It was mid-January, an extreme winter month, and the clock had struck 12. I rubbed both my hands, took a deep breath, and jerked myself out of the office, hardly expecting a dense fog waiting to embrace me.
The morning was sunny, but suddenly the weather had something else in store: an earnest desire to excite our nerves, creating dizziness and mysterious surroundings. The air had gotten misty, and the earth was engulfed in fog, which was so low that it obscured the visibility of the tree trunks. This was enough to make our nerves rise, deviating our minds away from the office blues.
As I paced slowly over the road, my mind was occupied with deep thoughts, but my eyes were trying to look around, peeping through the dense surroundings and at the empty road, which otherwise would be very busy.
There was hardly any vehicle except for a few paddlers and cyclists trying to paddle in the least visibility. I was moving towards Royals Cafeteria, located at the corner of 5th Avenue. Here, I would often go to drink my favorite coffee and feel relaxed, and today was no different. As soon as I submitted my project to my manager, I had an intense desire for the luscious brew and its smoke. I was still feeling like the smoke of the brew was rising through my nostrils.
Royals Cafeteria is a small but beautiful place. It has a fairytale setting with a small French garden covering a few square meters and green-colored seating. Its pastel-dipped inner area serves an ethnic ambiance. It has enough sitting capacity for at least 50 coffee lovers like me. The place offers many different coffee flavors, along with experimental cocktails and Asian cuisine conjured with French essence. It is an absolute delight to be here.
The cafeteria owners are Mr. and Mrs. Rolls, a young couple of Portuguese origin. Both, if I could imagine, must be in their mid-thirties—a most hearty couple and quite cheery. Mr Rolls is short, with a round face and a slightly bulging stomach. He has a slight mustache, broad eyes, red lips, and fair skin, while his wife, Mrs. Rolls, is taller and slim with a dark face and sharp features. Even though she has a pointed nose, short eyes, and broad jaws, her personality looks distinct. With a slimmer body, hair tied in a bun, and a white and neatly ironed cloak, she would appear as an eighteenth-century maiden.
I had never seen the couple overexcited, getting hyped at anybody, or getting into an argument with anyone. They would always keep smiling and cheerfully serve their guests. Twice I left my wallet in the office, and in both instances, Rolls gave me coffee free for the bill to be paid later, without showing any grudges. Such was their personality that they could also very politely handle rowdy customers.
That day, it took me five minutes to reach the Royals, as I had stopped for a while in the middle of the road to see and marvel at the beautiful small shrub that grows at the corner where the footpath ended. This shrub looks very beautiful, adorned with pointed green leaves, standing alone but waiting to be admired. I would often stand here for a few minutes. I can’t explain what makes me so attracted to this plant! What surprised me was that this chilly weather also did not deter me from stopping and glaring at it.
After a few more steps, I reached my destination. The top of the property was covered with white smoke; it could be fog. There was no one nearby; on other days, the place would be very busy, but to my utter disbelief, this time it was giving off a ghostly look. As soon as I entered the cafeteria, I felt something strange. Exteriors had the same look, but this time chairs and tables were damp due to moisture, and the grass was also wet. Only two girls in their mid-twenties were sitting at the side table. A waiter whom I had encountered on several occasions was also in no mood to even nod at me; his face looked gloomy and pale as if he were fearing something.
“Did I reach the wrong place?” I thought to myself, maybe I made a mistake by coming today! But somehow, I entered the vicinity. A few youths were sitting around; I also sat on the chair that was placed in the corner, and a table was neatly laid out with a glass of water and crockery. I was sitting near a window because I wanted to look outside. A waiter approached me, and I ordered the same cappuccino, which I would often drink here. Rolls were standing towards the other side of the counter, but to my utter disbelief today, I could not see any smile on their faces; instead, there was a certain sense of gloom and fear. I wondered, “What had happened to them? I had never seen them like this before.”
Suddenly, I saw a dark shadow behind them—a strange and new occurrence that I had never seen before. I tried to look at it clearly; it appeared to be of a man. At first, I thought it must be a waiter or a helper, but I felt something fishy when I saw a gun-like object protruding from his belt. Simultaneously, the smell of coffee was touching my nostrils, so I concentrated on coffee. But soon, fear engulfed me. I again looked at Rolls; they looked paler, and then, when I turned towards the youths, I noticed they too had guns hanging in their side pockets. At that very moment, I thought of running away, but as I tried to stand up, one of the youths turned his face toward me. His eyes were burning like fire, which was enough indication for me to keep my mouth shut and remain seated where I was. No doubt the place had been seized. I shrieked!
One of the guys was wearing a black hat, so I could not recognize him, and the lights were so dim that one had to make an effort to see their faces. However, at that time, I had started shivering from fear. I could not imagine how many men were there—two or more. Several things were going through my mind like we were all kept hostage and being taken away with our hands tied at the back. “Do not lose courage,” I said to myself. As I was thinking of how I should get out of this mess and danger, I noticed an electricity point on the wall towards the left of the corner table. An idea struck my mind. In the flash of lightning, I raised my arms and switched off the lights, resulting in darkness around me, and suddenly a gunshot pierced through my ears.
I grabbed this opportunity, leaped forward, and picked up the cell phone that the terrorist had kept on the other table, which was opposite me but at a hand distance from those perpetrators. I touched the screen, and as soon as I was going to press the emergency button, the lights automatically turned on, causing my eyes to suddenly close and blink. Out of nowhere, a flash mob appeared with the unimaginable rhythmic sound of “Happy Birthday to You.” Amidst the colorful lights, I saw both the husband and wife now giving their usual smile, and in their hand was a bouquet of beautiful flowers, which they intended to present to me. Then I recollect, “Oh, it’s my birthday today, which I had forgotten.”.
Mrs. Rolls announced, “We knew that you were coming here, so we planned a surprise for you.”. You have always been very nice to all of us. And you remember that you also helped one of our waiters, Nick. He did not have sufficient money to pay his college fees, and you, without a second thought, took out all you had and gave it to him. It is all due to you that Rikkie is now doing very well. What we have done is a small token of appreciation from the Royals family, and we are so glad to have you as our esteemed customer.” Tears of joy had happened in my eyes, and there was no napkin around to wipe them. As I looked around, there were a few of my office colleagues and some strangers standing and cheering and applauding.
Mr. Rolls then raised his finger at someone; a man from behind the cabin, like magic, appeared with the beautiful cake, and the dashing gun was still hanging by his waist. In all this, I smiled at myself, anyhow, there was a cake-cutting ceremony followed by dancing and masti all that afternoon. I will never forget that day in January, which shook me, but in the end, it was the happiest moment of my life.