The quiet café was painted by the color of the setting sun. I sat on the most comfortable-looking couch I could find. My espresso cup was half empty when I lit up my fourth cigarette that afternoon. I looked at the last message on my phone. It was from my girlfriend.
“I’m coming. Be patient, honey. X”
I simply loved how she always typed “X” at the end of every message. What a difference one letter made. Everytime I looked at that “X” I could imagine her kissing me. Her soft lips touching mine, their warmth penetrating my chest – like a hot shower on a late December evening.
We always met up in a café far away from our homes. So we could cherish every moment without any trace of fear. Fear of control. Fear of suppression. Fear of demands enforced upon us by our ever-controlling parents.
“We know what’s best for you,” they always said. Right. Only one person in the universe did: me.
I took a sip of thick black espresso and took a long draw from my red Lucky Strike. As I puffed a cloud of smoke, I thought of something a good friend of mine once said.
“I just don’t get it. I just don’t. I don’t understand why people smoke. It’s like burning good money and killing yourself in the process. Stop smoking, man. It’s bad for you.”
I just smiled at the time. I just didn’t think it was worth my while. If I had wanted to say anything back then, it would have been this:
“It’s an act of rebellion, man. Every single cigarette I smoke is a declaration of independence. I control my own body. I alone decide what action I take, however severe the consequences. It’s a sign of freedom.”
That was exactly how I felt now. A lot of obstacles stood between me and my happiness. I just never imagined they would be people I cared about most. I thought of them in that café, however briefly. I thought of them, and all I could feel was negativity. As if someone mixed together a frappé of anger, disappointment, guilt and sadness, shook it and forced it down my throat. I loved them, but I simply refused to sacrifice my happiness to satisfy their ego.
My cigarette was finished. The longer I waited, the more people came in, exchanged smiles and a few handshakes, and sat down. Then the glass door to the smoking room opened. Suddenly all I felt was a pleasant tingling. There she stood, tiny and attractive. Her black hair tied in a knot. She looked sophisticated in her work clothes – a white shirt and a short black skirt. I could smell her scent from across the room. There was something unbelievably sexy about her standing in the middle of the crowd.
She looked at me through her bronze frame glasses and gave me a cute smile. I returned it with my first smile that day. It felt good. She didn’t look around as she walked closer, her eyes fixed on mine. As if she didn’t notice everyone else. Strangely, neither did I.
Then she sat right next to me and kissed my lips. I felt warm, and I could swear that it had nothing to do with coffee. We talked about trivial things and told each other how our day was. After a while, she looked down and paused. A minute passed without a sound. Finally she looked up at me and asked,
“Do you still remember how we met? Right there in front of that counter?”
The weather wasn’t kind that morning. Thick white snow was all over the place. You could see it underneath people’s shoes. I still had snow on my jacket when I stepped into the café. I desperately needed caffeine after the horrible sleep I had the night before. So I stood in line. It didn’t take long at all, but some old lady was taking forever to decide what she wanted. In front of me was a tiny girl who looked as agitated as I was. When she ordered, I could tell she knew exactly what she wanted.
“One hot caramel macchiato, with an extra espresso shot, non-fat milk and no syrup.”
“No kidding.” I thought out loud.
“Excuse me?” she turned to me.
“Oh, hi. You’re drinking the exact same thing as I am. That’s my favorite.”
“Really? Mine too.” she smiled.
“I like it cold though.”
“Seriously? Even in this weather?”
“Even in this weather.”
Then we sat and chat until it was time to head to work. But it was long enough to exchange phone numbers. The rest was history.
“Can you believe we’re still together, after all these years? With the whole world against us?” she asked without looking at me.
“I know. We must be insane.”
“Do you think this relationship is going to last forever?” I asked.
“Nothing lasts forever. Not even death. Forever is a lie. All we have is what’s between hello and goodbye.”
But the hope that ‘forever’ was more than just an empty word still lingered in my heart, as long as I was with her. It amplified every surge of feelings inside me when these words escaped my lips:
“Come, hold my hand. Walk with me, and we’ll create our own forever. And we’ll be together until that forever has also passed away.”
After that we walked out hand in hand, bathed in crimson light.
Friday, 12th March 2010.
Featured image was cropped from a painting by Robert Finale, Cafe De Paris.