“Cheers” they chorused as the glasses clanked; the foam spilling over the brim and dribbling on to the stained table. A long silence ensued. It was not the pregnant silence waiting to burst, all along threatening to overwhelm with the contents it holds. It was more of a comfortable silence, veiling thoughts which changed behind them.
Four pairs of eyes stared at the amber gold beer in front of them. Each pair unseeing the liquid, but seeing with startling clarity, what they wanted to see.
“I had always thought that I could throttle any guy who got closer than an eight feet distance of her!” he said laughing, yet quite meaning the threat.
They were meeting for lunch. They were finally meeting the amazing guy, who would in all effect steal his daughter away from him, no wait, snatch his daughter right from under his nose. And he was ordered to like him.
“Dad!” his daughter exclaimed at his earlier joke. His wife slid him an unnoticed warning, in the form of an extra helping of the ugly egg pudding. But the guy had just smiled across the table, as if indulging a particularly tyrannical kid.
“You know,” he began again. His daughter rolled her eyes in obvious exasperation and his wife thumped her spoon down meaningfully on the table. But there was no stopping him, “when she was about five years old, she had fallen off her tricycle. She hit her head against the foot of the bed and the cut began to bleed. We rushed her to the doctor and every stitch that he put in place I was confused whether to gush all over him with my gratitude or punch his teeth out one by one, so that he might experience a little of the pain, my daughter was going through at that moment…”
His daughter had stared at him across the table, with a new expression in her eyes. She was finally beginning to understand what her wedding might mean to him. But the man had laughed. He actually had the audacity to laugh.
“Man this is funny,” he said. His daughter frowned at the man. He had just gripped his fork harder and with great difficulty not flung it across at him. “ the other time,” the man continued oblivious to the reactions he had evoked, “when we were shopping for you guys, she tripped over a loose stone and sprained her ankle. By the time we reached the doctor her ankle had swollen to the size of a football! The doctor then tested the ankle and every time he touched the ankle I had to restrain myself from reaching out and boxing the living daylights of the medico…”
“My sister does not like violence,” he said as he took in another drag of his light.
“She doesn’t like you smoking either,” the man had said. They were sitting on the bank of his favourite lake. He always came here, when the parents got difficult to deal with. This was his spot and he had brought him here. This man who thought he could waltz into his life and waltz out with his sister on one arm, he had brought him here.
“But I still smoke, does that mean you would still pick up a fight?” he said, smiling at his own smart mouth.
“No,” the man said, looking at something at the far end of the lake, “it means that ones of us loves her enough to respect her wishes.”
He crumpled his cigarette between his fingers and flicked it towards the water. They sat there for a couple of moments in a companionable silence. He then got to his feet and said, “Come on let’s go, its getting cold here.”
They got up and walked. The man then smiled and asked, “Is it too early for beer or too late for coffee….”
He watched as the man scooped two spoons of sugar into his coffee. “She likes her coffee black,” he said, as if attempting to inform him. He just smiled and sat back.
“Do you know why she likes it black?” he asked the man as he stirred his own coffee. It was his way of letting him know that HE was the newcomer and that he could not stop them from being friends. It was years and years of memories which bound him to her. He couldn’t break them by marrying her. “We had bunked college and were sitting it out in a café close by,” he continued. “She had the usual coffee and scooped out sugar into it. I told her that it is said if you have more than half a spoon of sugar in your afternoon coffee, the lords of coffee etiquettes curse you with an upset stomach. She had laughed at me. It was a cooked up story anyway. But that evening she did fall ill. And I felt miserable. She said she would take her coffee without sugar, so that I didn’t need to feel miserable anymore,” he paused and laughed, “I still think she did it because she believes that stupid tale and thinks no sugar is as good as half a spoon of sugar!” The man had laughed with him.
“Yeah,” he said, “ She told me that story. And I told her it was a nice traditional curse-tale , you know a family heirloom, stories across generations sort of thing, heck you could even tell it yourself! The coffee-curse story, the children will love it…
…there will be children. His grandchildren. And the man, his son-in-law would make a grand father. All because he know how to love and be loved..
…because he knew how to be there despite all odds
…because he knew how to be a friend.
They all looked up almost at once, to watch the newcomer. As if by magic, right before their very eyes, he was now family.