There always has been something intriguing about the clock’s hour hand hitting 5 in the afternoon.
It was at around this hour where the record was playing an unfamiliar melody, rows of tables and chairs were arranged in an organised fashion, and an organic, ambrosial aroma was seeping into the nostrils of what could only be described as multitudinous numbers of people.
You barely thought of that place these days but as your junior colleague places the cup on your office desk its aroma registers into your senses as something… evocative. It might have been the scent of smoked butterscotch in that cup; or, dare you might think, might it have been the familiar scent of dark roast. Or you might have been merely homesick.
It was not the kind of homesick homesick is. Your workplace is only fifteen minutes away from the block where you live. This kind of homesick, if it were homesickness, was where you started remembering why and how you came about this point in time—the now-renowned chief graphic designer of your company, living your best days of life with your spouse—the head instructor of a dance studio in the next town—and a beloved child.
It was as if all the lingering memories in the back of your mind had been put to the front. If your mind had a projector in it, then the tiny workers who have received the scent of smoked butterscotch, the scent of dark roast, and your feelings of homesickness decided it would be a good idea to retrieve a box from the attic that has been stored away—how long was it? Who was the talkative old man at the counter? Where did I usually sit back then? What time did I usually enter that place? How would I usually enter when nobody’s home? Was it home? Was it a home, or was it the home?
You know the answers to these questions. But the questions have never been asked, not until now. Knowing yourself, you pick up your phone and call your spouse. The determination to reconcile with the answers once more seeps into every atom of your existence.
There always will be something intriguing about the clock’s hour hand hitting 5 in the afternoon. At least now that you have relived the thrill of it.
Of course, there was the record playing an unfamiliar melody - yet it seems to always hit home. An album cover of Giant Steps sits next to the phonograph. Rows of tables and chairs are arranged in an organised fashion - an indicator of class that only those with an eye to see and an ear to listen would appreciate.
But this time, it’s Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” an all-time favourite for hopeless romantics like the nineteen-year-old you. Nothing at all besides that has changed in this paradise you once called Heaven, and now you have pledged to yourself will still call Heaven. Maybe a few weathered dark oak tiles, a few once cream-coloured tiles that look slightly worn down.
The aroma of freshly-roasted coffee beans that had seeped into the nostrils of what could only be described as multitudinous numbers of people.
You gently open the door as the clock ticks 17. The wind chimes sing to the audience, welcoming your presence. And here, most suddenly, you were once more the expectant yet patient, familiar yet peculiar, an observer taking no note of everything but anything misaligned, such as the fact that no one is at the counter, again.
You suddenly now wonder where the talkative old man was. Was he still there? He was certainly the owner the time you were still around and in college. No way he wasn’t. Not especially when the phonograph has been playing his kind of tunes. In any case, you break the silence. “Kai?”
“Wait a moment,” you finally hear. The voice of many times a reminisce, of the middle-aged man who you’ve deemed a father figure of sorts. “The damned old man,” you whisper to yourself in relief.
You hear footsteps coming from the kitchen, a paradise of memories. The storage boxes, you imagine, still stacked perfectly as ever onto one side of the room; the stoves and ovens on the other side. This was where the aroma was the strongest, and consequently the funny, chaotic urge to always sneak into the café through the backroom and to the kitchen. Does Kai still remember?
As you were thinking, Kai calls you over to the counter. You weren’t quite sure if he remembers you, most especially since he hasn’t called your name.
“Alrighty, what can this old man get for yeh?” Kai says, his liveliness unchanged. But before you could answer,
“Hold on a second. The usual?” Kai’s mood suddenly brightens up. “Don’t tell me your tastes have changed since then.”
It did not take long for you to recognize that Kai already remembered you. It may have been the many years between the now and the then that has caused a great deal of change in your appearance, but you knew that Kai would never forget. After all, you were like a child to him. Your life started here, where you first met your spouse at the counter you are at right now, who at the time was at the other side of the counter.
“I was beginning to think you didn’t remember me,” you reply in return.
“Please, with a face as ugly as yours? You appear in my nightmares every time,” Kai teases.
“Oh please, old man. It took me calling you over to the counter for you to recognize me.”
“I missed this place. What’s new?”
“Aside from you having the realization to visit this place just now rather than before, nothing much.”
“I found a job already.”
“You did? What this old man tell you, eh? Nothing makes me happier than seeing my children grow.”
“Well, you’re right in that. Anyway, the usual, of course. That’s why I came all the way here.”
“Coming right up.”
Your spouse—a former barista at the café—decides to spend the time catching up with Kai. Once you have taken notice of this, you visualize a bygone memory.
You look at the clock. It’s half past 5. You observe it running back, gradually rewinding faster before it stops once more at the fifth hour of noon.
There is something intriguing about the clock’s hour hand hitting 5 in the afternoon.
You listen to the creak of dark oak on the floor, the clinking of the silverware against the cups. The chitter-chatter every now and then between the barista and the customer, or between customers, and the occasional tinkering of the chimes as footsteps enter and exit this paradise you call Heaven; all these sounds come together in an orchestration unique only to this place; a Holy Sanctuary.
You observe the figures, each in their liberty doing their own thing: the artist with her pens and sketchbook, the office worker sipping hot latte off his cup, the high school students and their youthful voices, the grandma and grandpa enjoying a game of chess.
You smell the variety of pastries and beverages. The smoke of the apple pie you so loved, reminiscent of your mother’s recipe. The aroma of freshly baked bread dipped in coffee, the sugary scent of chocolate chip cookies, and even, for those adept with the cold, mint chocolate chip ice cream.
You then look at the rather attractive barista by the counter. It seems just the other night that you had taken the hand of this person; under the excuse that you both could dance, you achieved an experience that many only regarded as fiction. A dance under the rain, like two souls under the stars that had lined up perfectly to celebrate that particular moment. Like two ribbons intertwining to seal Fate. Which it truly did.
And you look at the life of this place as you recount that memory.
You look at Kai and this barista, whom you did not know at the time would be your other half, your soulmate, your Divine partner.
That was 10 years ago.
The clock is half and five past 5 when you hear a soft thump on your table.
“What’s new?” Kai asks, just as he always had when you would enter the café 10 years ago.
“A lot,” You respond.
“No kidding. 10 years and all of a sudden you barge into my place. So you.” Kai says in a teasing manner, though it certainly proved the fact that some things never change. And you were happy that this was the case.
“Thought you’d like the surprise. Although I forgot to consider that you might’ve had a heart attack from that,” You respond.
“Shut up kid.”
“Good to have you back, even if it's just once in a while,” Kai wholeheartedly says.
“Yeah, for a second I thought I’d lose myself in my work back in the city.”
“Anyway, drink your iced butterscotch frappuccino now before it gets warm.”
“10 years and you still remember.”
“How could I forget? You’re like my child after all. Just like that little superstar on your stroller.”
You take hold of the cup and feel the chill. Reminds you of the cold back at Winter Street, your home. You take a sip and admire, once more, after all these years, the same old sweetness, the same old coldness, the same old texture of whipped cream and of the syrup—the drink that was like the water from a Holy Fountain.
At once, your thirst was quenched, the exact moment the clock strikes the fifth hour of noon.
“Hey, promise me this.” Kai says seriously.
“Repeat the cycle. Make your kid feel at home wherever she might go.”
“I missed this.”
a slice of life and a cup of coffee
BY patrick monje