Stories

Lights flickered. Like a butterfly out of a cocoon, fluttering gingerly, like a new born testing their blurry vision, in a soft, delicate motion the street lights flickered, and with it ran a shiver down Anya’s spine. It was a warm spring night, and the little hand of her wristwatch crept towards twelve, mere minutes away.

A pin drop would’ve thundered. So quiet was the street, the last car having wizzed past the bus stop, where she now stood, over an hour ago. A dreary downside to living in a small town of a few thousand. In the dim yellow glow of the street light, Anya shuffled closer to the pole, looking up again to check if her bus would stop there. It would.

She looked at the watch. A knot churned in her belly, tightening with every breath, twisting her empty stomach. Perhaps the last bus was long gone? A warm breeze slapped her face, as if reminding she still had a phone, dying almost, subsisting still. Twenty percent—a lifeline—should be enough to phone a friend. If only she had one. Damn, being a new migrant was hard.

The knot snaked towards her throat.

Just then, she saw in the distance, two headlights heading her way. As hot scoop running down frozen ice cream, tender warmth washed through her. Finally. Safety.

As the bus jerked to a halt, she gasped in glee. A large pair of sunglasses sat on the driver’s shiny head, and he nodded in solemn silence to her toothy grin. No bald bus driver had ever seemed so welcoming.

Snuggled in bed, thirty minutes later, she mused letting the soothing gin drip down her throat. The world didn’t lack stories of terrifying experiences. It lacked good stories of friendly bus drivers.

“My inspiration?” Sitting cross-legged on a raised dias, Anya smiled at her interviewer, having just received an award for her bestselling novel. “Real life.”

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To me you are,

Have you ever washed a coffee plunger?

The jug is the easy part. The filter, however, is a wet mess of clingy dregs that’ve made their way into the tiniest of pores, overstaying their welcome like guests who’d muddied your carpets, who’d forgotten what cleanup meant, or how to spot the puddles of molten wax on your table cloth.

Like the soothing trickle of coffee embalming sanity on dry days, the aftermath of coffee also stays with you. Look at that filter. Really. Look at it, the triangular spaces of mesh running underneath the metal that holds it together. See the spring around it and the leftovers of your medium, double-roasted finely ground comforter. Good luck rinsing it out.

Then flip the filter over, and raise eyebrows at the stains, the tell tale signs of your addiction. Scrub it, harder and harder, and you’ll wish you hadn’t clipped your nails that morning. And when you’re done, when the lemony foam washes away in the steaming water foaming your glasses, you’ll see, like a curious case of cavities on clean teeth, that stains remain.

Honey, you are coffee to me.


This piece was published in the Elephants Never magazine. One of the rare occasions in which someplace other than my own blog houses my ramblings. Check out out here: https://elephantsnever.com/to-me-you-are/

Outside

Bright green leaves nodded, agreeing with the wind whispering in their ears. Like a million marbles rolling under the sun, in yellow and pink and white and blue, flowers shone in her face, showing off their sheen, manicured petals pollinated just in time, having lent shoulders to younglings experimenting wings.

They rest a while, but in the end they always take off. For blue skies beckoned them, casting their puffs of cloudy distractions aside, bringing sunlight to the spotlight, inviting explorers, the adventurous blood-eyed magpies and chirping berry eaters.

What a shame to be indoors, Hope wondered rolling her wheelchair out.

Mentality

Lights blind my eyes as an onslaught of motorists zoom past, unaware of the lanky thirty-year-old in tank top and teared jeans, dragging feet along with ice coffee in hand.

Unaware… or uncaring.

It takes me a while to recover, but I don’t stop walking. There was no reason to halt in my tracks, shuffle to a corner, and lean by the railing as a boat or two bellowed from the river running below. 

I’m used to it. 

Chicago never sleeps, and neither do the millions of ants that crawl its streets night and day, heels tap dancing on metal bridges, tongues clicking in response to a muffled voice on the phone, and laughter echoing, reverberating along every alley.

I take another sip from my crush-after-use cup, the weight of which was slowly crushing the earth. I can’t afford to care anymore. I am no longer the save-the-planet idealist I used to be. 

That mentality dissolved with my business, my income.

Seven-Eleven has the best ice coffee. It’s so good that you can sense it trickling all the way down your throat, before plopping on the surface of your empty belly and filling it right to the brim.

Refreshing.

Meant to be

There it was—like a non-judgemental mother musing at her teenage daughter growing up too fast to comprehend, a ring sat in his empty tea cup. Unassuming, almost hidden in the shadow of the dark tea, it had nestled, snuggling in the assurance of warmth.

Daniel felt lost.

It was a nice—a simple frill-free band of silver with no ugly engraving or dents. It was the perfect multi-purpose ring, with just enough ambiguity to serve both as an accessory and a testament to a sacred commitment.

Who put it there though?

It seemed silly. To place a ring in a cup of tea. It was the kind of thing non-drinking, overly health conscious, hopeful hippies would do. He smiled. Whoever did this knew him well. Enough to know how much he dreaded jewellery and the spotlight that came with it. 

His curiosity was piqued. He hadn’t told many people about his parents pressuring him to find a partner. So whoever did this was close to him. 

Except he couldn’t quite tell who.

He looked around for a clue. 

Time stood still. Behind the till, Augusta, her face screwed in concentration, held a twenty dollar bill in her right hand and a pile of miscellaneous notes in the other. She was an economics student at the university working casual hours, trying to make some extra cash on the side. She hated math, Daniel recalled her bold declaration in one of their small talks. It couldn’t have been Augusta. She was too involved with her life, and he in math.

Barista Jason’s hand was frozen in midair too, hovering over the milk nozzle, ready to caress its smooth curves. Not him for sure. He was way out of league for Daniel—in every aspect, except perhaps money. 

Cafe chatter he’d gotten used to over the last five years had ceased in mid-conversations, vowels hanging, modifiers dangling, and fragments awaiting completion. Beyond the tainted glass, cars were a blur, as if caught red-handed by amateur photographers, whizzing passed red lights.

He looked back at the ring. And almost instantly, the world went back into motion. Annoying giggles started up from the table nearby and impatient honking from the street waltzed in through the door as someone walked in.

Sigh.

It felt wrong to take the ring without knowing who it came from.

What the hell. 

Pocketing the shiny silver, Daniel walked out the cafe, waving at Augusta and Jason on his way out. It was a good day.

The door clinked behind him.

Not two seconds after, a purple-haired man in the cafe wailed, “Oh, my goodness! They gave you the wrong cup!”