At precisely 2 in the afternoon, when the sun was soaking all the hydration from Saachi’s body, she gave the pushed open a wooden door that gave the bell overhead a tug. Even before she had let go of the knob, the chef greeted from behind the display of fresh-out-of-the-oven confectionaries.
“Hey, right on schedule! I’ve just baked a batch of the Danish.” Tanya, the owner of the tiny, hole-in-the-wall café flooded with natural light, untied the knots of her apron and glided to the door in her pale yellow dress to hug her friend.
“Hey, yourself! I need a quick cold coffee and I’ll be out of your hair,” Saachi answered as she took a seat at a table close to the floor-to-ceiling window that had the uninspiring view of the parking lot.
“Ha! This is the slowest time of the day. No one comes in before 5. Wait, I’ll get you some coffee.” There wasn’t much ground to cover—just one room where all pastries and breads where kept, a cash counter and a kitchen at the back that no one but the staff was allowed to enter (Tanya and her two helpers). The tall, slender woman with a pixie haircut brought back with a tray with a glass of iced coffee, four warm chocolate seasalt cookies, and a croissant, and set it on the table.
Sasha smiled at the woman five years her senior. Dressed in her comfort jeans and shirt with her hair in the bun, she looked like she was going to college, but her boss didn’t mind the casualwear. He was happy on the days she reported to work. The younger woman had 15 minutes to talk to her new friend who always had flour somewhere on her face.
“I love the foundation,” Sasha told Tanya as the two got comfortable on the armchairs.
“I’m not wearing—Oh wait, I got flour on my cheeks again?” Tanya asked as she tried wiping off the marks with her left hand that had burning marks on at least five different places. Baking incident.
Sasha gave her a toothy grin and feasted on the chocolate treat. “I have precisely 10 minutes to spare.” She took a sip and then another mouthful.
“Why are you always in such a hurry? For once, you can sit back and enjoy it.”
“She’s timing me.” She told her in a conspiratorial tone.
“What? Who?” Tanya enquired curiously as she buttered her croissant.
“My mother.” Sasha answered settling back against the chair again. Two down, two to go, she thought as she counted the cookies. No wonder I have gained two kilograms in the past two weeks since I’ve met her.
“She times you?” She asked horrified.
Looking at her wide-eyed expression, Sasha had to keep the cookie down. It was comical. “Yeah, she watches the clock like a hawk after I leave for home.”
With a laugh, she continued, “I work for my Dad, just around the corner from here. He doesn’t need me; he has 10 employees that can do what I do way better, which is basically answering some emails and basic marketing for this catering business. But we are indulging each other until I find a better way to use my MBA.”
She paused to take another sip while the older woman with a degree in hospitality and five years experience at a five-star sat nodding her head.
“So anyway, it takes my dad precisely one hour and 23 minutes to make the drive from Hauz Khas to Sohna Road, where we live. Now consider these two things: He leaves at 7pm in the evening and drives at a speed of 50 even on the highway.”
“But what does that have to do with anything?”
“It takes me 45 minutes to make the journey.”
“I only come to work for four hours everyday. I leave after lunchtime and it’s light traffic. And let’s face it, I’m a faster driver.”
“And your mom has a problem with that?” She thinks my sweet mother is a cantankerous old fossil, Sasha laughed at the thought.
“I wouldn’t call it a problem. It’s more like an obsession. The moment I leave home, my dad calls my mom because it is grilled into him every morning that he absolutely cannot forget. Then mom stares at the clock. If I’m there in 55 minutes, it starts with “You were speeding,” and ends in tears. Hers.”
The first time it happened, it caught her completely by surprise. Her mother was standing by the standing, the car had given away her arrival, and waiting on her with worried eyes. And then the grilling had started.
“At first, I didn’t realise it was a conspiracy against me. But it was happening everyday and I caught on the pattern. So, I started making pitstops three weeks ago.”
It had been her third day at the office when she marched into her father’s cosy but functional office to tell him she was leaving. On her way to the car, she realised she had forgotten to her him about an email and rushed back in to find him ratting on her.
“When you first entered here?” Tanya prompted.
“I already had checked out some shops in the past week and I hadn’t picked anything up. I didn’t want to go in again for browsing so I climbed the stairs to your cafe.”
“That’s why you look at the wall clock so much!”
“I don’t want to break my winning streak. It’s important to my mother, and honestly, better than reasoning with her.”
Tanya chuckled, thinking about her older brother’s wise words: You can’t have a rational argument with your parents. It’s impossible!
They talked longer than Sasha had anticipated. She stood up to thank her friend, paid the bill through her phone, and tapped the jeans pocket for her car keys. Then, she was on the way home.
What she had failed to mention to Tanya was her near-death accident a year ago that had put her on bedrest for two months. The next eight were painful, too, with physiotherapy as she started claiming her body back. If not for her mom’s strength and support, she would have lost all hopes of recovery and gone into despair. It has been just a month of working for her dad for shorter periods, but driving and sitting was as much as she could bear right now.
As she rounded up her home 10 minutes later than usual, her mother was standing by the door, waiting for her to come up.
“You got late today, Sasha?”
“Yeah, mom. There was some traffic on the road.”
And with that, the worry lines disappeared from the retired nurse’s forehead and everything was peaceful in her world once again.