After endless phone calls and text messages of plans to meet up, we finally came up with a solid plan of having a mini-reunion of sorts at the local Starbucks nearby. This reunion involved a couple of school friends apart from myself. We were meeting up after 3 years.
As usual, I ended up at the decided venue right on time. Before I could even set foot inside, my phone began buzzing and bore messages of excuses from those two idiots and their “valid” reasons for their late appearances. Having known them for more than 15 years of my life, I half-expected this. It would’ve been very peculiar had they arrived at Starbucks before I did.
When I stepped inside, I was greeted by the wafting aroma of roasted coffee and the sight of various people meeting up formally and informally. As I made my way towards the counter, I was approached by a cheerful employee asking me for my order. I believe our conversation went something like this:
SB Employee: “Welcome to Starbucks, Ma’am! What would you like to order today?”
Me: “Umm….what warm beverage would you suggest?”
SB Employee (looks at me quizzically): “No iced coffee for you, ma’am? It’s summer.”
Me: “Pretty sure.”
SB Employee: “Well in that case, we have some warm lattes, hot chocolate, warm….”
Me: “Some hot chocolate, please.”
I couldn’t blame the employee for giving me a confused glance. In such a situation, anyone was prone to do so. After I paid for the beverage, I quickly found a place for me and my friends. Soon enough, I was given a cup of steaming hot chocolate with some dollops of whipped cream, which was exactly how I liked it. As I slowly sipped on my hot chocolate, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic…..
It’s the summer of 2010 and I’m currently on a vacation with my family in Europe. Heidelberg, Germany to be exact, which is the first of our many scheduled destinations. By now, I’m very much aware that a summer spent here is so unlike the ones spent back at home in India. While the locals may be used to the weather, I and my fellow countrymen are not. In order to survive the chilly German summer, the average Indian wears a couple of inner-wears beneath normal clothes and then wears a sweater along with a windcheater to top it off. As you can guess, the layers of warm clothes have given me the appearance of an Eskimo. However the attire proves to be useful, because at the end of the day it’s always about comfort over fashion.
The first day of my month-long vacation has started with a rather rushed session of breakfast, during which our tour guide informed us that we would be heading towards the heart of the city for the day. On reaching there, I am rendered speechless by the scenery surrounding me. Lush greenery, picturesque houses, the baroque charm of narrow streets, and the sturdy stone bridge are a few of the sights I see and in that moment, I take it all in. I’m brought out of my mini trance by the voice of our guide, who reminds us to meet up at the bridge after a couple of hours.
Realizing that we’re now free to roam about to our heart’s content, I notice my dad going through all the mapped routes. On reaching a decision, we begin to make our way around the city. Taking strides with a spring in my step, I can’t help but notice the gloomy weather. As time passes by, an uneasy feeling comes over me with the fear that it might rain heavily, soon. I’m in no mood for my rendezvous with Heidelberg to end but the dark clouds and dull sky looming overhead only seem to reinforce the thoughts swirling in my mind. Just then, as if to confirm my worst fears, a single raindrop falls on my face. So, I do the only thing that any rational person in such a situation would.
The heavy downpour of raindrops and the blur of moving bodies makes my task of finding shelter all the more tedious. Suddenly, I spot an old-fashioned entrance to a cozy looking café and rush towards it. All this time, my family members have been following suit, and soon enough we all head inside.
The ambience of the café is warm, inviting and homely. I notice several pairs of curious eyes looking at us and I don’t blame them a bit. Sopping wet and drenched from head to toe with our Eskimo-like apparel, we’re all but a dreadful sight. Owing to my recent sprint session, I am a bit dazed to comprehend what’s been happening in the next few minutes after our arrival. All I know is that we’re ushered to the nearest table after a lovely couple offered us their seats. While checking out the menu, I quickly take note of the fact that the café doesn’t serve any savoury treats at all.
On taking one look at my horrified face, my parents realize the sticky situation that I’m in. Everyone at the table knows that I’ve never had a sweet tooth. My hatred for chocolate goes back to the days when I literally spat out the pieces of my birthday cake fed to me as a year old toddler. Since then I’ve consistently avoided sweets. My birthday cakes were cut for show only for others’ sake. I’ve been infamous in school for bidding away chocolates distributed to us. Whosoever ended up sitting beside me in class knew that it was a given that they’d end up with extra chocolates.
My parents ended up placing the order for everyone but me. The quick service brings their food and drinks in little time. While they’re busy eating their food and chattering, a lovely lady comes up to us with a steaming cup of hot chocolate in her hand. She introduces herself as Greta, the owner of the café. She seems to be my grandmother’s age and has an infectious personality. She tells us that she has brought the hot chocolate for me, because I wasn’t eating anything. She tells me that it’s on the house and hands over the cup.
She eagerly waits for me to take a sip and I can’t seem to find an excuse to back out. So I decide to chug down a glass of water immediately after I drink the hot chocolate. I remind myself that it’s solely out of politeness that I’m doing this. I lift the cup to take my first sip of hot chocolate, fully expectant that I’d find it horrible just like the others.
However, the unexpected happens. I finish off the beverage within minutes with only one thought: “I WANT MORE”. That hot chocolate was perfection. It was the right blend of sugar, chocolate, cream and warmth for me. I need to have more & I tell Greta the same. Once she walks away, it soon sinks in.
I JUST HAD MY FIRST CHOCOLATE WITHOUT GAGGING & I LOVED IT.
Everyone at the table is dumbfounded. Dad soon makes a snarky comment saying that it was high time I joined the ranks of normal kids who ate chocolates. I tell my parents that I’m now willing to try out cakes and other pastries as well. The grins on their faces only seemed to grow wider.
It dawns upon me that something bigger happened in that moment. By drinking hot chocolate, I jumped out of my comfort zone and embraced change. And it embraced me right back.
I make a promise to myself to have some hot chocolate, for the rest of my life, as a pick-me-up whenever I’m feeling down. After all, it is that small cup of beverage which will remind me that maybe change isn’t such a bad thing after all.
“We’re finally here. Lal, stop day dreaming! I swear that I’ll.. .good lord she’s having a warm beverage!”
“Hello? Earth to Shamika! WHY aren’t you having iced coffee? ”
“Hi, guys.” I croaked.
“Woman, you sound just like Kermit the frog.”
“Lal, stop it with the puppy dog eyes. I said STOP IT! Urghhh fine, we’ll have warm beverages with you just for today.”
“She DOES have a valid reason to have hot chocolate, you know. Her sore throat is the only reason she’s having hot chocolate today. Am I right, Lal?”
“Sure.” I said, smiling to myself. “That’s the only reason.”
Copyright © 2015 by Shamika Lal, all rights reserved.
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