It had been, let’s see, twelve years since I’d last seen Navin? We had been classmates and what, in school, one fairly easily calls friends. Not that we got along particularly well. We were just there.
When I met him after all that time, I was sitting in my usual coffee-shop round the corner from my house, watching the street cleaners work their magic while trying to think of material for an article. Someone passed by the window, and then returned, blocking my view. I looked up and saw a familiar face, aged to adulthood, but recognisable in the way that comes after having spent five hours a day in the same room for years.
He looked bad. He was gaunt, sickly, and when he smiled at me through the window, the grin didn’t reach his eyes, which seemed to be confused about where he was.
We hugged, and I ordered him a coffee.
“To be honest,” he said when I asked him how he was, “not very good.”
I’d asked expecting a noncommittal ‘good, how about you’, but it seemed I was in for a slightly longer haul.
He wrapped his hands around his mug of coffee when it arrived, and carefully blew on it.
“You remember Chandni from the class below ours?” he said. I nodded. She had been good-looking. “We got married two years ago. She left me last week.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry, man.”
He waved it away, but then he leaned forward over his coffee.
“I don’t know what to do, man. She said I scared her. When she left, she actually locked me inside the house.”
Now this was delicate, but I had to ask. It was school gossip, even so many years later, and I could do with knowing. “Did you …” I said. “Did you do anything … to her?”
He looked at me, then he looked back at his coffee. And then, almost calculatedly, he looked out of the window.
I remembered Navin. Frustrated, lanky Navin. Sometimes led by his hot head, usually literally. There had been a weeklong period when we’d called him Iron Skull.
Now he looked defeated. “Why would she do this to me, man? I loved her. I never meant to hurt her, man. I mean, haven’t you thrown things about when you were angry?”
I was about to point out that I’d never thrown them at anybody, let alone at someone I loved, but I gave him a noncommittal look and sipped on my coffee.
His eyes teared up. “I’m not gonna fucking take this, man,” he said. “I’m gonna do something about it. I’m gonna tell her she’s gotta come back. And she will, you know? Because she loves me too.”
I tried to say ‘listen, man’ a couple of times, but he didn’t seem to be in the mood to do that.
“I have this, you see?” he said, pulling out a bit of paper from a pocket and waving it in front of my face. “This guy’s gonna help me out. And if she can’t listen to me, tough luck, bitch.”
And he got up. “Hey, Navin,” I said. “Let’s not do something harsh, okay? Just, try to chill.”
He looked at me, and I think in his head there was a smile on his face, but I’d rather not describe what it looked like.
“Thanks for the coffee, man,” he said without offering to pay, and he left.
“Navin,” I shouted. “Hang on.”
By the time I’d paid and got out, Navin was a long way down the road in a taxi.
“Navin,” I shouted.
He thrust his upper torso out of the taxi window, and waved at me frantically. Then he curled three of his fingers and pointed a straight index finger at me. He cocked an imaginary hammer, and then jerked his hand up. He grinned, and then he disappeared inside the taxi.