Puzzle Project V: Bagels and Cream Cheese

November 20

Karim is the quietest server/cook I have ever seen. He works at one of my favorite cafés in Karachi. It is a small, quiet place on the second floor, brightly lit because of all the yellow lights and the kaleidoscopic mural on one wall. It is the only place in the city (that I have frequented), which has that casual ‘anyone can come to this place and hang out’ appeal to it. I know a lot of places strive for the ambience that attracts readers, writers, students that need a place to study, or students that need to get away from studying and watch an episode of House on their laptop, but not many achieve it.

I love the place because it has books to pick up and browse, the most battered Scrabbles board ever, a guitar that almost every new comer will pick up and dream for two seconds about how cool they would be if they could actually play, and bagels and cream cheese. And iced tea. And a tiny balcony that has a fan so even on the hottest day you can sit out and stare at the nicotine slowly swirl above the earthen ashtrays.

Karim fits in so well with that café. He has a thin moustache, and neatly parted hair. He always has a quiet, polite smile on his face – and despite the moustache he does not look creepy when he smiles hello at you when you go up to order your bagel. He looks like a poet, like he scribbles verses inspired by Ghalib and Mir, inspired by his unrequited love and his love for smoking a cigarette in the monsoon rain. In actuality though, he studies engineering at KU. He lives close to the café and far from the university and spends a great deal of time in transit. Sometimes he takes the KU buses, sometimes he takes other public transport. More often than not he gets shoved around as people pile onto the bus, ridding one’s notions about personal space, mixing different scents as arms brush against shoulders and stomachs and backs.  

Karim was recently engaged to a lovely young girl of his parents’ choosing, but the young couple had instant chemistry. They would write letters to one another, and more often than not, use their siblings as mailmen. They were not typical love letters, no avowals of eternal passion and declarations of deprivation, but short character sketches, information on what they liked doing, what they wanted in life, and so forth, general important stuff that we should know about the person we are going to spend the rest of our lives with.

Karim is set to finish his bachelors this coming June. He hopes to find a good job but I think he will miss this cafe. Maybe he can work here part-time. He likes the orange lights, and the little balcony.

He does make the best iced tea and he toasts the bagels perfectly. He doesn’t like bagels, generally, but he does love the brownies they bake at the café. He would pick peanut butter over cream cheese, and the girl he is arranged to marry over any other lady,  I am quite positive. 


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