In the haze of my half-cut wandering, I’d walked to a part of town I’d never been. The buildings were low-lying, each only having one or two stories at most, and appearing even smaller in the shadows of the surrounding skyscrapers.
There was a small fruit stand with two fermenting pears and a basket of spotty bananas on it. The woman standing next to it did her best to swat at the flies with a rolled up glossy magazine. She smiled when she saw me looking and waved, with bits of wing and crushed insect spraying from the pages around her in a halo of decay.
Across the courtyard a man sat carving a log with chisels. He was wearing a kilt, nothing on top, and a thick mat of hair on his chest, chin and crown.
Further down I saw a chalk board sign which said I could get coffee and food inside. I hadn’t eaten all day, and the streets were cold at that time of year.
The door stuck to its hinges as I pulled it open, the wood tracing an arc which was etched permanently across the cobbles. Inside it was low-lit and a man stood looking at me from behind the counter.
“Coffee?” He pulled a head free from the machine and tapped out a spent shot, prepping to pack a new one. I nodded and he beamed, beginning to tamp the ground coffee down and placing a mug under the stream.
“I can tell you’ve never seen one of these before. Am I right?” He asked.
“Yea, man. That thing looks crazy.” He laughed and put a milk jug under some steam.
“Most people just get theirs without the wait time these days. These things became obsolete after you could just punch some buttons into one of the thousand drink machines around the city. Pop! Out comes a perfect flat white in a styrofoam cup, no work needed. Would you like some crude oil with your order, sir? God. Don’t get me started on the smart-cafes either.” He was grinning, laughing to himself about a joke he was constantly recalling. I just nodded, it was all a bit weird.
“It was a bit of a mission to find one of these bad-boys. My old man knew someone who ran a cafe, way back before automation took over, and he just gave it to me. Can you believe that? Its one of the only ones left in the whole city. This thing is priceless, man. A good cup of coffee, made how it should be, shared and with free, genuine conversation. But, you gotta pay for the drink.” He winked and then poured the milk with an exacting eye, his wrist relaxed and the milk ribboning silk-like through the copper crema. He admired his work for a moment and then slid the cup over to me. On top there was a bronze and ivory cosmos, with milk moons circling golden planets encased in a fractal patterned border.
“Hey man, thats amazing. How the hell did you do that?”
“Practice. Latte art isn’t a lost art, if i’m still kicking.”
“Well, I appreciate it. Thanks. How much?”
“You know, since its your first real cup, you can just take it. You’ll be hooked once you taste it and have to come back for more.” He walked away through a door behind him, brimming with self-satisfied laughter. I looked through the door, which led to a kitchen, and he was singing a melody to himself while cracking eggs into a frypan. He saw me watching and started throwing his hand toward me, pointing. I turned around and saw the doorway he was gesturing at.
I picked up my coffee, careful not to spill it, and too wary to drink it, and walked through to the other room.
There were bookshelves along the walls, crates of records, and people looking through them all with intense eyes. Tables lay chaotically around the room, all made in differing styles. Some people sat lounging on cushions strewn around the floor in a corner nook, drinking tea and having intimate conversations. Others sat alone, reading, writing feverishly, or just staring around the room at the hustle.
I edged in, finding a seat around the bar, which skirted another coffee machine. Behind the counter there were jars of strange leaves, teapots, cups, coffee beans, and a bartender cleaning mugs.
The man a couple seats down was ranting to him.
“He was a wacko, I tell ya! He kept asking me if I was CairoClueless67, getting all nervous like and pulling on his sleeves, looking over his shoulder and all that. Says that I’m wearing what I said I would, but come on, how many people were out that night wearing black jeans and a blue sweatshirt? Naturally, I told him to get out of my face. I figure he’d booked a night with some lover-boy online and the guys a no-show. So, I go back to my drink, ten minutes go by and this guy is getting antsy, when wouldn’t you know it, a guy in black jeans and a blue sweatshirt walks in. Our guy here, gets really excited about this and he gets up fast, shooting his arm up at this guy. They talk for a few minutes, and next thing you know, BLAM! Blue sweater fucking blows this guys goddamn head off. Sends chunks of his skull into martinis around the room. People are screaming and it all goes to shit, man. This guy, he just asks the barkeep for a phone, calls the cops on himself and goes to sit on the curb. Naturally, I finish my drink. At ten bucks a beer what do I do, you know? Anyway, the cops, they come racing round the corner and our guy starts fucking blasting them. They fire back and just tear his body apart. Chunks of his chest are spitting off of him like meat shrapnel and he goes down, hard. Woah, mumma! Better than any late night b-grade film I’ve ever seen. The police wanted to question some of us about what we saw, its all done by the book, you know? A couple weeks later, I see an update in the papers. Turns out these guys met on some site, way deep in the dark net. Basically its a place to organise a double suicide, for people who don’t have the guts to top themselves. You organise to meet, then one of you offs the other, waits for the cops and then lets them kill him. Both get to die, but neither have to kill themselves. How fucked up is that?”
“That never happened, Kyle. You’re a goddamn liar.” The bartender didn’t buy it.
“Like hell I am, you son of a bitch! Ill bring you the news articles and then you can eat shit.”
“Yea, yea. Is this like that time you supposedly survived a cougar attack at some circus show?”
“Piccadilly circus, nineteen sixty-five!”
“Piccadilly circus is a round-a-bout.”
“Well, it’s all true. I ain’t a liar.” He turned to face me. “Hey, kid, you’ve been listening the whole time.” I’m sprung. “You think I’m a liar?”
I look into my still full coffee mug. “Uh, no, um. But I guess I don’t really know you enough to be able to say. The story was interesting, though.” He turned back satisfied, shooting smug lips at the barkeep.
“At least someone around here is a good judge of character.”