“May I?” said Pied, leaned over and lit Muffet’s cigarette. He moved back and watched her face. Muffet drew in the smoke, released it and relaxed a bit. Around them, the Bistro was a flurry of activity.
Muffet raised her head and looked Pied in the eye. “I have no clue what happened back in there… and I’m sorry, but I don’t recollect seeing you around here before Mr. Piper.” Muffet took another drag of her cigarette and looked at Pied, squarely.
“Call me Pied. Besides, congratulations, you have just been exempted from obtaining 24 extra credits for your doctorate Miss Muffet.” Pied paused. He smiled and thanked a flouncy-frocked waitress for his coffee. Muffet waited for the waitress to leave the table.
“So Pied, if I get this right, you walk in to Coconut’s office, you refuse to go on, umm, a vacation?? And that actually nails Coconut for some reason, to let me off”. Muffet looked at Pied expectantly.
“That's absolutely right, Miss Muffet.” Pied reclined on his wooden chair and took a generous sip of his coffee.
“Oh. Nothing much. The University apparently has some reward programme for students whose work is supposed to be praiseworthy from where they see it and well, garners them attention.” He finished his words carefully, not taking his eyes off her face.
Muffet quickly flashed a smile. “That’s great! So what do you do here?”
“Gah! I kinda saw that coming.” Muffet chuckled softly and put out her cigarette shaking her head. She reached for her coffee. “Let me rephrase that for you then. So what praiseworthy work do you do here that just got you a vacation?”
“I study rats.”
“Oh! You’re a PHD student?”
“You can say that. I also have an MBA in entrepreneurship in tow with the PHD, specializing in business options and models revolving around rats. But that is just an excuse.” He smiled and looked at Muffet.
“Your work sounds very interesting.”
Pied smiled in acknowledgement and let a moment of silence prevail. “So Miss Muffet, do you have plans?”
“Plans for what? I’m busy tonight if that’s what you mean.” Muffet, startled by her unexpectedly defensive retort, looked straight into her coffee cup, consciously averting his gaze .
Pied laughed a hearty laugh. (Strangely, it reminded Muffet of the sun shining warmly on an orange garden.)
“I meant plans for your research paper. So you’re busy tonight?” Pied didn’t take his eyes off Muffet.
She smiled embarrassedly. “You know Pied, I really haven’t thought about it. I spent two years eating, sleeping and breathing spiders. And now that Coconut and his sidekicks publish some silly rule that says I have to write a paper on Never Medicine or Spectacular Brewery to be entitled to my doctorate! So frankly Pied, at the cost of this sounding like a rant, all I can think of right now is a good night’s sleep.”
Muffet looked at him puzzled.
“Write a paper on sleep. Why not?” Pied shrugged and continued, “Sleep is a physiological process after all. Sleep deprived people and people with sleep-related issues like weird nightmares and sleep walkers sometimes land up in the couch right?” Pied let the suggestion linger, and then said, “So, write about it.”
Muffet laughed amused. “You’re off your rocker and you’re funny.” she took another sip of her coffee.
Pied smiled his bemused smile and continued, “I think it’s a great idea. Besides, at the cost of sounding imposing, I can offer to help… like you can watch me sleep, or I could be your copier, you know, your beck-and-call coffee boy.”
Muffet laughed again and lit another cigarette. “For wanting to be my coffee boy, you don’t even sound that earnest.”
“Oh, I absolutely am Miss Muffet. In fact, at the moment I am not at all pressed on my deliverables. And, for what its worth, till I go on my vacation I could use some drop-dead gorgeous company.”
“You seem quite persuasive.”
“Do I?” said Pied.
Muffet had her hands in her pockets. Around them and for several yards in the vicinity, surprised crickets had gathered to start their nightly show and sleepy June bugs collected around thickets to widen their eyes in curiosity at the pre-emption of night.
“Well, for one the famously stubborn Coconut changed his mind in a split second. That’s a first” Muffet smiled.
“And you’re complaining because?”
She smiled. “So you’re gallant and you’re persuasive.”
“Oh! It was nothing really.” Pied flashed another bemused smile.
“Guilty. But hey! You’re quite famous yourself. How many pretty ladies make it to Page 3 as Mr. Prince’s arm candy?”
Muffet blushed furiously. “Don’t even go there!”
“Ouch! Sorry. How can I make that up to you now?” Pied smiled charmingly.
“We’ll see. But you owe me one, okay?”
“Well, in fact so do you, right?”
Muffet laughed lightly, a tad embarrassed of having forgotten so soon. “Yeah, I guess we’re even then”. She smiled. “Good night Pied.”
Pied smiled charmingly. “Good Night, Miss Muffet.”
Pied walked into his dormitory whistling. He picked up his flute from his jersey pocket and played a little tune. Suddenly, there was a uniform thud that sounded like several heads banging into several doors. Pied stopped at the queer noise. He looked around. On finding nothing unusual, he shrugged and resumed his little flute number. Yet again, another thud that sounded like several heads banging into several doors resonated across the corridors of the university…
**** (end of chapter four) ****