‘One Tall Americano, please,’ she said to the guy at the Starbucks counter, and looked around while she waited for her coffee to find a good spot to seat herself for the next two hours until her boarding time . When the Americano was ready, she picked it up, walked over to the sugar and cream counter and added half a spoon of raw sugar and did a weird swish-swoosh with the flat, wooden stir stick for a good 20 times to ensure the raw sugar had completely dissolved in the coffee. She would have continued the stirring if she hadn’t realized that the person waiting behind her was looking close to being angry.
The only empty table was the one near the sugar and cream counter and although she would have preferred a better table, she decided to take it. It was way better than not having a table to sit at all in a busy Starbucks at Terminal B in the Newark Liberty International Airport.
She hated this airport. But her work forced her to travel to Paris once every three months and the company she worked for always flew her through Air France with an inevitable connecting at the Newark Airport. And it always had been from Terminal B. For seven long years now. Today was no better than the first time or the 21 other times she had stopped at EWR. It had never been easier. The Starbucks, the escalator, the little Mexican restaurant that had really bad food, nothing had changed since then. Except, probably her heart. Oh and of course! Now she had also learnt how to drag her cabin bag along with her on the escalator without awkwardly tripping over the bag.
She looked at the table that she had been seated at with him on that fateful windy day in March, seven years ago. She tried to gulp down the painful knot she felt in her throat. It wasn’t easy. It never had been.
‘Break-ups are never easy, Siriya,’ she heard her friend say. ‘You cannot expect to meet each other in the morning, have lunch at noon, catch a romantic movie, walk together in the park that evening and then, joyfully say goodbye to each other and call it quits.If break ups were going to be that pain free, two people in a relationship would never see a reason to break up in the first place.’
Siriya looked up, both angry and sad. ‘Don’t call me Siriya. It’s such an odd name. Could you not just stick with Siri for once?’
‘Okay, Siri,’ her friend continued, ‘if you have decided to break up and if you are choosing to do it in person because you need closure, whatever that means, then suck it up and go through with it but it’s not going to be painless.’
‘I know,’ Siriya said, biting the nails on her left hand and frantically tapping the finger from her right on the table. She was clearly confused, you could tell. Whether she was doing the right thing, you had no clue.
She waved to him when she saw him at the airport. She had a five hour layover at EWR while she was flying to Phoenix and had decided it was the perfect duration. Not too long, not too short to go through with it.
He hadn’t changed a bit. He stood tall and had a plain face, like he always did. If you looked at him, you could never tell whether in his head he was singing a romantic song to you, or if he was so angry with you that a volcano was erupting right inside him. So this windy day in March, when he had come to meet her at the airport to break up in person with her, she couldn’t tell if he was upset or angry or both.
‘Let’s go upstairs and sit. There is a little Mexican place there. Maybe we could grab a bite?’ she said. She walked towards the escalator and he followed behind her. He was peculiarly more silent than normal. Of course, he had a reason to be.
She tried to put her cabin suitcase and her foot on the escalator at the same time and nearly tripped over the suitcase. Embarrassed, she turned towards him. Now usually, if she did something this silly he would mockingly laugh at her like she’s an idiot, but today, he just smiled and told her, ‘You need to put you feet on there first and then drag the bag along with you onto the next step, not onto the same step.’
They went up, got lunch and sat down. He stared at her without touching his food. She could feel his stare right through her. She could always tell when he was staring at her and when he was not. When he didn’t move his gaze for a long while, she looked up from her food and said, ‘Eat your food. It’s not that great but…’
“I’m not hungry,’ he interjected, even before she could complete her sentence.
‘See, I’m wearing my Harry Potter shirt. I know it looks too big on me but this was the only size they had,’ she smiled weakly, trying to lighten up the mood.
‘I know what is on your mind, Siriya, just say it. The ordeal is not going to turn into something happy just because you prolong it with small talk.’
This was him being curt. This was him being his usual self. But when he called her out by her full first name, she realized that although he hadn’t said it, he was hurting inside. If she peeped into his head, she would have found him curled up in a corner crying profusely.
‘I don’t think it is working anymore. I really love you but I have come to see that we are very different people now. We probably were different to begin with, but everything is falling into a realistic perspective nowadays. We both have always been emotionally very attached to each other but somehow we seemed to have been travelling the same path at different emotional levels at different points of time. When I was crazy about you, very needy and clingy in the beginning, you were balanced. And now, when I seem to feel emotionally stable, you have turned into me. The long distance, the time zone difference, convincing our parents, these are what we are always fighting about. We are trying to concentrate so much on having one good phone conversation without having a fight, and that makes me wonder, if we are trying too hard to stay in this relationship and failing at it, is it possibly cause we may not be in love with each other anymore? You have mentioned that your friends think we are not right for each other, so have mine, may be they have a point?’
‘If this is what you perceive, then I think you should reconsider. I am willing to cross certain boundaries I have laid down for myself if that means having to be with you. Why are you even doing this to me? Don’t you want to give us a chance?’ He was very composed even as he said that.
He had never spoken that way. It was his way of saying, I love you. I truly do. We both have our egos but we can work this out. I cannot imagine a life without you. I may not be as expressive as you would like me to be but no way on earth does that mean that I love you any lesser. I am impatient, yes. But that is me, just like you are immature. Give us one chance, just one chance is all I ask from you. You know that I haven’t loved and will never be able to love anyone the way I love you. You are the reason I smile from my heart. Without you, I will be miserable and shattered.
But he never did utter those words. She waited to see if he would say them at least today. But he never did. And she tried to understand him for that, but she really could not. She needed a man of many words and in his opinion, certain things were best left when unsaid and rather felt.
Those five hours were going to be longest hours of her life. She felt foolish for thinking that she had timed her break up and assumed that meeting him for one last time would bring her closure. He continued to stare at her, taking his eyes off her face only when he blinked.
‘Let’s go downstairs and get some coffee. I saw a Starbucks downstairs,’ she said, standing up and trying to break the silence. He nodded. When they walked towards the escalator, the drama repeated again, and very oddly, he smiled weakly again, gave a detailed explanation of how you mount yourself and your bag.
He was being rather nice to her today. Why was she breaking up with him, again, she wondered. She tried not to confuse herself. She had thought about this for weeks now, her friends agreed with her, she was making the right choice.
‘One tall Americano, please, the name is Siri,’ she said, as they reached Starbucks. She turned and looked at him with raised eyebrows asking him what he wanted to drink.
‘I don’t like coffee here. Their beans are over roasted,’ he said.
‘No, try my order. I’ll make it the right way for you’ she smiled meekly hoping he would smile back. They picked up the Americanos and walked to the counter to the side. She picked up half a spoon of raw sugar, put it in his coffee and stirred it for two whole minutes, saying, ‘You need to add raw sugar and stir it until it completes dissolves in the hot coffee. Or else the raw sugar settles down at the bottom and even if you try to blend it in later, it tastes weird.’
He said nothing. He took the coffee, sipped it and she couldn’t tell if he liked it or not. Just like she couldn’t tell if he loved or hated any of the gifts she had bought for him. His face was expressionless.
They walked around the airport for a little longer and he suggested they walk into a gift store. She saw him buy something. For a second, she wondered if it was for her. Immediately, she shrugged her shoulders and laughed at herself. He never buys gifts for people. He isn’t that kind of a person.
Here and there, in their conversation, he indirectly asked her if she was sure about what she wanted from this relationship. It was almost like he was begging her to reconsider. They talked about when they had initially started dating and about how both of them skipped dinner every day just so that they could save some money to call each other on the phone. Cellphone calls were expensive those days. She remembered telling him that here AT&T allowed unlimited talk time and they could talk all night if they wanted to without having to go to bed on an empty stomach. She thought about how technology brought them closer while their hearts distanced themselves from each other.
She stood at the Gate as the boarding started. She looked into his eyes for the first time that day. They looked hollow and sad, very, very sad, like there was no life in them. She immediately hugged him, tight. He did not hug her back. He simply stood there, as if he was electrocuted. After a few seconds, he moved his right hand forward, as if to wrap his arm around her, but instead, put a small bag in her left hand.
She was angry that he wouldn’t even hug her back. She knew he hated PDAs. But for god-sake, this was probably the last time she was going to see him. She clutched the small bag he put in her hand tightly and walked into the gate before turning back and waving a goodbye to him. He stood there like a rock.
She sat in her seat and hastily opened the bag. It was a magnet. It said, ‘Someone who loves me very much went to New York and got me this magnet.’ She started to sob uncontrollably and kissed the magnet.
It had been seven years. Over the first three years after the break up, she had dated two guys. Both the guys had been great, but she somehow never felt as passionate about them as she had felt about him. It wasn’t them. It was her. It took her two years of wasteful dating and another additional year to realize that she will never feel the same about anyone else in her life. And that she was still in love with him. She was in love only with him. For her, it wasn’t about moving on, she just didn’t want to be with anybody else. It took her a really long time realize that when she broke up with him, that day, in this very airport, a part of her had broken too. So broken that it rendered her heart impossible to be crazily in love with another person. But when that realization had hit her, it had been too late. She learnt that he had moved on.
She missed him, terribly. It hurt her because she couldn’t go back to him. She missed his expressionless face, his wide palms with really long fingers, the smell of his silky hair and his large, deep eyes that always looked like they wanted to say something to her but never did. She missed the way he….
She shook herself to reality. She washed down the painful knot in her throat with a large gulp of coffee, wiped her moist eyes and looked into her handbag. She didn’t have to look keenly or for a long time to find it, the magnet. She took it out, caressed it fondly and planted a kiss on it. Whether he still lived in New York, she did not know. Whether he still loved her, very much, she had never had the courage to find out.
She then suddenly became aware of her surroundings because she thought she heard her name being called out at Starbucks counter where you collect your drinks. That’s odd, she thought. Nobody has her name. It was such an odd name, Siriya. Like her parents wanted to name her after a country and misspelled her name instead. She liked being called Siri until the stupid iPhones stole that joy too. She now preferred Siriya. So when she heard the lady at the counter scream, Siriya – Hot Chocolate and Pat – One Tall Americano, she was curious to see the co-owner of her name.
She watched in awe as a little girl, clearly at least 5 years old, ran forward and picked up both the glasses and walk towards the sugar counter right next to her table.
‘Daddy, one half spoon of raw sugar, stir until it completely dissolves, while it’s hot, right?’ she screamed loudly.
‘Yes, darling. Now hurry up or else we will miss the flight.’ she heard a familiar deep voice. The one that she frequently heard in her dreams every now and then.
She turned and looked at him. He stood tall and had a plain face. He was busy looking at his tickets. The little girl ran up to him proud of her coffee achievement, he took the coffee from her into his left hand, held her with his right and walked hurriedly towards the escalator.