February 14, 2018.
Café Coffee Day, Ahmedabad.
Sohil pulled over his car at the parking and entered CCD - the largest café chain of India. His eyes scanned the entire space. Except for a single table, all the other tables had couples trying to make the most of the fleeting hours of Valentine’s Day. Sohil sat down and started reading the menu card.
‘Good afternoon, Sir. Happy Valentine’s Day. How may I help you?’ A waiter asked Sohil and gave him a red rose.
‘Hi, Good Evening, one Café Americano, please’ Sohil placed his order.
‘Sure sir, please be comfortable, it will be served in a while.'
‘Great.’ Sohil smiled back at him affably.
The ambiance of the place was fragrant with romanticism on account of Valentine’s Day. The walls of the cafe were decorated with red roses, red ribbons, and heart-shaped small red cardboards along with red-and-white heart-shaped balloons. He also read the three magical words ‘I Love You’ that were written on each cardboard, in different languages.
Among all the visible cardboard, his eyes took fancy of the one that had ‘Ana Bahebak’ written on it. It meant ‘I love You’ in Arabic. As the words crossed the space of his mind, a gentle flashback of his Dubai days went by. ‘Ana Bahebak’ was among a handful of words, which he learned during his stay in the city for six years. Romantic Bollywood tracks were being played.
CCD that day was spilling with couples celebrating Valentine’s Day. A young woman knelt down on her knees and proposed to her boyfriend for marriage. Everyone clapped once the boy said ‘YES’ to his girlfriend. Sohil, like most youngsters, believed women too should be forward enough to propose their man for marriage. He felt a shimmer of happiness blaze through him. However, as he turned his head, his eyes fell on a few men in corporate suits, seated at a table. He heard them discuss the stock market. At a distant table, a boy and a girl seemed to be sharing college notes and working on assignments.
‘Not everyone here is out to celebrate Valentine’s Day, then!’
Sohil took out his laptop from his bag. He switched it on and plugged in his pen drive. He made a new blank MS Word document and tentatively titled it ‘the second book.' He started converting a few plots he had in mind, into the form of a story. Proper sentences seemed to elude him at first. After a few moments of blankly staring at the screen, his fingers raced through the keyboard and he found himself writing a sentence that he had not contemplated. As words turned into lines and sentences, the writer in him started taking shape, brick by brick. He stopped, struggled and fought hard to bring around the right sounding words and proper sentences. Heaving a sigh, he pressed hard on the ‘backspace’ key and deleted a whole paragraph of seventy words.
‘Sir, your café Americano.’ The waiter brought Sohil’s coffee and put it on the table. While sipping on the steaming hot beverage, he revised the whole page comprising of 189 words, which he had been writing since the past fifteen-twenty minutes.
‘Excuse me, May I sit here please if you don’t mind? I couldn’t find an empty table.’ The voice of a girl took his attention off the screen.
The girl looked like a tomboy in black jeans, blue Man’s Aeropostale hoodie, and Casio G-shock watch. She had short messy bob cut hair with a right-sided bang.
‘Yes please.’, Sohil replied.
‘Thank you. I will not disturb you. I will just read a book.’ She said.
‘I just came here directly from my college. I study at SMPIC here. My sister took my vehicle today. I will leave once she comes to pick me. It will take almost one hour as she will be late from her office.’ She explained Sohil while breathing heavily.
‘Arrey baba, it's okay. You can sit. Be comfortable’, Sohil said.
She ordered an espresso for her. She put on her eyeglass, which had a design similar to Ray Ban Wayfarer collections. The minute she put it on, the glasses transformed her look from a tomboy to a nerd. She took out a book from the plastic bag reading ‘Crossword Bookstores.' After stealing just a glance at her, Sohil continued working on his story. The strangers got busy in their respective interests.
The waiter brought her espresso. With the coffee on a tray and not enough space on the table to rest it, the waiter stood confused. The girl and Sohil removed their respective items from the table and made space for coffee. Once the waiter left, Sohil noticed that she was reading I Too Had a Love Story. A real-life love story penned down by the bestselling Indian author Ravinder Singh.
‘You have good taste.’ Sohil said to the girl.
‘Pardon?’ She said and looked from over her glasses.
‘I mean you have good taste in books.'
‘Ohh. This I Too Had a Love Story? Have you read it?’ She asked Sohil.
‘Of course. I read it almost four times’ Sohil replied.
‘That’s great. This is my first reading experience in the ‘love and romance’ genre. Earlier, I would only stick to thriller and suspense novels’ she said.
‘So, what made you change your mind?’ Sohil asked.
‘My sister. She insisted me to try reading on the perfect occasion of Valentine’s Day. Huh!’ Her scoffing was not unnoticed by Sohil.
‘Okay. So, someone is not interested in mushy stuff, haan?’ Sohil said.
‘Hahaha. I had enough boyfriends before. But today I broke up with everyone.’ she chuckled.
‘Hein? What do you mean? Today is the day of love, not a breakup.'
‘I know. That’s why I have made new boyfriends today, just half an hour ago.’
‘I am not getting what you are talking about’, Sohil said and covered his face with his palm.
‘Wait. I’ll show you.'
The girl took out the complete stock of six books from the packet and laid them on the table.
“See, that’s my first boyfriend.’ She pointed at I Too Had a Love Story.
‘Here’s the second one, Can Love Happen Twice? By the same author.’ she said.
‘Yes. This one is the sequel to I too…’ Sohil said.
‘Haan. The salesperson told me.'
Sohil steered his gaze through the rest of the stock. The Fault in Our Stars, World’s Best Boyfriend, She Broke Up, I Didn’t, and Few Things Left Unsaid were displayed. The girl had grabbed the best of the lot in romantic fiction.
‘Amazing collection. All of them are nice reads’ Sohil suggested.
‘Have you read them all?’ She seemed curious.
‘Of course! I am an avid reader. Wait, till I will show you some of my girlfriends from the past one and a half year.’
Sohil unlocked his phone and showed a picture of his book collection to her. She was amazed. The picture showed a collection of around fifty books, all romantic novels.
‘I had no idea guys read! Especially romantic stuff.’ she giggled.
‘I have to read books as much as I can, so I can write more romantic novels’ Sohil said.
‘What? Are you a writer?’
‘Hmmmmm. Yes. My debut novel got published last year’
‘Wow! For the first time, I am meeting an author! I am stunned’.
‘Haha. Don’t be. I have published only one book till now. Still, a long way to go.'
‘Hmm. So is it a love story? No. Let me guess. Of course, you must be writing a love story, am I correct?’ She asked.
‘Yes.’ Sohil confirmed.
‘Wow. Can I have a signed copy of your book, please?’
‘Mmm. You are lucky. I have kept a copy in my bag today. I wanted to show it to the manager of Crossword.’
‘I want to ask him the procedure about selling my books through them. Anyway, I will show him tomorrow. This book is yours now’ Sohil said.
Sohil took out his book.
‘Shit! I forgot to ask, what’s your name, dear?’ Sohil asked.
‘Prerna. Prerna Sharma’
‘To Prerna the inspiration Sharma,
Keep reading more romance novels.
Sohil Ashvin Shah.
‘Here you go’, Sohil handed over his book to a girl who looked like a nerd, Prerna Sharma.
‘Come-Back-to-Leave-Me-Again. Hmm. Interesting name Sohil Sir’ she told him after reading the title and his name on the book.
‘Thank you very much. Please read and give me your feedback. My e-mail id on the back cover.’ Sohil pointed out.
‘Don’t call me Sir, I am hardly six or seven years older than you’, Sohil said.
‘Hahaha. Okay ‘SOHIL’, better?’
Sohil smiled and winked.
Both of them started discussing more books, literature, and about Sohil’s upcoming title, on which he was working a while ago.
Prerna received a call from her sister who was waiting outside. Prerna did her goodbyes and shook hands with Sohil before leaving. She paid the bill and left for her home while Sohil continued with his writing.
‘Never judge a story by its cover.’ Prerna thought as she rested her head on the bed. It was night and she was taking a prolonged look at the cover of ‘Come Back to Leave Me…Again’
'It's a love story as Sohil said, then why the little girl on the cover page? What about the man who is holding her hand? Is he her father? No, not possible. Sohil said it's partly his story and he seems too young to be a father of a four-five years old girl. Then who is she?’
She sipped on a cup of coffee and turned the book to look at the back cover. She read the blurb of the book. ‘Why does the love always seem beautiful in romantic movies and novels, but not in real life? Why should lovers not be in any relationship after they break up? Why do the ex-lovers always try to deal with damages instead of staying together? If you want answers to the questions, this book is for you.’
‘Fuck! This man is weaving a mystery with his words. I need to sleep; I must read the book with a peaceful mind’ She thought.
Prerna tried to sleep for almost one and half hour, but the cover page and the questions of the back cover could not allow her to sleep. She woke up, picked up the book and started reading. She could not hold back her curiosity anymore.
‘Mr. Sohil Ashvin Shah, I will kill you if you would fail to answer the million dollar questions!’ She smiled and turned the book to the First Chapter.