan landing on him. Had some nasty cuts on him too. That brought a dramatic end to his pursuit of romance as a schoolboy and put a serious dent in the eyes of some about how solid my advice is when it comes to winning over a girl.

(To be continued…)