I decided to write today and this story formed in my mind while I was fixing breakfast for myself. I’ve always been drawn to write about human struggles and everyday life; how one seemingly inconsequential event could have a domino effect in our lives. The story presented itself to me as the story of a young man who unwittingly finds himself in a trap of fixation, where he spirals downwards to the point of questioning his own sanity. And I want the readers to think if the ending really is a promising one or not. Please let me know if the story could still be improved and I hope you enjoy it.
I hurriedly walked to the coffee shop because I didn’t want to waste my lunch break for nothing. As I entered the shop, I was greeted by the sensual aroma of coffee beans being brewed intermixed in the air with the soft jazz music playing. And as I entered the threshold, the cold blast of air from the air conditioner seemed to blow every last hint of humidity from me and my clothes. The queue was short and I felt relieved. I quickly cast a nonchalant glance over my shoulders towards the corner with the single table. And true to form, she was there. I quickly turned back and I smiled absentmindedly. You know how you know the sun is always rising from the east? That even if you don’t look at the sun directly, you know where it is because you can feel its rays on your back. After paying for my coffee at the till, I went to a table diagonal from her. We were too far away but that was alright because there weren’t too many people in the shop. I can glance up to her from my table from time to time and I would still be able to see her clearly. Nobody’s in the way.
Someone gruffly cleared his throat, and when I looked for who it was, it was a cop on the queue who was staring at me. I whipped out my phone and opened an app. Act normal, I told myself. He might have noticed me staring at the lone woman on the corner and these days you cannot just stare at a woman openly without being labeled a weirdo, a maniac or–this I fear to be labelled the most– a stalker. In my twenty-five years, I have always been on the good side of the law. I’m not going to let an insignificant stare destroy my reputation of being a good guy. I only ever cross on pedestrian lanes, for crying out loud, I’ve never even jaywalked for once in my life. I’ve had a few girlfriends before, and I never did this, whatever this is, to them. No, this thing, this fascination, it only happened with her.
It was the summer of this year when I first saw her. There was this sweltering heat that enveloped us that summer. We were right in front of our office doors after eating out for lunch, when one of my female colleagues invited me and the rest of us for a coffee-shop run and get frapuccinos due to the stifling heat. The five minute walk from the office to the coffee shop felt like a trek in the desert that relief fills you when you finally get inside the air-conditioned coffee shop and you feel that the sweat stains under your armpits immediately stopped from forming. The coffee shop was filled with people and it sounded like a beehive with everyone buzzing over everyone so they can hear themselves. And there was the occasional raucous laughter, usually from the larger groups who would put together a few tables to accommodate them all. And then out of all this noise, that is probably brought on by the summer heat, there she was seated on the far corner by herself, minding her own business while reading a book, oblivious to all the noise that surrounds her. I didn’t find her beautiful at first, with her hair cut short just above her shoulders and her nondescript clothes, there was nothing special about her. She looked just like any ordinary girl. I didn’t find her special, no, just a bit odd, that’s all. I shrugged and I quickly joined in on the conversation with my friends as we were waiting for our turn to be served.
I don’t go to this coffee shop all the time; it’s just physically impossible for me. I only work on weekdays and out of the five days I work here, the thought of getting coffee from the shop would only occur to me twice or, if I’m having a stressful week, thrice a week. That’s it. I don’t even go to this coffee shop on the weekends because it’s too far from where I live. But out of all the times I decided to get coffee on that shop near my office, she was always there. Like clockwork. Sometimes I wondered if she lived nearby but scratched that idea immediately because there were no residential areas in there, it was mainly a commercial area. She would always be at the table on the corner but there were a few times when she would be on different tables, probably because someone took the place by corner when she came in.
Her presence was something that I found puzzling at first until it piqued my curiosity, and in the end it became like a soothing presence because she has always been a steady fixture during my coffee shop visits. After several months, I worked up the courage to sit at the table next to her. Without even reaching the table yet, she quickly gathered her things and prepared to go. She was out the door even before I reached the table. Did you know that I was going to sit near you? I asked her in my mind. And from then on I never attempted to go anywhere near her. I would sit myself a few tables away so as not to scare her away. Then the thought of her being this defenseless bird that shouldn’t be bothered, that flies away at the slight sound of movement towards her, crossed my mind and I chuckled silently as I looked down to raise my cup of coffee to my lips. My little pet bird, I thought as I looked at her from my table. No, scratch that, that didn’t sound right, I thought and I chuckled silently again.
Sometimes, she would drink her coffee hot, especially during the monsoon season. I would borrow an umbrella from my friend at work and I would dash over to the coffee shop. The lower portion of my trousers would be sticking onto my legs, and my socks and shoes would be completely wet from being momentarily submerged from the rain puddles along the way. And as I was greeted by the cold blast of the air conditioner, I can feel my feet and my lower legs turn icy from all the wet clothing and shoes. But that was alright, I saw her giggle a bit while watching a video on her phone that day. And I think I might have stared at her a moment too long because she raised her eyes from her phone to look at me and I quickly turned the other way so as not make her feel uncomfortable. Don’t gaze too long, you idiot, I chastised myself. Sometimes, she would drink her coffee iced or as a frappuccino, especially when the heat from the tropical weather is stifling. I also noticed that she finishes the books that reads after three or four days, all of them, except for Anna Karenina. She read that book for a week, it was probably a difficult book to read or maybe it was just very, very thick. I’m betting my money on the latter.
On the beginning of December, I was woken up by Christmas carols being played on my neighbor’s stereo. I looked at the clock and I realized I still have a lot of time to get ready for work. The morning was so blue, literally, like someone chose a depressing blue Instagram filter for this morning. I asked myself if I really needed this job and if I really needed to go to work today. After a short discussion with myself, I concluded that I am not that rich yet and I still have to hustle. I sat up unhurriedly on the edge of my bed and put both my elbows on my outspread thighs. I closed my eyes as my head drooped between my shoulders. I thought about how fast the year has gone and how another year is just a breath away. It is not everyday that I ponder on how much time we waste with our lives and the covert issue of our mortality gliding just underneath the thin ice. I turned my head up and decided to finally introduce myself to the mysterious woman in the coffee shop.
After glancing at my computer’s clock for the umpteenth time since arriving for work, I quickly strode out of the office the minute the clock read lunch time. As I was nearing the door to the coffee shop, I quickly combed my hair with my fingers while I was looking at my reflection on the windows. I went in and smelled the usual aroma and the usual cold blast of air from the air conditioner but as I looked around the shop, it was nearly empty save for a few middle-aged women near the windows having a quiet conversation. I looked at the table by the corner and it was empty. She wasn’t there. I went inside the unisex restroom and it was vacant. I can feel something cold creeping up my head and I hurriedly went outside to catch some air because I suddenly found it hard to breathe. The rest of that day was a blur. I couldn’t even remember if I finished all of my work on time. Everything was just depressing from then on: the Christmas carols, the Christmas decorations, the Christmas shopping. I didn’t understand why we had to do all of these things just because it’s Christmas. I just stayed in bed all the time when I’m not at work. The new year came with all its rowdy firecrackers and still the mornings look washed with a depressing blue filter. I would go to the coffee shop at lunch break and sit at her table, the one on the corner. I would even go after work, you know, just in case the time when she is able to go there changed. I would even go there in the weekends but she still wasn’t there. I asked the employees of the shop if they knew who she is but they didn’t know who I was talking about. Oh come on! She sits there on the corner everyday on her own and you don’t know who I’m talking about? I shouted at them out of frustration. Calm down, sir, or you will be escorted outside by our security, an employee said. It’s just odd. How can something permanent end up being temporary after all. Sometimes I would sit there on her table and sip my coffee and wonder if I ever imagined her at all. The coffee shop employees would throw knowing glances at me and there is a fat chance that they probably think I’m crazy but I didn’t care. Sometimes I would lie awake in the wee hours of the morning and stare into space, wondering how she is right at this moment. I hope she’s okay, I would tell myself. And then I would drift off to a dreamless sleep. My friends kept calling me, attempting to break me off from this debilitating dejection but none of them succeeded, not even my childhood friend who called me to say he wanted me to meet his cousin who is so hot, to which I said that is gross, dude, then hang up the phone. I thought about her all the time and sometimes I wondered, and later on agreed, that she might have been just my imagination. Maybe I am crazy; she was a product of my hallucination. Maybe I am Schizophrenic, even, who knows.
Sometime in March, when the oppressive tropical heat would begin to lay its claws once again, crawling slowly, slowly, slowly, until it is embracing the whole island in its blistering heat, my childhood friend invited me to his mother’s 60th birthday. I didn’t want to go but I couldn’t say no to his Ma, who packed sandwiches for her son and me when we were still in grade school. I was practically her second son and how could I say no to her on a video call when all I can see is how crumpled and wrinkled and tiny she looked. She’s probably gonna die soon, I reckoned.
The party was done in a restaurant with a pool, like literally beside the pool. I was sitting a ruler’s length from the pool, and just a good shove from someone and I would be jumping up for air from the water. I was just waiting for it to be over, actually, and I was looking up into the sky saying to myself, Oh merciful God just take me now, when I caught my friend from the corner of my eye, beckoning me to come over to where he was. I rolled my eyes and walked over to where he was and as I turned my eyes on the lady sitting beside him, she turned halfway towards me and looked at me. It was the woman from the coffee shop. I couldn’t believe it, I was going to jump into the swimming pool after all. I was speechless as she introduced herself to me and as I shook her outstretched hand I looked her over without blinking to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating and right then and there I made up my mind that I’m not going to let her out of my sight anymore. She was telling me about herself and in my mind I was jumping gleefully while saying yes I know, I know all about you, I’ve watched you from afar all this time. Are you okay? Are you crying? She asked. No, no, I’m fine, I said, I’m just allergic to the summer heat.