Across the table, the blue-eyed man would not stop staring.
“Stop staring,” she said, her cheeks turning a crimson hue of green. “You’re always staring at me.”
“I’m not staring,” the blue-eyed man said, “I’m gazing upon the unearthly beauty that sits across the table from me. I am drinking in unadulterated heaven with my eyes. I am downloading visual nectar.”
“Oh, stop,” she said, turning an even crimsoner green. “Since you are a poet, is it not your everyday job to melt women’s and government servants’ hearts ?”
Robra was both a woman and a government servant, and since the blue-eyed man, whose name was Manickchandru,’s poetic expressions were so melting her heart, she was inclined to believe that he was either an expert at melting women’s hearts or melting government servants’ hearts or both.
“Mostly women’s hearts. Only occasionally am I commissioned to write poems to melt government servants’ hearts. Usually when the government feels their servants are getting dissatisfied with their wages and are about to go on strike, they commission me to write a poem that melts government servants’ hearts.”
Robra thought about it, and realised that she had never received a raise in her ten years of government servanture. Every time she and her colleagues thought about asking their bosses for a raise, they would get a red envelope instead, that contained a poem that invariably melted her and her colleagues’ hearts.
“But this one is not like one of those poems, Robra, this is from the bowels of my heart, from the depths of my aorta, from the core of my superior vena cava,” he said, leaning forward and gazing at her with those deep blue eyes. Robra loved his eyes. She would have drowned in them, were it not for the fact that she was a state-level champion swimmer.
“The poems I write during the day,” said Manickchandru, “I write for money. Those poems are not truly inspired. It is when I see you that I feel true inspiration, the kind that poets spend their entire lifetimes looking for.”
Robra’s cheeks went from crimson-green to a bright scarlet-green. Yet, while she found Manickchandru quite charming, she was not sure how much she could trust his words. He was, after all, a master wordsmith, who could twist and turn words into shapes never dreamt of before, and she was sure he had caused many a girl to swoon with his poems. Was she just another one of those girls? Would she be just another feather in his cap? She did not want to be one of Manickchandru’s conquests. She wanted to know if what he said he felt for her was true or fallacious. But how could she know for sure?
He attempted to reach across the table and hold her hands, but she had cleverly guarded herself from such a move by strewing knives and forks strategically on the table, causing Manickchandru to injure himself every time he attempted to reach across the table and hold her hands. It was a trick she learnt from her friend Tanku. Manickchandru grazed his elbows and was unable to reach across fully.
The knives and forks were for Robra’s own protection, but at that moment she was ready to dismantle that elaborate line of defence. She wanted quite badly to reach across and hold Manickchandru’s hands, but on her right palm she had written down a reminder with a black marker that said “Robra, control thyself” that reminded her to control herself.
Then, across the table, the blue-eyed man would not stop scribbling. He seemed to be furiously attacking a tissue with a pen, unmindful of the fresh cuts and bruises on his arm
“What are you doing?” Robra asked.
“Inspiration waits for no one. When it comes, it must be captured,” said Manickchandru, capturing inspiration.
Robra waved her hand in the air wildly, and the waitress approached the table. She wore a clean yellow apron covered in grime and pizza toppings, and dried sarcasm stained her red sleeves. Her hair was tied in an pizzalike fashion, reminding diners that she was a waitress in a pizza restaurant, not one in, say, a Tandoori or Chinese one. She had an air of pessimistic nonchalance and optimistic carefreedom about her.
“Welcome to Sanguine Pizza,” she said, giving Robra and Manickchandru a dentist-chair grin. “May I take the lovers’ order?”
“Oh, uh…” Robra turned a lemon-red green and looked nervously at Manickchandru who seemed to be so focussed on what he was writing that he hadn’t noticed the waitress’s presence. “We’re not lovers, really…” she said, “…more like likers. Strong likers, perhaps.”
And that was when Manickchandru looked up, alarmed. But Robra did not catch this reaction, because she had turned to the waitress to order her order.
“I think we’ll have one large Sanguineous Pizza… is that okay, Manickchandru?”
When she turned to face Manickchandru, she noticed a fairly shocked expression of curious unease on Manickchandru’s face, like he had been slapped when he was least expecting it, by someone he least expected to be slapped by.
“Manickchandru? Is that okay?” Robra repeated, “Are you okay?”
Manickchandru said nothing.
Hesitantly, Robra, turning to the waitress while keeping her eyes on Manickchandru, said,
“Just get us the Sanguineous Pizza for now.”
The waitress nodded and left, swishing her apron and leaving a trail of toppings behind her.
“What’s the matter, Manickchandru?” Robra asked.
“You said we weren’t lovers. Don’t you love me, Robra?”
This was a difficult question for Robra to answer. She had been asking herself that very question. She did like Manickchandru a fairly reasonable amount, perhaps even more than that – but was it love? She did not know. She had never been in love before – or maybe she had, but was never sure if it was love. They had never explained this ‘love’ to Robra in medical school. True, she had never been to medical school, but that was besides the point. Then she remembered something her friend Tanku had taught her about getting out of conversational corners like the one she had been backed into.
“I don’t know, Manickchandru, do you love me?”
“Of course I do! I love you as much as I possibly can!” he said exclamatorily.
Robra blinked. She had expected Tanku’s strategy to work differently. Then she remembered something else Tanku had said to her: “The best way to get out of a tight spot in a conversation or an argument is to make the other person define their terms. Then attack the definitions.”
“What do you mean by love?” she asked.
“Love cannot be defined. It must be felt.”
Robra had a feeling this conversation was going downhill, meaning it was getting worse. Although one could also say it was going uphill, because that means it was getting more difficult.
“I definitely feel something for you, but I don’t know if that’s love, Manickchandru.”
Manickchandru grunted in frustration and slammed his fists on the table, causing the forks and knives to jump into the air. One knife sailed through the air, its deadly edge thirsty for blood or food. Luckily for it, the waitress was coming out of the kitchen, carrying the Sanguineous Pizza Robra had ordered.
Ah, today is my lucky day! thought the knife, here is someone who possesses both blood and food!
The knife dived into the Sanguineous Pizza, bounced off it, and into the waitress’s eye, who did not like having knives in her eyes, or even a single knife in one of her eyes. She flailed wildly, making quite a mess of pizza toppings and blood. She let out a bloodcurdling scream that distracted Manickchandru and Robra from their uneasy discussion on feelings. When they saw what had happened to the waitress, they stared in helpless horror, horrified by the horrific horrendousness of the situation. As they stared, a single drop of blood from the waitress’s eye flew through the air. Manickchandru and Robra followed the flight of the drop with their eyes as it gracefully – although not so gracefully that it negated the horror of the moment – floated through the air like a miniature trapeze artist who looked like a drop of blood, and landed on Robra’s spectacles, which she happened to be wearing at the time.
Manickchandru watched as Robra took off her glasses and wiped them on the edge of her shirt. She put her glasses on again, and looked at Manickchandru.
His expression of horror became even horrificer. He began shaking violently and large blisters began to erupt from his skin. His eyes bulged and his ears flapped unnaturally. A stream of steam issued from his nostrils.
And then he exploded in a massive mess of flesh and blood and bone and brains. That was, after all, what he was made of.
Robra picked up a tissue from the table and, taking off her glasses, proceeded to wipe the exploded Manickchandru off her face, when she noticed something on the tissue. She put on her glasses to see what it was. She realised that it was the piece of tissue that Manickchandru had been scribbling so furiously on. It seemed to be a poem that he had been writing. She began to read:
My Dear Robra,
You beautiful, slithering cobra,
What strongish love I have for thee,
We go together
like crop and farmer
Me and you and you and me.
Every time I
See your brown eye(s)
Naked, not hidden behind glass,
My love it increases
like incurable diseases
Growing in both volume and mass
My Dear Robra
You smooth, slender cobra
Descended from the angels’ abode,
I think you should know
If my love for you grow(s)
I will overload with love and explode.
Robra shivered and quivered. Finally she understood the meaning of love. Alas, it was too late. The man she now knew she loved lay scattered in fragments of organs and tissue. Robra, never one to miss a pun, realised that she was holding one of his tissues in her hands!
Overwhelmed with emotion, she burst into tears, and sobbed uncontrollably into Manickchandru’s final poem, unmindful of the fact that by doing so she would ruin the poem, and the fact that she would get ink all over her face.