The Aftertaste of Coffee by Simra Sadaf

It was that time of the year in my city. Thunderstorm. Heavy rainfall. Violent winds. Blackout. While it brings inconvenience to most, for me, it happens to be the best time of the year. Nothing to distract me from reading. No Internet, no Netflix, no one to ask me for tea making favours and no sports commentary running in the background to irk me as I read. 

I had it all planned the night before, when the blackout was announced. I was going to finish a book in one sitting after almost eight months. I spent two hours on my phone, juggling between Goodreads, my TBR list and Bookstagram looking for “the one.” I was beyond thrilled to have the whole day to myself that I didn’t know which genre to pick.

Horror? No. I didn’t want any paranormal activity scaring me in an already pitch black room. Historical fiction? I do love a good period drama but it wouldn’t be the perfect read” while the rain hammered outside. I was confused between classic and dysfunctional family drama. I wasn’t in the mood for Jane Austen. I find her plots repetitive. Less narrative, lesser scene descriptions and they all ended with weddings.

Should I read a novel about dysfunctional families as I struggled to adjust in a family I recently got married into? Not the right time. I played safe and picked fantasy fiction. Nothing does it better than magic for a Potterhead. I let my phone die on purpose because, one, I wanted to envy it. Second, I didn’t want my relatives calling me every hour for water log updates.

The power was out when I woke up. I thanked God. On the other side of the bed, lay my husband. I didn’t marry for love, but I remain married, for love I guess, waiting for it to arrive. It was an arranged marriage. The most renowned culture in my country. Growing up, I saw marriages that are mechanical. I never witnessed an ounce of affection between partners. That is what my being was accustomed to.

I finished the book in three hours. It kept me hooked. I still had to make tea for him though. My mind elsewhere, in the Cerulean Sea, as the tea simmered, in the remains of what could have been, I forgot to add sugar. He didn’t complain. He didn’t let it slide either. He later joked about it at lunch with his family and I, impussiantly, laughed along.

I gnawed my lips to pulp, not because I was the butt of all jokes. Because of my “good breeding”. It always stopped me from retaliating. That, along with many other things, I swiftly swept under the rug, because that’s what my father would have done. I learnt it from him, to be the bigger person in every conflict. Having finished the book earlier than I had expected, I didn’t know what to do.

I was indecisive about reading another book, so I moved to poetry, or as I call it, soul food. I read poetry, for prayer. And in my prayers, I read poetry. Being a sincere devotee of Mirza Ghalib, I have his face printed on a mug that I look at every morning, to begin my day with his greatness. I sleep looking at it hoping we would meet in my dreams, drink together and talk about the richness in his poems and how it has cleansed my soul.

“One more cup?” he asked. 

Sure. That’s why I am here. To make tea. To fetch you water. To be the ground you walk on. To be the couch you sit on. I am your Dobby. I didn’t say out loud, because I am a woman who grew up with patriarchy scribbled on the lines of my palm. It’s not the tea making part that infuriates me, it’s the mug that sits unwashed near the sink. Wash the damn mugs. Please.

“I am a coffee person,” I replied when I was asked if I wanted to smoke and have tea with him on the balcony. I didn’t tell him I hated smokers with a blind passion. We sat watching the rainfall as wisps of smoke surrounded us. I told him I liked books. He knew of no one but Shakespeare. He said he liked these racers I had never heard of before. 

It bothered me that our interests didn’t align. He rubbed me the wrong way, he called writing a “hobby.” 

Call it a hobby one more time and watch me snap your neck, I didn’t say, yet again. I always wanted a partner who would understand the madness that comes with writing, the obsession, the magnitude of words, the sheer holiness of penning the deepest darkest thoughts of the mind and heart.

I wanted to have hour-long debates on why The Renaissance Period is better than The Romantic Period. Tell him a thing or two about Greek Mythology. Talk about Shakespeare’s impact on my writing career and how he is not God but he comes a close second to Literature lovers.

I spent three years studying why people in a society behave the way they do, their actions, their words, the ones that come out and those which don’t. He says he is happy. I roll my eyes, because I know why. It would be diabolical of me to say this but his contentment springs from a deeper source. It is the felicity of someone who has been granted heaven by accident, without asking for it, without really deserving it.

“Are you one of those people who thinks art is not a legitimate career?” I asked, our gaze never meeting, ever at each other’s fingers, collarbones, the rain. He has tiny ears, just as mine. Weird toes. Large nose. He has a V-shaped scar just below the hairline. Good beard. Great hair. Hates cats. Idealises his brother who resembles a famous celebrity. Shallow personality. Kind of a narcissist with a tinge of God Complex. And clear skin.

A former lover, who used to buy me books so I wouldn’t find out he was sleeping with four other women, once told me in his multiple gaslighting attempts that I was the world’s worst lover, an egomaniac incapable of loving someone for the right reasons. 

“You fall in love so you can exploit them in your poems. You like to strip them naked, suck their bones, dig your nails in their flesh and compare them to grease. It’s not poetic. It’s barbaric.” He said the last time we met. My feet buried in sand, I replied, 

“I am sure you’ve never heard of Charles Bukowski then.” He failed to get it. The pun, the essence of love—loyalty, why we love when we love, and me.

Why we love is quite simple. We fall in love so we can pour all the goodness that’s inside us into someone we adore. We are terrified of being vulnerable yet we feel our mouth moving towards them. It paralyses us with fear to give them the leverage to hurt us, to be at their mercy, yet we wake up from deep slumbers just to plant a kiss on their naked shoulders.

Staying in love is where we tend to tumble, but that’s the road to happiness. It’s not falling in love. It’s staying there that matters. To keep and be kept, and friendship in love always outshines passion. 

“So writing is your mistress?” This one asked, stubbing out his cigarette on the wet floor after I tried to explain how difficult it is being a writer. The nerve of him. 

“Cupcake, no. You are the mistress.” I replied, finally meeting his gaze. The sun was nearing the horizon. How beautiful! The sunset, cobalt sky, and him with his thick eyebrows.

We lit candles that evening. Our small house smelled like a lemon field. “38 days,” he said. “38 days since we got married.” It’s one thing to marry someone you know everything about, but to blindly marry someone whom you know nothing of is like entering a wild jungle and hoping to come out unharmed.

I don’t know what it was about that night. The night that was shaped like my cat’s paws, or the candle flames dancing to the rhythm of rain’s pitter patter, or the shadows our unified bodies made on the wall, but I realised something my soul couldn’t conceal. When the universe gives you a chance to love someone, even if it’s not falling or being in love, take it, for even loving someone seldom happens.

We spoke about buying things for the house, summers, childhood, his perfume collection, my grandmother, my fascination with Kylie Jenner, the horrible water log videos that surged on family WhatsApp groups, and his father. He said he misses him. I sensed how tremendously it pained him that he couldn’t give him a proper burial due to the pandemic.


“Are you serious?” he asked when I told him I was craving ice cream. It was past midnight, and I don’t even like ice cream. In fact I am allergic. My throat itches and I cough a lot. But I didn’t tell him that, not yet. “The city is drowning. We’d have to swim to get to an ice cream parlour, and we should be lucky enough to find a shop open.” He said, putting on his beige pants. 

None of the shops were open. No street lights either. No cars on the road. Only fat black pigs strolling around, and there was water as far as our sights could reach. It felt very post-apocalyptic. “You’ve been with me for over a month now. Formed any opinions yet?” he asked like a shy kid asking for sugar.

“You are a prattler who leaves his cups by the sink, unwashed,” I replied. He felt sheepish. I grazed my fingers along his arms. It was a weird attempt to make him feel a little less awkward. I am not a very affectionate person. It stems deep, but that’s a tale for another time.

“Does it bother you that I talk a lot?”

“No. It’s cute that you get excited about the things I normally wouldn’t.”

“Do I bore you then?”

“No. You keep me entertained.”

“Am I more entertaining than the books you read?”

“You wish.”

“I am sorry about the ice cream. I tried my best though,” he said when we reached home. I know he did. He didn’t have to but he did, because the way he loves is spontaneous combustion. And the way I love is tectonic plates. It baffled me how at one moment I was sitting with a stranger, and in the next, I felt like I had known him from past life.

Despite the rainfall, it was hot. I went to the bathroom to freshen up and change into something comfortable. When I got back to the living room, a tub of ice cream sat on the dining table. “Where did you get it?” Stupefied, I choked on my words. He said he got it from his brother, who has a letter for a name.

I sat down grabbing two spoons. We ate and talked again. We talked a lot. He talked and I listened. “Is there anything I don’t know about you yet?” He asked, feeding me a spoonful of sun-kissed creme caramel. 

“I am a wallflower. A keen observer. I never get angry. I love just as I write. I give my all or nothing. And just as every other writer, I overthink.”, I said, reaching the end of the tub.

“What else?” He asked, licking his spoon. 

“Well…I am not supposed to eat ice cream.”

He heard me cough and whine about itchy throat all night but didn’t make a fuss about it. I don’t know if it was because he was out like a light or because he liked my whining. Maybe he felt we were getting closer and more familiar with each other’s presence. All I know is that his arrival was like an aftertaste of coffee. I didn’t want it to leave my tongue. 

Simra Sadaf, from Chennai, India, has pursued her Master’s in English Literature. With a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, she has an abundant knowledge about the workings of a society which she incorporates in her writings. Literature drives her spirit and words churn her soul.