I wouldn't kick my drinking habit
No point asking. She won't forgive. No wife will. It's a sin that no woman will forget so easily. She was hysterical, but that's understandable. She cried like the agonised wife in Robert Frost's Home Burial: "Don't, don't, don't, don't."
I didn't know she wanted to sit with me in the balcony overlooking the busy arterial road, the most unromantic place a woman would choose to have a drink. I said I was going out.
"To have a good drink."
"I'm brewing it."
"No one can brew it the way they do it. Not even my mother and sisters."
"You're mean. You said I'm bad at it."
"I didn't mean it. Not everyone is good at everything." I had spent hours in hypermarkets, aghast at the assemblage of tea powder from across the world. I had tried several of them, including the Ceylon tea leaves my relatives and friends used to gift. There's many a slip between the cup and the lip. Nothing could match the strong brew that a Malayali chaiwala pours from a pot held so high without spilling a drop. They might have a secret tea recipe, like what I have heard about some chefs who reportedly add dry prawns powder to the traditional dessert, payasam.
"You're a cruel husband," wifey fumed.
"Please don't mess with my habits."
"Dad, game for a strong brew?" Children were already at the door.
"You have spoiled my children, too." Wifey shivered with anger.
"Amma, take it easy, relax. We'll be back in a jiffy. Shall we get you a drink? You want with or without milk?"
"Did you guys take a flight to Dubai to have it in a silly cafeteria? She is a young girl. Remember that." Tears rained down like a monsoon.
I didn't know the right and wrong of my act. Back home, in India, I would get up before the crack of dawn, just when the temple megaphone blared devotional songs, to have tea from a highway hawker. Regular customers crowded around him, consuming news and views along with tea.
The cups in Vasu's makeshift shop sported a permatan with years of tea stain. That wasn't a dampener as long as the brew was served with a snack of gossip from the neighbourhood.
"There was some commotion in Raghavan's place past midnight. You know what? His girl eloped with an Assamese labourer," whispered the chicken seller, a Malappuram native whose credentials were under a cloud as they say he himself had run away with a millionaire's beautiful daughter. No one had seen her outside of their home.
"Looks like Sulaiman has come from Saudi. One airport taxi came last night. Who knows if it's a one-way ticket? Times are bad, no?" the milkman added his two cents worth.
"You have no class," wifey picked on me every time I returned after my tea session.
"True, I'm a proletarian when it comes to drinking tea. Let's live with it."
As a communist follower, I was a proud tea drinker, the brew having its origins in China. I was a natural victim of the tea epidemic that spread far and wide from the Yunnan region of China during the Shang dynasty in 2737 BC. The fact that the Chinese were able to elevate tea as the second most consumed beverage in the world after water shows the power of the dragon centuries before it tightened its grip around the globe.
"Tea for Suresh sir," the waiter in the Dubai restaurant shouted to the tea maker, which meant less milk, less sugar and extra strong. They never got it wrong. I hated the overpowering smell of milk in tea.
"The Germans don't add sugar. They say it kills the taste of tea," my son enlightened me about his habitual abode.
"You want extra sugar, right?" the waiter turned to my daughter. She smiled a yes, leaving the indelible imprint of her likes and dislikes on their mind.
"The tea maker is like a supercomputer who can recollect the drinking habits of so many of his customers," exclaimed Vava.
"Amma cannot make tea to suit everyone's taste. I don't blame her. It's humanly impossible," I tried to defend wifey.
Many a sip later, wifey walked into the restaurant and sat two tables across us, staring into my eyes, but talking on the phone. I walked up to her to say hello.
She glanced up at me, indifference sweeping across her face, and said: "One black coffee, please."