tagRomanceTears in Autumn

Tears in Autumn


It was getting colder. For this time of the year, it was only expected in this region. The days were devoid of sunlight; and in its absence, the breeze became chillier. A gentle brush of the breeze was enough to send shivers to her body. How much had she disliked the weather; she knew in her heart. She kept this to herself, as with all other thoughts in her mind. Almost all; except for her imperfection. She flaunted this imperfection by joking about it to those who felt empathy towards her; to others less inclined to bother; by stating it as a matter of fact. She never wanted anyone to feel obliged to do anything for her; nor did she want to conceal her imperfection; should it later turn out that others would reject her for her imperfection. It was a burden she bore. Yet, her lips curved slightly at its edges when she thought about how far she had come. She would have given herself a hearty pat on the back.

Just as these autumn days were devoid of sunlight, so was her heart. She longed; both metaphorically and literally for sunlight in her life. She found herself being indifferent towards her daily existence. She neither hoped nor expected a change of circumstance. She was living a very practical life based on logical reasoning. It kept her safe and nurtured her for the future; which was probably going to be the same as it was today.

In between breaks, she had time to think a little about where this life was bringing her to. She had rather worked the whole time so that the opportunity to think was not a barrier which she avoided on purpose. She acknowledged that the mind worked in mysterious and cranky ways. Every second she was unoccupied was the moment the heavy thoughts flashed to her mind. She did not even know what thoughts they were; sometimes they were so fleeting yet they hurt just the same as conscious thoughts.

Today was a busy day at the coffee joint where she worked. She was happy that she worked practically non-stop serving customers on the go mostly. There was the odd dine-in but their numbers were insignificant to the profit margin of the business. She was glad that she had a job at all. Most employers would have preferred an able-bodied barista. She had informed her employer, Mr. Radkin that she could only use one hand to prepare coffee. The other hand, regrettably, was of no use, as it had no ability to grasp or lift. Not since her accident ten years ago anyway. The only one time she had tried to drive after getting her driving licence ended up in a disaster where she was not at fault. She shuddered still when she thought of it. She thought it was obvious that Mr. Radkin could see that she limped when she walked on the left side; the same side of the hand which served only a cosmetic purpose. It was somewhat a comfort to her that she looked like an able-bodied person. If she were standing or sitting, no one could see that the left side of her body was crippled. That is, if she did absolutely nothing at all.

Mr. Radkin was both observant and diplomatic. He spoke in a kind tone, emphasizing that if she could make coffee and serve, that was all that was required. She said that she could and thanked him profusely for the opportunity. She did not however, dare say that he would not be disappointed as she was unsure of her capabilities.

She learnt the tricks of the trade quickly and well. The coffee joint was a hustle and bustle for many white-collared men and women of all ages. Its cosy atmosphere was heightened by its location along the banks of Comrade Lake, an artificial lake right in the centre of the business district. Banks, international businesses and service providers formed a periphery around the lake. Classy eateries and new-age cafes were the working places of freelancers seeking company in between bouts of creativity. Within all this hype, the emotional plagues of burn-outs, depression and all sorts of white-collar worker ailments manifested with the advent of being perpetually connected. Private life and working life were now intertwined as one. She noted that she was spared of the deadlines and quantity of work. Making and serving coffee was relatively easy and stress-free.

The wealth of the professionals working around here meant that they could afford all sorts of pampering and indulgence. A new wellness centre had just opened right in the middle of the lake. The developers thought it ideal that such centre be situated there as it amplified relaxation. However, it came at the cost of much dust, smoke and mess for the one year construction took place. They dug up a road right to the centre of the lake and built the centre there. It was like it was on an island in the middle of the lake. Within the walls of the wellness centre was a psychology, general health and dentistry department. On the highest floor of the centre was a meditation retreat centre.

It was due to this wellness centre that she became acquainted with Ron, a psychologist. He would often frequent her joint for black coffee in the afternoons when there were fewer crowds. Thus he was able to strike up a conversation with her. He noted that she was not very chatty and appeared disinterested in him. However he had wanted to chat, as his morning sessions were usually heavy with listening to patients. He just wanted to let go a bit of steam, and indulge in a regular conversation with people who had no issues he was obliged to solve.

He found her pleasant and polite. He never failed to say good afternoon to her. When she asked him how he was, he would normally reply with "could be better", "hectic" or "no time to have lunch." When she nodded and then said that she hoped the coffee would make him feel better, he smiled. Ah, as if a simple cup of coffee was all it took. Yet he kept silent. He then asked her how her day was, and she would give either one of four answers. He noted that she gave these answers over a period of one month. She was "doing good", "business was good", "it was a quiet day" or "everything is as it is." Normally he would nod and then wish her a good day before taking off.

Today however he decided to take their standard category-packed conversation a notch higher by trying something different. After all, it had been one month of stale answers. There has to be more to talk about, and also for him to try out something new.

"Would you like to meet up after work? There is an exposition at the art gallery. It is themed Coffee." He said.

This was right after she had said business was quiet today.

She did not answer and he continued speaking.

"Since you are a barista, I thought you might like it, and as you know, I'm a coffee addict."

He looked at her, lightly observing her reaction.

She bit her lower lip a little. For the shortest moment of time, she looked into his eyes directly, before giving her reply.

"I work till seven, and I don't think the exposition will be opened that late?" She asked.

He was caught off-guard as he did not think about the time and he chided himself for it.

"To be honest, I'm not sure. Shall I check and then get back to you?" He asked.

He had left his cell phone in the office, as he did not want unwanted work calls. With his phone, of course, he could have had all the information he needed at his fingertips. The marvellous thing called the internet where everything is reachable with instant gratification. That, he noted, was not representative of real life's situations, especially relationships and career. As a psychologist, he was self-aware that he did not observe what he preached. He told patients to be aware about being connected 24/7 as there is no such thing as instant gratification in real life, except he omitted to say - those involving reproductive organs. He was also practically glued to his phone; except for the thirty minutes a day when he went to the joint to get his coffee.

"Ok." She said.

Her large smile somewhat surprised him as she was normally quite composed when he spoke to her.

He wondered if he should ask her for her phone number or walk back to the joint to tell her what time the exposition closed.

She passed him his coffee and he said he would be back; thinking that perhaps she was a rather private person who would think that asking for phone numbers meant more than just the purpose of going to the exposition together. It did not have any romantic nuances to it. He simply found her tolerable, calm and she happened to be the only person he knew which he found mildly interesting during this short period of time who was not one of his colleagues.

When he went back to his office, he checked his computer instead of his phone, and found out that the exposition was only until five o'clock. So he walked back to the café; taking yet another ten minutes to get there. Good exercise, he thought.

She was busy serving other customers now and he heard her usual pleasantries. She did not notice him and was startled when she saw him again.

"Hi, I'm back. It's until five o'clock." He said.

"I'm sorry but I would have to give it a miss." She said.

He realised suddenly that he did not know her name but she knew his, as she wrote customer's names on their coffee cup when taking their order.

"It's ok. I should have checked before asking." He said.

She smiled a small smile, and asked if he could wait for a bit. He wondered why but said yes anyhow. He saw that she proceeded to make coffee, and then she passed it to him.

"On the house." She said.

"Is that ok with your boss?" He asked.

"It's ok with me." She said.

"Enjoy your coffee round two." She continued.

He grinned. So she did have an inkling of a sense of humour within her.

"Goodbye..." He trailed.

Almost immediately, he decided to do some talking.

"You know my name is Ron. May I have the pleasure of knowing yours?" He asked.

"Lily." She said.

"Goodbye Lily." He said.

He thought it suited her. Her surname would be "of the valley". She was after all rather private and looked down most of the time, just like the drooping flowers of the valley.


The next day, he was back at the joint during low-peak hours again. There was only one customer in the café when he arrived. He was an elderly man at a side table reading the newspaper.

"Hi Lily, I came to tell you that I did go to the exposition yesterday and I got a booklet for you. It's about the different type of coffee beans." He said.

"Thank you." She said, taking the booklet from him.

She looked at the cocoa bean cover and browsed through it quickly. She appeared engrossed in it.

''Would you still like to meet up after work?" He asked.

He did not want her to feel hurt as he had asked her out for an outing which did not materialize. Surely he could do better than that.

"My treat for round two yesterday." He said.

"That's not necessary, you know." She replied promptly.

"I would like to go out with you." He said.

She was not sure if he felt he was obliged to make up for yesterday. She felt she should decline.

"It's not that. Normally after work, I get hungry. So I go straight home for dinner." She said.

"Shall we then have dinner together?" He asked then.

She shook her head.

"Why?" He asked.

She was not sure how to answer. Her automatic reaction was to decline every invitation.

They both did not notice that the elderly customer had approached them.

"There's a new Japanese place at Fifth Street. According to reviews online, they serve the best sushi. Tell me if it's good. I'm thinking of celebrating my birthday there."

The elderly man spoke to Lily.

"Oh, I see." She said.

She turned to Ron and said, "Thank you for your treat."

Quickly she added, "This is my boss, Mr. Radkin."

Now it was Ron's turn to say, "Oh, I see."

Both men exchanged pleasantries and in between, had their gazes fixed on her. She felt a little uncomfortable with the attention.

At 7.00 pm, she closed shop and waited at the entrance. She saw him approaching from a distance.

"All ready?" He asked.

"Yes." She said.

She limped her way through. She was conscious that he observed her.

He wondered if he should hold her hand to make things easier for her.

"Shall I hold your hand?" He asked, out of concern.

She knew that she was going way too slowly. She could not go faster.

"I'm sorry that I'm going too slowly." She said, looking at him.

Instantly, she reached out to his arms and grasped his left arm with her right hand.

"Oh no, that's not what I meant. I just wondered if I could help you a little." He said.

He wondered if he had hurt her feelings.

She seemed affable and there was no way of telling.

Instead she replied, "We can go faster if I hold your arm like this." She said.

"...if it's ok with you?" She asked, now a little unsure.

Based on experience, some people prefer to just grasp her hand instead of letting her do the grasping. She knew by now that she found more support when she was able to grasp a person's arm rather than someone grasping her hand.

"I'm good." He said, nodding at the same time.

All along the way for ten minutes, they did not speak until they reached the new Japanese restaurant. It was crowded and it was difficult for her to squeeze through the crowd. She let go of her grasp on him. They were finally seated at the corner of the restaurant.

They were both pleasant and civil towards each other. She spoke in a quiet manner but when she spoke, he was intrigued.

"So do you like Japanese food?" He asked her.

She would normally either say yes or no, but now she somehow felt more relaxed with him. It was irrational but she did not think about it then.

"I'm not sure." She said.

"How so?" He asked.

"I like sushi, but only the toppings and not the rice. I like only the way it looks. It gives me great pleasure to look at it. Rolling up a sushi needs great craftsmanship. The sushi needs to be appealing to the eye. Honestly speaking, all sushi tastes alike to me. Instead, I am awed only by its colour and intricacies in its roll. Would you also consider it "like" when I actually find that all sushi tastes the same?" She asked.

After pausing for a while, she continued.

"Also, perhaps how much I like something with a full one hundred percent is only how much you like it with a sixty percent passing rate. We all have different scales from which we interpret the same word."

For a while, Ron was amazed. For someone who was normally suave and priding himself so as he spoke with patients almost every day, he was initially lost for words.

"I would think that as long as you can eat more than ten sushi in one sitting, it means that you do like sushi." He said.

"How about like from the stomach perspective?" He asked.

She smiled.

"Surely it all goes back to the eyes which see. The eyes decide if it's a feast worth having." She said.

"That's not fair to the stomach, you know. We ought to give it more credit." He said.

They both smiled.

Throughout dinner, they were loggerheads at each other in the spirit of being at ease and relaxed. They both had playful yet thoughtful banter. It was quite refreshing for the both of them. He enjoyed listening to her reasoning while he asked her side questions. He liked the way she thought and she liked the way he was interested in her reasonings.

After two hours of continuous banter and genuine smiles at great nothings, she realized that it was getting late.

"It's getting late. I have to go now. There is a train at 9.30 pm." She said, glancing at him.

"Let me drive you home." He said.

There was a very direct expression in his eyes. She did not know why he looked like that. He startled her somewhat.

"You're really kind. Thank you." She replied, then wondered whether she should accept.

She did not want it to become a habit. She did not want to dine with him anymore than necessary. She started feeling a little conscious that he might view her as a potential girlfriend or something like that. Or worse as someone whom he pitied and wanted to make her happy by taking her out.

"Where do you live?" He asked.

"Glenville." She said.

"And you?" She asked.

"Summersville." He answered.

"That's out of the way from Glenville. It's at the other end of town." She said.

"I'll take the train." She continued.

"I would like to be a gentleman. Don't tell me the age of chivalry is dead." He now said, looking at her.

"What about the age of feminism?" She queried.

He was silent for a bit. He did not know what to say.

"The truth is I enjoy your company. I hope that if you felt the same way, we could talk till the cows come home. All the way to Glenville." He said.

He thought it was better to be direct, and she looked like someone who appreciated directness.

She hesitated before she answered.

"Thank you very much for your kind offer." She said.

Once again, she grasped his hand. She limped while he walked at a slower pace. He was not quite sure of a pace which was comfortable for her. He felt that to ask would make her react in a way that made her seem a little too cool, at least from his observation earlier.

They both got into the car. The ice which was broken earlier seemed to have formed again. He wanted her to talk but he did not know what to ask. The first ten minutes, they were mostly silent. Their only remarks were on the traffic situation that night.

He realised that he knew almost nothing about her, except for her wider philosophies. They did not talk about personal stuff. She also did not ask him about his personal life, like what he liked to do, his family, job or marital status.

"My left leg and hand are pretty useless." She said suddenly.

"What?" He asked, not expecting her to talk about herself.

"I was in a car accident ten years ago. A truck hit the driver's side. He was a drunk driver." She said.

"I'm so sorry to hear that." He said, but in reality he was really mad at the truck driver.

"Doctors say that it would not heal. It would only get worse. It's a matter of time. It gets stiffer as the years pass." She continued.

She wondered why she ranted on like that. She knew actually. She wanted to deter him from associating with her. She was basically a liability as opposed to an asset.

He was silent, looking ahead at the road. She thought that at least he was now aware of the extent of her injuries.

"I am so sorry to hear about the difficulties you face." He said, turning to look at her for a moment.

Their eyes locked.

"What's there to be sorry about? I guess prevention is always better than cure." She said, as a matter of fact.

There was neither bitterness nor sadness in her eyes. It was just an acknowledgement of the situation she was in.

"So what do you do?" She asked.

It was the first time she asked him a personal question.

"See and try to treat patients with emotional issues like depression and burn-outs." He said.

She nodded.

"How do you treat them?" She asked.

"Each case is different. I work out the difficult emotions which my patients have. Sometimes we find aspects of emotions which the patient is not aware of, and sometimes it is by embracing an emotion that the issue is solved. Sometimes we have to let go too. I also give general advice like sport more, eat healthily or meditate. Those which you can find in self-help books." He said.

She nodded again. Then they were silent. Only the radio music could be heard. Some gibberish in both their opinions.

"Is there anything more you would like to know about my job?" He asked.

"What is the profile of your average patient?" She asked.

"Well, those in their mid-forties feature a lot. Single, female professionals working around Comrade Lake. These are women who work long hours at the expense of their personal lives. Men also have problems but it is the women who are more inclined to talk about them. That's why most of my patients are female. They start to wonder whether what they are doing is worth it after twenty years of working. It seems that they expected much more from life." He said.

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