The line moved by just two feet in the last three-quarters of the hour, or so it seemed. He did everything to keep himself occupied. Pinging all the friends he had invited to join him in the Saturday morning ritual. Refreshing Facebook incessantly. Logging onto the iPhone app which provided some solace in the form of nearby headless torsos. But at the end of it all, it was just a lonely wait in the line.
Interestingly, he knew by now that none of his non-replying friends were going to join him in the line. But he continued on. Not because he was hopeful the new set of text messages would do the trick, but because the guy in front of him was worth the watch. Endowment wasn’t an issue. Neither was the smile. Losing that oversized jacket wouldn’t be a problem, but for now, all that Edward cared was a perfect rear view.
Edward decided that when the friends of the guy in front of him arrive, he would leave.
By now Edward focused completely on the dreams he was weaving. From long walks to lengthy talks to starry nights to windy afternoons to peaceful siestas to raunchy Saturday live shows to serene beaches. Someone just jerked him to reality.
As Edward woke up from his daydream, he realised he could finally see the front of the guy in front of him. He was talking, but Edward couldn’t hear. After jolting himself to reality, he muttered, “pardon”.
* * *
The sweetness of honey would have had to compete in here. Well, Edward was a hopeless case.
* * *
The guy in front repeated himself, “my friend can’t join me now, and they have a table for two available. I see that you are all by yourself as well, I was wondering, if we could get a table together, I am starving”.
Edward was expecting to be still in a dream. It was impossible for this thing to be really happening. Why would a stranger propose something as bizarrely romantic? How could the stars align perfectly on a chilly Saturday morning? What might be the divine plan behind this random occurrence?
While he pondered answers to those self-asked questions, he replied, “sure”.
They were shown their way to the table in the farthest corner by the handsome host. Or so seemed everyone around Edward. By now he had come to realise that he was probably still in bed and all this was an early morning sweet dream. He played along.
Reaching their table, the guy in front finally ditched his oversized jacket revealing a perfectly fitting t-shirt. Removing those sunglasses revealed impeccable ocean-blue eyes. And the gesture to pull the chair out revealed the flawless strength. Edward advised his head, ‘it’s a dream, remember’.
He once again spoke, “I hope it’s cool with you. I am starving and was in no mood to wait any longer”.
It was still not sinking in. It was neither Hollywood Boulevard nor Beverly Hills for cameras to be rolling, so it couldn’t be a movie scene. Once again Edward’s senses were numb. All he could muster this time, “no problem”, at least they were two words.
He continued on, “cool. So, have you been here before, what’s good here”, and all the while flipping through the menu card. The waitress arrived.
“Good morning gentlemen, what can I get you two?”
“What do you recommend?”
“Our famous bottomless brunch mimosa with freshly squeezed juice!”
“One of those then”.
“And for you sir?”
Edward answered, “Just the freshly squeezed juice, no ice”.
“I will let you guys decide on your order while I get you your drinks”.
There was silence again. Edward was still in a dazed phase, trying to read the menu card while figuring out ways to make his brain believe it was all real.
* * *
If it was a dream, he can’t be hurt. It’s his dream after all.
* * *
Edward extended his hand and said, “I am Edward”.
“So sorry man. It’s so rude of me. I am Andrew”, and the hands met. The touch of flesh made it sure it wasn’t a dream.
Edward looked at the menu and pointed out items that are famous yet not good.
Andrew asked about the other items which read well but wasn’t sure if they tasted as good.
They made up their minds on their orders just in time for the arrival of juices.
“That’s indeed a good choice!”
“Thanks to Edward, he helped me pick”.
The smiling waitress left with the menu cards leaving behind no reason to continue on the conversation.
“Where are you from?” asked Andrew.
“Two blocks from here”, and Edward was silent again.
“I am visiting from New York City. Been a busy work week with no time for anything else. All I could do was visit the Golden Gate Bridge at midnight. And I am leaving first thing tomorrow morning. Decided to have an early morning brunch and hit the streets with my friend. But she’s stuck at her office even on a weekend and looks like it’ll have to be a lonely stroll on the streets. What do you do Edward?”
The look on Edward’s face could have been a study material for the physiognomy student.
“I work in the Silicon Valley”, and the trademark silence again.
“Cool”, and even before the next sip touched his tongue, he continued, “It’s a nice city. Not as fast as Manhattan but running along. Cold mornings even in summertime. How long have you been here?”
It seemed that Andrew was trying his best to keep the conversation going, by always ending with a question. Edward by now felt bad that he was being a bad host to this visitor. To be truthful, he was just flabbergasted with the turn of the events. Though that was no longer an excuse to keep away from the reality. It was time to face the prospect. And so Edward marched on.
“Mark Twain once said that the coldest winter he experienced was the summer in San Francisco”, Andrew chuckled at this reference and Edward took the cue and went on, “it’s actually pleasant today. It’s been a little over half a decade that I arrived in this city. It can run as fast as Manhattan but prefers to tread along. That’s how we roll in California”.
They both smiled.
Edward felt good about the ease with Andrew. He wanted to continue on the conversation. Though there was no question on the table to pick up from. So he decided to frame a question, “what brought you here?”
“I work at a finance start-up in Manhattan and our potential customer is based in San Francisco. I am here as part of the song-and-dance team to get them on board and the whole week was pretty much putting it together for them. Hopefully it’ll convert for the good”.
“All the best for that”.
“Thanks man. It will be good for the company”, and before Edward could say anything, Andrew announced, “Oh, here comes food, come to daddy…”
Edward put up a faint smile and received his plate. Maybe it was the ambiance but the plate and its content were pretty eye-pleasing.
For a while, there were no spoken words. It was all munching and gulping. Someone was really starving.
When half the plates’ reached their demise, Andrew spoke up, “that feels so good. I must say it was worth the wait. And thanks for taking me up on my offer. This could not have happened in Manhattan. For San Francisco”, and he raised his glass. Edward chimed in, clunk his glass and sipped on.
When they were almost at the end of their plates’ contents, the waitress returned with a suggestion of the special dessert. Though there were two yeses, the unison of their timing made it sound like one big one. Probably a spark was popped somewhere, the happy waitress left.
By now, both seemed to understand the fact that unless one of them broke the silence, it wouldn’t end by itself. This time, Edward decided to take the first step. He wanted to enquire about Andrew’s plans for the day.
“What are your plans for the day?”
Edward was shocked to see that Andrew was a mind reader as well!
“My friend is not available today, and it seems you have been in the city for a better half of the decade. I was wondering, if you are available, how about show me around your San Francisco?”
Edward wasn’t sure how to respond to the offer. On one hand it was straight out of a dream sequence, on the other hand it was presumptuous that he wouldn’t have anything better to do. On one hand it wasn’t going to be bad to spend the day with a handsome guy like Andrew, on the other hand what if he was a sweet talking jerk. On one hand it wouldn’t hurt to have a gorgeous company for an otherwise lonely day, on the other hand there was no other hand.
The dessert was better than what the waitress had built up.
When the bill arrived, Andrew snatched it up, slid his card and thrust it back to her. And seeing the question mark on Edward’s face, he answered, “My treat”.
Andrew was courteous. Another checkmark in Edward’s long list.
“Where should we start from?”
“Since we are close by, it’s time for a quick walk to the Union Square. Then we can decide further”.
“You are the boss”.
Edward was back to his original more logical explanation of the turn of events, it had to be a dream.
San Francisco didn’t seem prettier before. It wasn’t pleasant before. It wasn’t sunnier before. It wasn’t friendlier before. It wasn’t San Francisco before.
Andrew was an avid photographer. Even with his smartphone, he knew the accurate angles and the vivid colours. He was adept of the right moment of the shutter.
The more they walked around, the better their comfort grew. Edward was no longer defensive nor was Andrew a jerk. There was a camaraderie between them.
Edward offered a great view of the city. And Twin Peaks wasn’t as cold. It was an overwhelming hike and based upon both their calorie conscious brunch, it wasn’t a great idea. But neither of them expressed any visible signs of gasps. Just the wows of the views. Edward slipped in, “fancy an ice cream?”
They made their way down to the famous Bi-Rite creamery. Another famous place so the ritual began: the line was half a block long. But the wait wasn’t bothering much. Most of the time was spent viewing the photos interspersed with light humour. Ice cream was good enough. It was better when they tasted each other’s.
Andrew enquired, “Isn’t there a place without a line?”
“Oh yes there is. And it’s quite interesting too. Though we need to walk there so that we burn off this ice cream in time for the next one!”
“Lead the way”.
Edward was elated. Andrew was not only handsome, sweet-talking, courteous, playful, pleasant, kind but also spontaneous. Edward was starting to understand what cloud-nine meant.
By now, Edward was inclined on spending as much time with Andrew as possible. So he purposefully took the longest route possible to Smitten. On the way they passed through the murals and trees and the winds of San Francisco. As they say, the company defines all. Edward himself found things previously hidden amidst the fog.
There was no line. Not because it didn’t figure in the famous list. But because it only took a few seconds to conjure the creamy potion. It was satiating, especially after the long winding walk. And with the sugar rush, there was more walking on the cards.
Edward observed out loud, “We had our lunch at Bi-Rite and dessert at Smitten. Let’s aim for dinner at Ghirardelli. You game?”
“Aye, Aye Captain”.
Edward would have kissed then and there. But of course, he knew better.
The walk through the Hayes Valley, parts of the Fillmore District, Japan Town, Marina District, Columbus Avenue…
It didn’t feel like much time had gone by, but then Einstein’s explanation of his theory of relativity was true for a reason.
It was almost sunset time as well as dinner time. Russian Hill, North Beach, Pacific Heights… were drenched in the floating yellows of the withering summer sun, still shimmering at its best.
A thought crossed by. Andrew announced, “Let’s quickly order an ice cream, go there”, pointing to the nook in the waters, “and watch the sun set”. By this time Edward had decided not to waste any time putting his brain to work. So they rushed to the counter, ordered the to-go triple-chocolate-sundae. And then dashed to the nook.
To the world, they were the long-lost lovers, chasing each other, playing the game. It never occurred to the universe that they were just two strangers, comfortable with each other, open to the vibes, riding the waves and totally into the idea.
They were just in time. Though there was more time for the dying sun to breathe its last. They sat down pounding hard warm breaths and trying to calm down to witness the spectacle.
The tall Golden Gate Bridge with the backdrop of the dancing golden ocean, the flickering breeze with hints of fog, the sun was still debating about its death.
Then, the horizon was devoid of the burning ball with just the remnants of the shine.
A hand held the arm. Edward cozied up. The hand wrapped on. Edward snuggled in. The darkening skies, sparkling city lights, cooling winds, disappearing bridges, chirping waters, melting cream, closing distance…
Eyes were gleaming at each other. Breaths were mingling with each other. Noses were making a beeline for each other.
The fog horn blew.
Eyes were gleaming at each other. Breaths were mingling with each other.
The fog horn blew again.
Eyes were gleaming at each other.
The fog horn blew again.
(First published in summer 2014 release of trikone under the name mohammed shaik hussain ali)