Wrinkles in the coffee

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on February 02, 2018

Hot and cold: She buried herself in the menu and finally chose an almond croissant and vanilla milkshake   -  The Hindu

What Maya Saw Shabnam Minwalla Fiction HarperCollins ₹299

Green-eyed disdain walks into the scented, air-conditioned environs of a bakery

By the end of two hours, Maya’s arms were aching. Her head was spinning. She had acquired at least four wardrobe essentials — and a lot of inessentials on the side. About half the hawkers on Colaba Causeway had been informed that she was born and brought up in Colaba. They were also informed that Lola was not an heiress from America but an impoverished student. All in appalling Hindi.

‘I think I’ve spent all my summer holiday allowance in one go,’ Maya announced finally. It was the most enjoyable morning she had had in forever, but she was ready to collapse. The two girls staggered into the coffee-scented, air-conditioned environs of Theobroma and grabbed the last table. They took a few minutes to huff and puff and arrange their parcels.

‘This is like the best shopping I’ve done in a 100 years,’ Lola exclaimed. ‘Oooh. Look at those cakes. They look amazing.’

Maya laughed, but uneasily. The remark about 100 years made her think of things she would rather forget. She buried herself in the menu and finally chose an almond croissant and vanilla milkshake. Lola decided on a cheesy quiche, a Red Velvet Brownie and a cappuccino.

‘I really wish you’d got those lime green shorts,’ Lola grumped.

‘I feel a bit odd in shorts,’ Maya confessed. ‘My friend Priti always says I have blobby knees. Actually, I’m a bit nervous about the tank tops too. My arms are a bit skinny. Priti always says ...’

‘Maya,’ Lola said firmly. ‘Take a chill pill. Your arms are perfectly fine. I’m sure your knees are perfectly fine too. What doesn’t sound fine is your friend Priti. Basically, she sounds like a total hater.’

‘No, no,’ Maya protested. ‘Priti is just very frank. Oh good, our food.’

Lola rolled her eyes and then got busy shaking brown sugar into her coffee. ‘Has Priti told you that your eyes have the brightest sparkle? That your face is a perfect oval?’ she asked. ‘That your skin is the loveliest golden? Or that you have the naughtiest smile? That behind that prim, tight ponytail — that has to go soon — you are loads of fun?’

Maya blushed and started to defend Priti, but Lola shushed her. ‘I’m not going to change my mind. Priti is a hater. Now eat.’ Maya was a couple of bites into her flaky croissant when the door of the café swung open. A couple entered in a cloud of perfume and highlighted hair. The boy was wearing a tight white t-shirt and strutted in that see-how-much-I-work-out kind of way.

‘Pratik Purohit,’ whispered Lola, with all the triumph of a lifelong celeb-spotter.

‘No clue,’ Maya said, watching the beautiful pair.

The girl with Pratik Purohit had the polished, plucked look that belonged to a billboard rather than the dusty streets. She glanced around the noisy, crowded café with an air of entitlement. ‘All the tables are taken,’ she complained. ‘I need to sit.’

‘I’ll fix it in a minute,’ Pratik announced. ‘Waiter, how long will we have to wait? We really don’t have time.’

The girl raised an irritable eyebrow. She had startling green eyes and looked familiar. Maya felt sure that she was one of the cool, confident creatures who posed under the banyan tree at St Paul’s.


What Maya Saw Shabnam Minwalla Fiction HarperCollins ₹299

  ‘I’ve seen her at St Paul’s under the banyan tree,’ Lola said, echoing Maya’s thoughts. ‘She’s the one with green eyes who looks older than the others. Amazing yellow shoes. Bet they’re designer. Gosh, but aren’t the two of them snooty? Just listen to him.’

‘Waiter, can’t you do something? Do you know who I am?’ Pratik was yelling as he stepped into the path of a waiter carrying three tall iced teas. The glasses wobbled dangerously, almost falling into Maya’s lap. ‘You must have heard us the first time. We need a table. We need it fast.’

‘Yes sir, five minutes sir,’ the waiter mumbled. ‘If you just wait at side —’

‘You are asking me to get out of your way? You are telling me to wait at one side? Who is your boss?’ Pratik asked in a voice so harsh that the entire restaurant swivelled around to watch. ‘You are five seconds away from losing your job. You don’t tell Pratik Purohit to wait for a table — not in that tone of voice.’

The waiter stammered, ‘Sorry sir, I will ...’

‘Forget it,’ the green-eyed girl placed a perfect hand on Pratik’s arm, then turned to smirk at Maya. ‘Who wants to be here anyway? There are some really sad types here today. I mean, look at that girl. Like, pleated skirts went out of fashion some decades ago.’

Maya felt sick with mortification. She could feel 30 pairs of eyes stare at her purple pleated skirt. ‘Gosh,’ Lola’s voice came from far away. ‘What’s her problem?’

Maya looked up again at the girl with green eyes — and choked.

In slow motion, the perfect, porcelain face started to crack. A zigzag of lines sliced the smooth forehead. For an appalling moment Maya thought the face was shattering like an egg.

Then she understood what she was seeing. That impeccable face was disintegrating into a mass of wrinkles.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and the author of ‘The Shy Supergirl’. Her latest book, ‘What Maya Saw’, was published by HarperCollins in December 2017

Published on February 02, 2018

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