“Satan wears many guises. At times, Satan is the singer of a lurid song you hear on the radio. At times, the author of a salacious novel. At times, the quiet man lurking in the schoolyard – asking your children if he might join their game. And at times, the maker of sweet things. Mere trifles. For what could seem more harmless, more innocent, than chocolate?”– Chocolat (2000)
How can a bland sad color like brown suddenly become so appealing? Come to think of it, we don’t really care for brown. As a lonesome color it doesn’t elicit any emotions or memories in us, does it? Unless we add a bit of gold to it, then it becomes alluring, mysterious. Like glitter on smooth tanned skin. Reduce the shade a bit, add a bit of orange or red, it becomes exotic. Like the colors of autumn leaves. Make it darker and deeper, it becomes irresistible, delicious. Like his favorite flavor of dark chocolate. At this point, he was very much aware of the fact the he was currently dreaming, and he was certain that he was talking to his own subconscious. His mind was conjuring up these vivid images. Yet the one that stuck with him was of a lustrous rich dark chocolate ganache being poured over an equally sinful chocolate cake. The flow of it was so seductive, that even in the state of deep sleep, his mouth was watering.
The fresh layer of ganache on the surface of the cake was so glossy, that he could see his own reflection and his awestruck expression on it. After a while, it somehow transformed into a chocolate filled abyss and beckoned the hedonist in him, tempting him to take the fall. Which he knew was a bad idea, but that feeling was growing more compelling by the second. Strangely, he felt warm and safe and electrified and exhilarated all at the same time while looking at it. The color of the most delectable chocolate. He could now smell it in the air, almost taste it on his tongue. It all felt like the biggest adventure waiting to happen. And he was breathless with anticipation.
“What’s next?”, he asks himself aloud.
“Next?”, an obnoxiously loud voice answers. “Next is you get your ass out of the bed and take me shopping, big brother!”
Wait a second. He knew this voice. He grew up with this voice. He both loved and hated the sound and the owner of this voice. His little sister. But what is she doing in his palais du chocolat? And is that the smell of his favorite hot chocolate? Yes. Yes, it is!
He opens his eyes abruptly, only to be greeted with the impish expression on the cherubic face of his annoying little sister, holding his favorite mug filled to the brim with the hot chocolate dangerously close to his nose.
“Are you crazy?!”, he shouts, startled by the steam coming out of the cup. “Get that away from me!” He was almost sure she wouldn’t hurt him. Almost.
“Is that my hot chocolate that I specially got for myself from Barcelona?”, he asks her, still completely out of it.
“Maybe.”, she says with her signature fake innocent expression, while trying to suppress her smug smile, as she takes a little sip from the cup.
“How did you get your hands on it? I had hidden it so well!”, he says getting more annoyed by the minute.
“You call storing hot chocolate powder in a jar labelled ‘Sugar’, hiding it? Oh, okay!”, she says, rolling her eyes at her older brother’s theatrics.
“What are you doing here? It’s what, 7 a.m. in the morning? It’s Saturday for God’s sake!”, he says, suddenly exhausted, flopping back on his bed, covering his face with his pillow. They were supposed to meet in the lobby of her hotel at 10.
“You know you are just tempting me to smother you with that pillow and finish off the job by doing that, don’t you?”, she asks, completely straight faced.
He slowly removes the pillow from his face, totally freaked out by what his little sister just admitted. “What?”, he says, slightly terrified by her now.
“I am just kidding, bro!”, she says while cackling like a witch that she was.
“You annoy me… So much!”, he says.
“Well I don’t have time for this. Why don’t you drag yourself out of the bed, get ready and take me to this farmer’s market you have been singing praises about for the last one week? Mum’s arriving tomorrow. Then we have to go look at the fabric for my wedding dress. I honestly don’t know why she is insisting on sewing the whole thing herself!…”, she talks fast, a mile a minute, while going through her checklist of things she needed to accomplish before she left for her pre-pre-honeymoon or some such monstrosity with her fiance.
He tunes her out after the first couple of sentences. Instead he goes back to the color he was dreaming about earlier. Why was he dreaming about it? It was so strange, yet he knew he had a very good reason for it. As his sister kept going on and on about wedding linens and color palettes, he rubbed his temples trying to recollect where he saw that particular shade of brown.
“…. so we have to visit her as well in her care home. By the way, you went out last night right? How was it?”, she asks him, while fluffing the pillows on his couch.
That’s when it all suddenly hit him. The pub downtown. The old fashioneds. The thumping music and strobe lights. The woman in the corner of the bar. Nursing a drink, observing the crowd with a judgmental expression, which he’d found amusing because he was doing the same. And then she’d glanced back and looked in his direction, caught him staring at her. When he’d smiled at her, she looked around herself, as if surprised that she wasn’t invisible. Which was puzzling to him at that time. Why she would want to be invisible? She definitely wasn’t meant to be.
He had noticed her when she’d made her grand entrance some time ago, all flustered and stressed out. She looked different though now, a bit more relaxed. Her lips had the brightest shade of red, which he along with many other men in the pub had noticed. But her whole body was giving the “back-off or I will stab you with the heel of my shoes” vibe, so they were all, understandably afraid of approaching her.
She suddenly looked down, as if she’d gotten a message. There wasn’t any, he was sure. He was well-versed with the typical avoidance tactics. She was obviously flustered by a strange man staring at her. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to stop. Instead, he willed her to look at him again. Right when someone bumped into him, surprising him. “I’m sorry man…”, the guy slurred. “It’s all right..”, he replied. And he immediately looked back in her direction, just as she was about to look away. They made eye contact again. And he smiled wider, a smile she reciprocated. But it was small enough and nervous enough for him to stop himself from leaving his perch and go to her. Buy her a drink. Have a conversation. He could sense her trepidation from all the way across the bar. So he settled for this weird game of staring into this beautiful strangers eyes, the color of which he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out.
After around fifteen minutes or an hour of this, he decided enough is enough. Just as she got a call and turned away to talk. He made his way to her seat. Was she leaving? He was confused. “I am on my way…”, he caught the tail end of the conversation. She sounded concerned, rushed, urgent. As she stepped off her stool, she tipped over. Maybe the couple of drinks she’d had were a bit much for her. He held her by her elbows, steadied her as she looked up at him. Bright, glistening, shimmering, golden, brown. Gorgeous big brown eyes. Alluring. Bewitching. Captivating. He let out a surprised breath as if someone had just punched him in the middle of his chest. What the hell just happened?
“Green. I was right.”, she’d said in a whisper. Too quiet to be heard over the din in the pub, making him wish that they were someplace quiet, alone. Where he could hear everything she said, even the shaky breath she’d just let out. But he’d heard her loud and clear.
“I’m sorry?”, he wanted to confirm if he’d heard her right.
“Oh! Nothing.”, she responded with a smile. Close lipped. Not coy, but full of secrets. A beautiful smile nonetheless.
For a few moments they just looked at each other. Forehead, eyes, nose, lips. Charting each other’s profiles, committing them to their memories. And before he could recover from whatever spell she’d cast on him, she said with a smile, “Thank you. And good bye.” And left. Leaving him staring at the doors through which she’d disappeared into the night and the city, long after she was gone.
After that he’d taken his time going back to his seat, utterly confused by the amount of grief he’d felt at losing his adversary in a staring competition. He was being silly, of course. So for the rest of the night he drank, one old fashioned after another. Until he was ready to leave the pub and the memories of this strange evening behind.
Which brought him back to the now.
“Hellooowwww…!! Anyone there?”, he finds his sister waving her dainty hands in front of his face as he slowly brought himself back to reality.
“Yeah. Yeah, I am here. Just give me a few minutes. I’ll take a shower quickly and get ready. We’ll go to the farmer’s market and get something to eat, okay?”, he says.
She eyes him suspiciously. They had the same eye color, but her eyes were bigger and greener and more striking than his. Which she took the full advantage of when she would use them to get herself free drinks at a bar. Green. Was that woman talking about his eyes? “Huh!”, he smiles, surprisingly pleased.
“What’s going on with you?”, his sister asks him. “You are smiling. And you are being very agreeable. And it is freaking me out. Did you add something to the hot chocolate powder before I came over? Anticipating that I will find it and drink it?”
“What? You have completely lost your mind! I am just gonna go and get ready. We will leave in 15 minutes.”, he says as he leaves the comfort of his bed to take a shower.
He finishes his morning ritual, in a weird trance like condition. He takes his sister to his favorite breakfast spot near the farmer’s market. Its a beautiful sunny day. The whole town has descended upon the market. Families. Little kids. People on bicycles. There is a little chill in the morning air. It’s early autumn, the leaves are changing colors. Violet. Maroon. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Brown. Gosh! It’s everywhere.
His sister decides she wants to take a look around in the market. They sell everything here not just vegetables and fruits. There are carpet merchants, old record vendors and antique jewelry sellers. Which is where his sister gravitates towards. Fine by him, he can just go back to day-dreaming about his beautiful stranger. The rest of the morning is spent like this. The market becomes more crowded by the minute. They would walk a little ahead. His sister would stop at a vendor, pretending to be interested in whatever they are selling, striking up random conversations about the weather and climate change at one point. He would tune her out, and go back to thinking of her.
“You are becoming a little obsessed man.”, he thinks to himself, rubbing the back of his neck.
It happens when his sister spots yet another “vintage jewelry seller” at a distance and pulls him in that direction, and from his reverie. A little surprised, he follows her when a little boy comes running through the crowd, he holds up his and his sister’s joined hands to make way for him, looking in his direction. “Where are his parents?”, he thinks to himself. Right then, someone collides with him on his side.
“Ooof!”, the new person says, as they go down. He instinctively bends down and holds their arm to help them up, realizing that its a woman. She shakes off the hair covering her face and looks up at him. Shining brown eyes. Wide with fear. And he… He feels as if he has finally plunged into the abyss from his dream this morning. His heartbeat slows. His breathing becoming shallower. “It’s you…”, he says, too quietly. But she somehow hears him, like he did last night. And her face transforms softer somehow, with surprise and something else. Something he understood well in that moment. Because he was sure he had the same expression on his face. The “Oh! There you are.” expression. And just like that he knew she was thinking of him the whole morning, the same way he had been thinking of her. They both smile at each other.
“MOM!!!!”, a little boy comes flying from the other direction towards them and crashes into her, hugging her mid-section, as another woman joins them. “Your son is pure devil my friend!”, she says, out of breath.
He removes his hands from her arms and looks down at the boy. Bespectacled. Dark hair. Brown eyes. Just like his mum’s. He looks back at her, a little taken aback. And notices that her expression had gone from soft to stern, open to closed. Completely transforming her into this new person. She looks down at her son and says, “You scared the shit out of me, young man. Don’t ever do that again!” He notices that she had changed into a mother right in front of him, her voice firm, her face somehow looked older, wiser. He ignored the fact that she had just sworn in front of her young son. The boy didn’t even flinch so it must be a regular thing in their household.
“Sorry mommy!”, the boy says with a puppy dog eyed expression and crooked smile. “Wow! The kid is good.”, he thinks to himself. Because he could see how this melts her right there in the middle of a busy market.
“Thanks for chasing him down!”, she says to her friend.
“No problem darling!”, her friend replies.
Then all of them look at him. And he is made aware of his presence.
“Thank you for helping. Not letting me fall down.”, she says. All sense of familiarity between them now extinguished. He feels weirdly bereft.
“It’s not a problem.”, he replies. Searching her eyes for something. But she doesn’t give him anything. She just nods her head once and leaves with her entourage.
He keeps looking at her retreating form, longingly.
“Who is she?”, his sister, whose existence he had completely forgotten about, asks. He doesn’t know how to answer her. The only thing he knows is this feeling of deep loss, as if something pivotal had happened to him and now was walking away. As he is about to turn away, the woman looks back. They make eye contact like the previous night. And she smiles at him. The same secretive beautiful smile from the night before. And mouths, “Thank you!” Turns and walks away.
And he feels as if he’d just won something. Ecstatic. Victorious. Triumphant.
“She is…”, he starts saying but then stops. He still doesn’t really know how to answer his sister’s question.
“You don’t need to tell me. I know. I understand.”, she says. He is stunned for a few seconds by his sister’s empathy and when he glances back at her, he sees an expression of camaraderie on her face that he had never seen before. They smile at each other.
He puts his arm around her neck and hugs her to his side as they make their way into the maze-like market. His thoughts never far from that moment, from the eyes of that stranger, from the feel of her skin in his hands. Warm. Silky. Like honey. Like melted chocolate.
“So, are you going to find her?”, his sister asks him later, when they are sharing a cone of churros.
“What do you think?”, he asks her back.
“I think you should. This doesn’t happen everyday brother. It’s once in a lifetime. This chemistry, this connection.”, she replies, completely honest and confident. “But only if she wants to be found you know. If she doesn’t, you leave her alone. Okay? I don’t want to be known as the sister of a stalker.”, she helpfully adds while stuffing a giant piece of churro she’d just flicked from him.
He laughs lightly and says, “Yeah, I’ll try my best.” Letting her have the rest of the churros. He was suddenly feeling quite magnanimous.
She looks a little shocked but then quickly gathers herself together, and finishes off the rest of the churros with a gleeful expression.