Free Chapters – Everyone Has A Story

Prologue

I was never a writer and I don’t aspire to be one either. I was never a good reader and I don’t know if I will ever be one. But now, I have been much more.

Every day, I woke up; I tried to find reasons to live. Every night, when I slept, I tried to find reasons to not die. Every moment, I tried to find reasons to hope, dream and love. But I never found them. Until I met you.

I saw chaos, confusion, and fear all around me. But not within me, after I met you.

Time decides our fate, our journey. And when time changes, everything changes. Everything. Sometimes for worse, sometimes for better. And sometimes, for the best. I never believed that. Until you happened to me.

It’s not a story and maybe it’s not love. It’s about something more real than stories and more powerful than love. It’s about you. Yes, you. Real and powerful.

I have never been happy with someone. I wanted to be with different people at different places with different feelings. I wanted to explore everything, know everyone. But then I explored you. And I found you are not just ONE, you are an infinity. An infinity of love, care, trust, respect, understanding. A universe of inspirations, aspirations, hope and happiness. Maybe you are the universe out there which I explore. Or the universe in me that I seek.

You do not start, nor do you ever end. You are constant, yet ever changing. You are everywhere and yet just with me. You are my creator or my creation, I question myself.

MEERA

1

What’s Your Story?

I had always been inspired by storytellers. I loved my job as an HR manager. It allowed me to interact with different people from different places, each one having their own different stories, bringing their own songs to the dance.

Life was a chaotic struggle, trying to search for where I belonged and who I was supposed to be. Each person I had interviewed had his or her own fascinating story, which made me wonder: what’s my story? I didn’t want to be ‘normal’, just like so many people I had met in life. Being only twenty-six, I wasn’t exactly sure what the meaning of my life would really be, and where I could find it.

Every weekend I found myself sitting and listening to amazing authors at the café Coffee & Us. I was drawn to authors, fascinated by their ability to create other people’s stories. How could they draw the truth from each individual and build a beautifully woven tale? I guess, having stories stuck in my own soul was the reason I needed to hear other people’s stories. But I didn’t just want to hear stories; my heart was aching to tell a beautiful story which would change people’s lives, or at least mine.

So there I was at Coffee & Us, my hands wrapped around a warm, soothing cup of coffee. I could listen to the world around me, hear the songs of life, or I could put my earplugs in and mute out the world. I had seen so many writers come through these doors, and often I wondered if this café had some magic within its walls.

Kabir, the manager, paused in his duties and addressed me. ‘When are you going to stop dreaming about being an author, Meera, and finally write a book?’

His voice might have sounded stern to an outsider, but Kabir had become my good friend. I’m not sure when, but at some point while I was becoming a regular visitor to his café, our casual interactions had blossomed into a warm friendship. He respected my opinions, and I treasured his.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, frowning.

I ran my fingers through my long hair and let out a frustrated sigh, looking around at all the people in the small café. ‘I think I will know when it is the right story to write. I just haven’t come across it yet. I’m still searching for that unique story, the one that will inspire me to take that next step.’

He strolled to the counter where another cup of my favourite coffee—a frothy cappuccino—was placed. Kabir set it in front of me, smiling gently. ‘I am sure, one day, I will be here, pouring coffee and fetching people their orders, as I listen to you up there. The place is going to be packed; you will see.’ He smiled at the thought and I wondered for a moment if this was my dream or his. Of course, as friends, even our dreams would work in unison, wouldn’t they?
Still, I lacked the confidence he seemed to have in my future success. As much as I wanted to take that next step to give my words the life they deserved, something held me back. I glanced over at the small area where so many writers had stood, taking a small sip of their ice water and clearing their throats before speaking the words I craved to say.
‘I don’t think I would be good enough to stand up there and face the world and a group of readers. It must take a lot of courage for them to do what they do,’ I said, blowing on my coffee before taking a tentative sip. I smiled as the frothy bubbles clung to my lip and licked them off delicately. ‘What if someone laughed at what I wrote?’

My friend chuckled. ‘They would only laugh if you were reading something funny,’ he said confidently. ‘Now, tell me, are you coming for the authors’ meet next weekend?’ he asked.

‘Definitely,’ I said.

What would the weekend bring for me? Would I still be lost in search of my story?

~

‘Live life in moments, not in days or years or your schedules. It’s our misconception—most of the time—that we live our lives the way we want. Every single step that we take is influenced by others. Only the part that we hide from everyone else and keep deep within our heart, is our own. I strongly urge you all to realize that hidden part of yours. Go, live that part. Live your life. Don’t let your dreams die within you. Trust me, your struggle, your fight, will be worth the risk in opening yourself up. Get up. Inhale the air of passion. Start your journey. Grab your dreams. Enjoy your mistakes. Dance to the rhythm of your heartbeats. Smile. Laugh. Love. Live.’

Author Arjun Mehra uttered these final words with confidence. His hands were clasped together as he looked expectantly around the café. His eyes met mine, and I felt my heart beat a little faster. It was as if he was speaking directly to me. But, in fact, he had touched the hearts of every single person in the café with his mesmerizing words. How was it that an author could hold such a magical power over people? I closed my eyes and imagined that I was the speaker, standing confidently in front of an audience. I smiled softly to myself. Perhaps one day I would actually be able to move a crowd like this.

‘What’s your story, young girl?’ I was torn away from my thoughts when I realized Mr. Mehra was pointing directly at me. His soft brown eyes were holding mine, kindly, but with a challenging glint. ‘What is your purpose in life?’ He softened his question with a smile and, suddenly, it felt like a friend was speaking to me.

I took a deep breath. ‘I … I want to write like you,’ I began nervously, twisting the napkin in my hands as I decided to answer him as truthfully as I could. ‘But I don’t know what to write. I am inspired by the world around me, but I am still in search of a story that can change the lives of people.’ My words sounded hesitant to my ears and I wished I hadn’t spoken them.

Mr. Mehra nodded firmly. ‘People need stories. Stories of love, hope, survival, wisdom and sometimes pain. Maybe you don’t tell them the full truth; maybe you tell them lies. But what is this world? A lie in itself.’ I was still held by his gaze, but I absorbed his words and heard others around me chuckle. ‘But your lies are good lies. They change people and mostly for the better. I wish you the best,’ he said warmly.
‘Thank you,’ I managed to say, shivering a little at his words, even though the café was almost uncomfortably hot.

‘You are most welcome.’ With that, he started looking for someone else to ask his next question. He turned his attention to a young man behind me. ‘Sir, what do you do for work? What’s your story?’

I had been so engrossed in his words that I hadn’t noticed the man earlier. I turned around to see who he was speaking to and found a smart, handsome guy around my age. His black casual blazer suited his brown eyes and short dark hair and there was an air of confidence about him as he sat straight in his chair. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed him before.

‘I work as the assistant branch manager at Citibank,’ the young man answered. His voice was deep and rich.

Mr. Mehra continued his questions. ‘What is it that you demand from life? Is it the thought of success, money or fame that brings you true happiness?’ I found myself leaning toward the man behind me, curious to hear how he would answer.

The man cleared his throat. ‘I have money, status and success, but I am still not sure what my purpose really is. I do know that there are days I want to escape the life I am living and grab my bags and just travel.’ He trailed off and it seemed like his mind was already on those journeys.

The writer pressed him. ‘What do you think you will find when you travel?’

‘There will be no one who will follow me around, demanding things from me,’ he responded. ‘There will be no one pressuring me to meet deadlines. Money comes with a price, and for me, the price is both freedom and a real life. I hope someday I can make up my mind to chase my dreams.’ The young man sipped his black coffee as he completed his answer. I saw his shoulders relax a little as he savoured the dark blend.

Mr. Mehra nodded his understanding before he swept his eyes over the audience once more. Holding up his hand, he said loudly, ‘I hope the same for all of you here. Go ahead and make your dreams come true.’ As his last words were spoken, concluding the event, the café filled with loud applause. I joined in, clapping so loudly, my hands began to tingle.

I had come to hear the writer, but I’d found myself deeply impressed, inspired and intrigued by the young man’s answer. I wanted to learn more about him.

It was a bold move, and I took a deep breath before turning around to speak with him. But his chair was empty, a half-filled coffee cup sat on the table. I stood up, my eyes searching the room for his dark suit, and I spotted him leaving the café.

‘I will see you next time,’ I muttered, determined. He might have escaped for the moment, but the excited pounding of my heart told me that I had found my story.

2

Mr. Traveller

I was writing furiously in my notebook and barely noticed Kabir approach until he slid my coffee toward me. ‘So you finally found a story to write!’ he exclaimed with a happy grin.

I returned his warm smile and responded with a hint of excitement in my own voice. ‘Well, yes. At least, I have a start.’

He slid into the comfortable red chair across from me. ‘That’s great. Tell me what you are writing.’

I shrugged my shoulders, suddenly shy. How could I give him a synopsis when I barely knew where my mind was taking my fingers? I sighed. ‘It’s about a traveller.’

‘Interesting,’ Kabir responded. ‘May I read what you have written so far?’

Tilting my head to the side in deep thought, I responded honestly, ‘I am not sure if it’s worth a read.’

My friend narrowed his eyes at me and ran his hand over his head. ‘You never know! Come on, now show me.’ ‘Okay.’ I turned the notebook around to let him read my precious words.

I gulped. I hadn’t been expecting him to read it out loud.

‘I want to travel, travel the whole world. I want to go on a road trip. Stop at random places and explore their beauty. Run through the woods chasing a butterfly. Talk to new people with different cultures and different lifestyles. Listen to their stories; sit on a park bench in the sun. Enjoy every sunrise and sunset, sometimes from a hilltop and sometimes behind the trees. I want to spend hours beside a rushing river, feeling the wind in my hair and listening to the secrets hidden in the waves. Write a poem about the coldest, cloud-bound mountains and all five oceans. I want to cross my boundaries. I want to admire nature, and wonder at the magic of its creation. I want to make memories. I want to feel alive. I want to feel the Creator. I want to feel myself.’

His hand moved and I watched him turn the page. He read silently for a moment and I waited anxiously for him to continue. My heart was pounding, almost painfully.

‘Life is not meant to be caged in your hometown, but it should be a wondrous place to be explored. I must explore all the nooks and crannies of this world. It has been a long-time dream of mine and, as I set out to do this, I realize that this must be what it feels like to be a baby bird, perched on the edge of its nest, ready and anxious to fly to other places. I sometimes pity humans for not being able to migrate the same way animals can. There are no boundaries for animals, except what they are incapable of doing for themselves. Humans seem to be the only creatures who say they live freely, but they are bound by the restrictions they place for themselves. We are not just bound to our work, but to our homes. We do not roam. We live in a small, isolated location—a cage would perhaps best describe it. We have an area for business and we have an area where we eat the same foods and meet the same types of people. Pune has turned into that cage for me. I know everything there is about Pune, but like a lion in the zoo, I crave the freedom of standing on a rock and looking down at the kingdom below me. I want to see the birds flying, the elephants bathing happily in their watering hole and the gazelles running freely. That is the freedom which humankind was granted, and I am about to capture it by chasing my dreams across the horizon.’

Kabir’s voice drifted off and he sat in silence. Trying to be patient, I traced my fingers over the rim of my coffee cup, then down the side, catching a random drop. Absently, I lifted my finger to my lips and licked it.

Still, he said nothing. Finally, I nearly yelled the question. ‘What do you think?’ I asked with a mixture of excitement and dread. ‘How is it?’

He broke into a huge smile. ‘It’s lovely, Meera! I think it will touch millions of hearts,’ Kabir said enthusiastically.

‘Truly?’

He nodded and I let out a nervous laugh. ‘Thank you!’ Kabir turned my diary back around, patting it happily.

‘I would love to read more when you continue your story! I am sure as the story unfolds it will be even greater. Promise yourself one thing: never stop writing, Meera!’ My friend stood, straightened the creases in his pants, and went back to work.

I stared at the words on the pages, fisting my hands in silent triumph over the pen. I was just happy to know he liked it.

Before I could start to write again, a young girl with the brown café apron walked over to me and handed me a folded napkin. I looked at her questioningly and, silently, she signalled for me to open it.

Curious, but confused, I lay the pen down and unfolded the napkin. It had just one word written on it in big capital letters: BEAUTIFUL.

I looked up at the girl. ‘Who wrote this?’ I asked. She turned back and pointed to a chair a few tables away. But there was no one.

‘I don’t understand,’ I said.

She frowned for a moment, but then her face eased into a smile. With a nod toward the café exit, she said, ‘That young man said to give it to you.’

It was the traveller. He had escaped again.

~

I watched the man walk away through the dusty window before I noticed Kabir was looking, too. I stood up and rushed over to the counter. ‘Who was he?’ I asked Kabir.

‘He is the assistant branch manager at Citibank on Telak Road,’ Kabir said helpfully. ‘He’s been here several times since last month.’

I bit my lip in thought. ‘Last weekend he was at the authors’ meet as well. Has he told you his name?’

My friend shook his head and absently cleaned the counter between us. ‘He doesn’t talk much. However, I do know his name because he pays by credit card every time. His name is Vivaan.’

‘Vivaan,’ I repeated, tasting the name on my tongue. ‘When does he usually come to the café?’

Kabir shrugged. ‘Oh, when I say he is regular, he comes in often, but there is no fixed time. He drops by anytime he feels like it.’

I thought for a minute. ‘Do you think you could text me the next time he drops by?’ I asked.

‘Sure,’ Kabir said. ‘But why are you asking so much about Vivaan?’

‘He is the traveller about whom I am writing the story,’ I answered.

I couldn’t help but grin as I left the café with Kabir standing there, his mouth open in shock.

VIVAAN

3

Twin Dimples

I stumbled over a small rock on the road as I walked up to my office. My mind was definitely not on the office building I was walking into. In fact, I almost resented having to go to work at all.

That was unlike me. Yes, I wanted to be free to travel, but I tried to make the most of where I was. Life had dealt me some rough blows, but I was always grateful for the constants in my life, my job being one of them.

My shoes squeaked on the polished floor, announcing my arrival before I could even get to my office. I couldn’t wait to get past the sterile entrance and escape to my own area, where my shoes wouldn’t make a sound.

‘Sir,’ the receptionist called after me. I groaned; so much for a quick escape. I turned to her, with what I hoped seemed like a genuine smile. It wasn’t her fault that at this very moment, I hated my job. ‘I have several messages for you. Your voice mail box is full again.’

Now, my smile was not faked. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said apologetically. ‘I appreciate you taking the messages.’

‘It’s quite all right,’ she said happily. I reached out and, as I took the slips of paper from her hand, her fingers brushed against mine. It occurred to me how attractive the receptionist was, but that was not where my interest was focused.

The woman crowding my mind was the young woman who had sat in front of me during Arjun Mehra’s talk the other day, the same woman who was breathlessly talking to the café manager a short time ago.

I did not go back to the café seeking her out; at least, that’s what I told myself. I merely wanted the best cup of coffee in the district.

But she was there when I arrived.

I was almost disappointed when she did not notice me, but after I sat down, I caught wisps of her conversation with Kabir.

I want to spend hours beside a rushing river, feeling the wind in my hair and listening to the secrets hidden in the waves.

It has been a long-time dream of mine and, as I set out to do this, I realize that this must be what it feels like to be a baby bird, perched on the edge of its nest, ready and anxious to fly to other places.

Kabir spoke the words, but in my mind, I heard her voice echoing as the sentences replayed like a favourite song.

The words could have been written for me, I mused as I sat down in my soft leather chair, immediately pivoting to look out the window. But that’s foolish. She couldn’t know my heart’s desires.

As she and Kabir had talked, I could hear the hesitation in her voice. She lacked the courage to present the talent that she possessed. I hoped she wouldn’t give up; I could sense her writing was as much her dream as travelling was mine.

I blushed, thinking about the impulsive note I had left for her. BEAUTIFUL. It was meant to be taken one of two ways: her writing definitely had a deep beauty to it. But as spellbound as I was by her words, I was even more drawn to the girl.

She was petite, I laughed as I recalled, but amazing. The night she sat in front of me, I stared long and hard at her back, silently begging her to turn around. Her thin legs were tucked delicately under her chair, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the soft brown skin that was too hidden by her flowing blue skirt.

But, mostly, I wanted to lose myself in her deep twin dimples and her dark eyes. Barely noticeable when she was concentrating, her brilliant smile brought multiple layers to her face. Like two angels were kissing her at the same time. I shook my head to clear her image from my mind. I vowed to go back the next day, to see if she had any reaction to the hastily-written note I’d asked the waitress to hand her.

I’d hurried away before; I would not hurry away a third time. I wanted to learn more about this blossoming writer in the café.

~

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Everyone has a story.
Meera, a fledgling writer who is in search of a story that can touch millions of lives.
Vivaan, assistant branch manager at Citibank, who dreams of travelling the world.
Kabir, a café manager who desires something of his own. Nisha, the despondent café customer who keeps secrets of her own.
Everyone has their own story, but what happens when these four lives are woven together?
Pull up a chair in Kafe Kabir and watch them explore friendship and love, writing their own pages of life from the cosy café to the ends of the world.