all that is chocolate is not, erm…chocolatey.
everytime i am on my way to london via euston on the british rail, i mentally tick off the cafes from where i can take away an indulging warm cup of hot chocolate. i shrink into my worn-out coat, my loyal companion for many years now, my protector against the cold draughty winds. when i’m inside and when the train is moving, it is not so chilly anymore and i let myself expand again, bit by bit. i think of the day ahead. and then the thought of a steaming hot mug of chocolate creeps into my mind from nowhere. i tell myself, i deserve it…for the hectic morning that i’ve just survived, for being the good person that i am, for the lovely children i have, for all the hard work (ahem) i put into raising a lovely, happy family. i open the book that is in my hands. i’m reading the words but my frosty mind still hovers around that hot chocolate. now, where had i had it the last time? since my visits to london are rare, i am not surprised i have forgotten: was it from Starbucks? Patisserie Valerie? Ah, yes, AMT. i remember now. it wasn’t very good.
the train pulls into euston. i am almost 45 minutes early. should i have that much-coveted mug now, or should i prolong the desire until i am on my way back home to milton keynes. i smell the air of london, of strong coffee, or business suits and leather. i browse through books and magazines. i make my way down to the underground tube and catch the northern line to tottenham court road station. my work here will take approximately three hours. thankfully, they pass fast.
it is nearly six. i return to euston looking for the train times back to milton keynes. there is none for another 10 minutes at least. to my right i see The Chocolat, Starbucks, M&S, The Camden Co (or something like that); ahead of me, i spot Delice de France, The Upper Crust; there’s the Patisserie Valerie and AMT to my left. i have to be quick. so i walk all the way to The Chocolat. had i been even half as focussed as i am on this fix of cocoa, i would have broken all academic records at my school, i think. there are a lot of youngsters inside. couples, i mean. the uncommitted ones. why uncommitted? no idea. they all look like they’re ‘experimenting’ – speaking in low tones to each other, their spaces merging; some giggle softly, eyeing the hundreds of varieties of chocolate bars, lollies on sticks, gooey cookie shapes, the colourful tubs of candies and choco-dipped nuts…but i had only ten minutes, remember? i walk to the nice lady behind the counter.
“one hot chocolate, please,” i say.
“Whicha vone, darlin?” she points to the board on the top left. i see only the images as she rattles on a list of what they have on offer: “shoco vaalentinio? vannilla? or you wish shoco rasabaerry? 100-percento shocolateo?…” my brain has switched off. she is waiting, indicating she doesn’t have the time. i feel like Sridevi’s character in the film, English-Vinglish. in my mind, the digital clock on the indicator blinks red. fight or flight?
“i just want hot chocolate, please,” i repeat.
“you wante the 100-percento shocolateo?”
“yes-yes, thank you!” i am relieved.
i pay her. my order arrives shortly. i take my cup and run. it smells inviting.
i arrive at the platform just two minutes before the train departs. there are very few seats vacant. i plonk myself on the first one i find. to my left is a lady in a white feathery fleece coat. dignified. the compartment is full. to my right is an elderly gentleman who seems tired. the rest, sitting across, flip through free copies of the evening standard. an asian family – visibly new to london – speaks in sinhalese tamil. one of them has spotted my brownness; she smiles. i return it sincerely, yet without feeling.
i should sip my chocolate now, i think. wait! i get my book out of my bag. the man to my right has begun to doze. we have reached our first stop. i turn to my left to look at the name of the station – my gaze is interrupted by the image on my glamourous neighbour’s mobile phone, which, plainly, is in my line of sight. i try to look away, but it is too late. in a fraction of the second, while she had been gently swiping her polished thumb across her touchscreen, i have been an accidental witness to two pictures on her phone. they are both of a man’s naked bottom.
i admire the human mind. what a range of emotions it can compute in a matter of flimsy moments. absent-mindedly, i sip from my cup. i almost choke again. 100-percento shocolateo. she meant, dark chocolate.
i wonder if i should feel betrayed. in my head i hear faint laughter. my own. poodi teernu alle?
i think of the 3-odd pounds that i paid, for all my dreams about a satisfying mug of hot chocolate…i look at the cup in my hands – as if it would sweeten by magic. next time, i will try another flavour, i decide. for now, i think of the benefits of the dark brew. good for fibromyalgia fatigue. tick. i imagine an army of (very bitter) antioxidents in my mug fighting the free radicals as they cruise down my throat and into my system. tick. maybe it is not that bad after all. i relax. maybe it is working already. in a strange way i feel sorry for the woman with the mobile phone. she should get one of those tinted screens, i think, the poor thing. behind my open book, i feel a smile on my face. i relish my drink. i tell myself, i have had a long day. i deserve it…for the good person that i am…