“One Butter Bun and a strong coffee, please.”
The waiter noted the order and moved to another table where a few customers had just arrived. Within three minutes, he had five orders of the same breakfast that was most famous at Gerard’s. Butter bun and coffee.
Gerard’s was the oldest and the most authentic medieval bakery and eatery on St. Jude’s street. It was also the most favorite of the townies, the passersby, and even those who couldn’t afford a coffee here. Gerard’s served free coffee to the penniless. The best coffee in town. And better buns. Butter buns. The rich and creamy aroma of butter when they descended whole cubes on a large round pan, and the way they bathed buns in it… could make anyone’s heart melt and find a way to their tongues. Mornings on St Jude’s were such delight!
As the waiter turned to take the five orders to the kitchen, the lady to give the first order, called behind him.
“Excuse me. Could you add sugar in the Butter Bun? Oh, and none in the coffee, please.”
The waiter, who’d turned, took note of the special request, smiled and nodded, before he flung the kitchen door to enter.
“Five Butter Buns and five coffees. Oh, and table number 9 wants sugar in the bun and not in the ‘strong’ coffee. Strange woman”, chuckled the waiter.
The chef looked up with a slightly dropped jaw. As if someone had narrated a spooky incident. He’d been working at Gerard’s for over three years now. And Butter Bun was his specialty. No one made it as good as him. In fact, no one else made it at all, except for on days he would call in sick or be away for a few hours attending to a domestic errand. And in all these years, he’d never come across a customer who wanted sugar in the Butter Bun, or sugarless coffee to go with it.
The awe was not at the choice of sugar, but at the coincidence that he himself liked it exactly that way. Sweetened Butter Buns, and creamy cappuccino without any sugar. His choice was different, people had told him. Different from them all. So he never bothered to tell his colleagues about it. During recess hours, they would sit with their own trays of freshly made Butter Buns and their favorite brews. This guy would pan it out for them, and none of them had to be sweetened. For the same reason, no one else knew how he’d liked it.
His wife would pick a hundred reasons to name him weird. This was just one of them. He liked plain, half-baked eggs, while she preferred loaded vegetable omelets. She wanted to travel to places of altitude with green highlands and boulders, while he loved beaches and cascades. His heart would mingle to soft, romantic tunes, while she danced to loud party rock. It was all so different between them, now. When they’d been dating as a young beaus, they were so profoundly blinded by affection, completely oblivious to these differences. But now, after a few years of their marriage, the little affection left couldn’t hold the fort alone. It was hard for them to enjoy a thing together. He liked cracking silly anecdotes, at which his wife would get irritated. He wanted her to enjoy those witticisms with him and lighten the air around them, instead of making it difficult to breathe. He wished often, that he could be more like her. Or that she could be more like him. He wished he could meet more people like himself.
A ray of hope shined in the distance when he heard that this lady customer wanted her buns and coffee unerringly like he did. He got enthusiastic and made the most special buns of the day for this customer. He hand-crafted the coffee, instead of using any electronic dispensers, much to match it like he made it for himself. And he did so with dexterity. He didn’t want to keep her waiting. He knew, how unforgiving a temptation for such things can be. That's what he'd secretly named this favorite of a sweet-bitter combination - The Unforgiving Temptation. Within minutes, the first order was ready and he asked the waiter to serve her first, reasoning that the order was a customized one and shouldn’t mix with the others.
He peeped into the main hall from the small glass frame on the door of the kitchen. He traced the waiter’s path and saw table number 9. The waiter first blocked his view while serving the order, then moved. And he had the first look at her. Although, not all of her face was visible, he could see her dark brown, straight hair covering her fair, fair face. Her nose was pierced with a tiny, silver ring. She wore an off-white flared dress that made her look quite composed. In the entire hall filled with talk and noise, she was the quietest one. She’d come alone to relish her breakfast. And God, she did relish it. The way she took a moment to enjoy her first bite, with closed eyes and a raised chin... just as he expected her to react.
He could hear the sound of her teeth crunching on the sugar crystals sprinkled on the buns. The tip of her tongue chasing the trail of warm, liquid butter down the side of her mouth. The first sip of coffee bringing a blissful curve on her face. He interrupted his thoughts and looked back in the direction of table number 9. She was leaving. She’d finished her breakfast and was now paying. He wanted to see her. Say hello. Ask her how she’d liked the buns. And why she’d liked them that way. Talk to her, become friends, see if they had more in common. But she was leaving already. She was signing the feedback sheet which they circulated at Gerard’s for every customer to write their outlook about the café and the food. He wanted to see what she’d written. She stood up to leave and that’s when he saw it. An ankle tattoo! It was not very clear from that distance, but he could roughly make out; it was a fish. A fish? Was she a Piscean… just like him? Or did she love the sea too? He couldn’t believe this hotchpotch of coincidences.
The waiter barged in the kitchen with six orders more. The chef looked at him in anticipation. “What?”… to which the chef pointed at the feedback sheet that the waiter still held. “Oh! Yeah, take it. Sugar lady has written well. Check for yourself!”
He unfolded the bunch of sheets. He looked for table number 9, 10:35 AM. “Food was delicious. I’ve always desired for such compassionate food for my 'Unforgiving Temptation'.” For a brief moment, his eyes were glued to the paper, as if staring at something. Then, his eyes suddenly widened and face immediately lit up. He needed to meet her. He ran outside, towards the main gate of the dining hall at Gerard’s. A peep to the left, a glance to the right… she was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t be any sure of meeting her again in this huge paper town, and asking her all those things he wanted to. He could’ve just walked up and spoken to her while she was here. Disappointed, he looked at the sheet of paper in his flour-dusted hands. There was half a phone-number in the last column called ‘contact’. It had only eight digits.
Hope was two digits and a hundred attempts away. But, it was. Right there. Something about that tattoo told him that the fish couldn’t stay away from the sea for too long.