She hadn’t arrived yet when I came in, and the shop was still dark, barely lit by the streetlights outside. I felt relieved slightly, though I knew it wouldn’t last, couldn’t. The feeling stayed as I started the tedious task of opening the shop for business. Today would be a terrible day, I was certain of it.
What should have been routine was suddenly a struggle to accomplish. It was when I puzzled over how to layout the pastries that the thought struck me, that maybe she wouldn’t turn up at all. Perhaps she had left, quit, the prospect of seeing me so unbearable that she’d rather up and leave entirely. As quickly as the thought came to mind though, I discarded it. She was strong, stronger than I was, really. She wouldn’t be troubled by this, or at least, she wouldn’t let it drive her away. Myself, on the other hand, I wasn’t as sure.
It was then that she swept in, humorously large bag slung over a shoulder, nonchalant as ever. Her cheeks had reddened with the walk from her place, and the slowly rising sun was burning her hair golden. She was pretty as a picture – she always had been – but today the picture had teeth. She looked at me, and her eyes met mine; they were a deep liquid brown, and I could almost see the thoughts that swam underneath. It felt like a blow, and I turned away quickly.
No words were exchanged, no greetings. She dropped her bag beneath the counter and went straight to work, over at one side of the shop. I finished laying out the pastries and did the same, staggering off to the other end. We worked steadily, separately, though I couldn’t help but catch glimpses of her. Her face, set in concentration; her movements, fluid and graceful. My ears started ringing, and I could feel my heartbeat, drumming loudly in the silent air, mingling with the steam from the coffee machines. I shouldn’t have come, shouldn’t have, but the day had to go on. There was work to be done, customers soon to be served – and they cared little for our troubles.
They slowly started to come in, a trickle at first, and then suddenly a flood. The early morning rush, and I was happy for the distraction. More staff arrived to help, and the day went into full swing. The heady scent of coffee filled the air as I took my spot behind the coffee machine. It was comforting, in a way, the memorised movements, the forced smile. I barely noticed her take her own spot beside me.
The day went by, the orders came in, and we filled them quickly, easily. Too easily. I knew how she worked, how she moved, how she thought. I didn’t speak and neither did she, and for a time, it was as though nothing had changed. Eventually an irate customer faced us, complaining over the counter, and I sent an unconscious glance her way. She was looking back at me, and I rolled my eyes slightly, and I thought I saw her do the same.
Everything had changed, though. What it had changed into, what it was changing into, I didn’t know. I looked at her one last time, just after locking up shop for the night. She was looking back at me, her thoughts, still as hidden as ever. I nodded at her, and she nodded back. She turned to leave for the day, her ridiculous bag slung over her shoulder, her hair, golden in the setting sun.
I watched her leave for a moment, with the streetlights flickering back to life above me. Perhaps we’d return to how we were before, or perhaps we’d befriends. Perhaps we were ended, truly. Either way, today wasn’t as terrible as I thought, and with any luck, tomorrow wouldn’t be either.
She had painted the walls green a week ago she remembered.
Which was nice because green is soothing to the eyes they say. And it was timely because everybody had told her recently how she had her shiny, bright eyes back after a long time.
About time she got tired crying really.
She had wanted to draw graffiti at first but she figured she was too old for that. She laughed at herself for having seemingly aged a decade when she woke up today. She then scrambled to get up from bed and stretched.
Green did look nice.
She caught her reflection by her bedside mirror and stared at it for a time. She smiled, no more dark circles too. She adjusted her specs and wrinkled her nose. “Where on earth have you been, you?” she asked herself aloud. “But I’m glad you made it back.” She winked at her reflection and laughed again.
She could really be funny sometimes.
She got up and made herself some coffee, nothing like a weekend off of everything. She had told her boss the other day that she needed a friggin’ break. Yes, that’s what she told him exactly – a friggin’ break. Although she might have shouted a bit, she realized, and the poor guy did not even budge. He just stared at her when she threw her hands up and stormed her way out of the office like he had been waiting for that to happen ever since.
Maybe everybody needed a friggin’ break from everything, sometimes.
“Hey, are you alright?” a voice from the door called, “Can I come in?” And then there was a buzz.
“Nobody’s home!” she answered as she opened the door smiling. “How did…”
“I brought food, come on, get me a cup. I know you always make coffee for two. Your twitter’s crazy, you know. I was scared you’d run away for good, V.”
“Stalker!” she muttered while pouring him a cup of coffee. Reggie was grinning back at her ridiculously, his hair almost covering half of his round glasses. He had such a beautiful face, or maybe it was just her imagining it because she had always marveled at his eyes and the way the light danced through them when he rambled on.
“You seriously should have a haircut, dude.”
“I like how my hair is almost covering my specs, V, but yeah, maybe next week.” He said grinning again and taking a sip of his coffee.
She just shook her head and rolled her eyes at him as she rummaged through the stuff he brought. Today he brought croissant, she wondered how he always knew what to bring. Two days ago, he showed up at her doorstep and had beer with him.
They sat on her porch the whole night, watching the dark trees cast shadows on the ground. It was a starry night and the moon was really bright and they talked for hours about the constellations. The next day she shouted at her boss and stormed out of the office.
Maybe Reggie was some cosmic force in her life, after all, she reckoned.
She met him five years ago at a bookshop where she was looking for a good book to keep her sane, oblivious to the world. They both reached for that single copy of a classic book. He got to the book first but he gave it to her because she might have looked like she had just gotten her heart broken with those puffy eyes that she tried to hide in her thick glasses. She actually just had a terrible migraine that morning. But he told her she should join him for coffee in exchange for the book.
Typical douche moves this dorky guy had, she told herself. But she agreed anyway because she had earlier plans to get coffee after going to the bookstore. And she was thinking that maybe she could teach this guy a lesson or two about life and put him in his proper place in the hierarchy of human sub species.
But to her surprise, they both came from the same university and they spent the whole evening talking about the books they read. He asked for her number, called her the next day and discovered they just lived two blocks away from each other.
“I imagined you’d like to eat croissant today, V. He said breaking her reverie, “Well that’s if I had not found your apartment empty.”
“Good gods, so what if I ran away, Reggie? It would not matter anyway.”
“Oh it would to me, V, it would.” His face became grave and sad. And he was silent.
“Hey, finish your coffee. I thought you came here to cheer me up.”
He stood up and walked to the window. “V…” He said, his back at her. He moved the curtains to the side to bring in more light. “You should have just called me right after you threatened your boss.”
“Hey, I did not threaten my boss! And it’s okay dude, I was fine. I just slept after that. And I haven’t been crying anymore, you know. I really appreciate it, Reggie, all of this. It’s just that…”
“Three years, V, it has already been three years.”
He was now looking at her. His face more concerned than grave. “I guess it’s about time you give this universe another chance. Allow people to enter into your life again, make you happy. You are a beautiful soul V, why can’t you let people love you?”
She returned his gaze. His eyes were imploring. “Oh Reggie,” she told herself in her mind, “why did he let that hair cover those beautiful eyes?”
“Why?” she asked him. “You have somebody in mind?”
He shook his head and smiled at her amused.
“You know I loved him, Reggie. I really did.”
“I know”, he said, looking a little annoyed. “I was there all the time, V, wishing you never did. That douche. How can anybody be so cruel like that?”
“You think he ever loved me, Reggie?”
“How many times do I have to answer that, V?” he asked her. He was laughing this time.
“Of course he did, I think, but you were too much for him, V. Everybody saw that, well except you of course. And do you really expect him to keep up with that stubborn and audacious spirit you have?”
“It was so difficult to see you like that, V.” he said with a sigh.
“Then tell me how you do it, Reggie. Why do you even bother with me anyway?” She looked at him now, trying to understand.
He looked intently at her for a very long time. His hair did not cover his eyes anymore and there was the light dancing in them again. He looked nice in green too, she realized.
“Oh, hey you brought cake!” She tried easing out the tension that she felt was rising between the two of them.
“Yah, I know you love cake, V.” He sat on the chair next to where she was standing, trying to make the atmosphere lighter too.
But he could not help it perhaps. Because he took her right hand while she was just about to get the cake. It was warm and he was shaking slightly.
“Are you alright?” she asked him.
“Why do I bother with you, V, you ask?” He shifted in his seat and held her hand a little more tightly, he was not shaking anymore.
“I’m sure you know why, V. I’m sure you do.”
She sat beside him on the table. The cake can wait, she told herself. They looked at each other and then stared out of the window.
“I guess what they say is right, Reggie, green is a really nice color.”
“Yah, the walls look nice, V.”
They sat there for a long time, staring out of the window, holding each other’s hand.