(7) Sugar by nicholaiv

(7) Sugar

a short story by nicholaiv

An older man well into his 60s was sitting at an outdoor table in an old corner coffeeshop that faced a small but active intersection; it was one of those ancient coffeeshops that had been renovated a dozen times in its half-century of life but could not scrub itself clean of its original grime, which had sunk too deep into its foundation. A cane, presumably the old man's, was leaning against a chair that was pulled close to him. 

Across from him was an empty and worn orange seat. A newspaper was laid on the table in front of him; a visible title in bold letters read: "42 Dead in Freak Fire Escape Collapse." 

It was one of those interchangeable bright weekend mornings with the congenial peace brought on by the gentleness of its breezes and relative freedoms. Young couples hung off each other in self-conscious pride. Aerodynamic cyclists gathered their wits and bicycles on the grass. Toy dogs trotted along with territorial purpose on long leashes while their owners hid under the shade of trees and anonymity of dark sunglasses. Stoic aunties pushed home loads of fresh vegetables and meats from the fishmarket in little carts for their grandchildren's next meals. The tail of a dragon glimmered and flitted from behind the single billowing white cloud that drifted forlornly in the clear blue sky. 

"Darling," said the older man as the seat across his was filled. He took a sip of the drink that was placed in front of him and pursed his lips. 

"Kopi O Kosong is stronger than I remembered!" He gave a hearty laugh. He brought the small mug to his lips again but something about it caught his attention. He stared at the dark liquid that threw no reflection and was ringed by coffee grit and the stained white of the mug, and then something became audible, echoing from the beyond, and it was loud but so very far, drawing closer and closer, a scream, and he shuddered. He glanced at his fingers that pinched the mug, and they seemed foreign, and his hand began to shake. A waitress came by and he was jolted from his distressing revery. He looked up, relieved, as the the twittering of birds and humming of electric engines filled his ears. She set down a pair of soft boiled eggs, toast lined with kaya and chunked butter, a bottle of dark soya sauce and shaker of ground pepper. She gave the older man a slight, strained smile - she had unfriendly wolfish features - and nodded at the person sitting across from him. 

"Wonderful!" he said, setting down the tiny mug. "I've missed these. Come," He went to grab the dishes, but a gentle hand and smile stopped him. The eggs were cracked, and the dark sauce and pepper were swirled in. 

"Thank you, babe," he said with a gracious smile. "This is exactly how I pictured my first day out." He looked towards the clear sky, at the lone cloud which seemed to have stopped its journey across the sky, then closed his eyes and felt the soft breeze nuzzle his cheek; the sensation filled him with peace. The cracked and spun eggs, which now resembled a primordial goo, were slid over to him along with the toast. He opened his eyes and looked at the medley with a passing hunger and in the swirling mix of hardening yellow yolk and streaks of black and clear whites he saw - a face? Such an old withered face - then a dark universe that sought to escape into his. He took the small spoon and disturbed the surface, then quickly lifted the shallow dish and took a long swallow. 

"Every day, I'd picture this. This coffee shop, this corner. And you across from me," he said disturbing the surface of his encroaching thoughts. The world quieted around him, and he said: "I thought maybe you wouldn't be here," he smiled, but it was a sad smile, clear by pain that weighed on the corners of his eyes "There were so many doubts," he said, "Not about you... or your intentions, of course." 

He stopped, reddening. 

"Anyway, I'm glad to finally be out here. I'm older now," he winked, "but still plenty of life to go. And with you!" A passing cyclist stopped at the corner and waved in their direction. The old man looked at him, but could not seem to register his identity. 

"Hey old man! How's the Kopi today?" said the cyclist, uninjured by the lack of acknowledgement. The old man furrowed his brow, but then shrugged and said, "Its the best damn coffee I've had in 20 years!" 

The cyclist, satisfied by the response, smiled, waved a goodbye and continued his ride. 

"Do you recognize him?" said the old man, leaning forward after the cyclist had gone. A shrug and a smile was the response he got, and the old man leaned back and laughed. 

A trio of mynahs had begun attacking a plate of leftover rojak on the table next to his. He watched as they dug ravenously at the refuse with their metal beaks, soiled and rusted, and they scattered then returned, and their cold eyes were intelligent, watchful. 

"I thought, well, I thought you would be gone. After you got the diagnosis," he stiffened, "But I see you're here, just as I remember you." "And him... you, oh him! I can't even think of it," he looked confused, then upset, then looked across from him and his features softened; a tension was building within him. 

"But it went into remission! You beat it, right darling? Right?" A skewed smile. "That's right. And all the days that passed by, alone, with only the thought of you to keep me alive. And we're here... now!" 

"There's nothing like the air. I don't know if I ever told you. On cool nights, after those torrential rains, I'd feel so alone and nostalgic. Despite being surrounded by people, many who I really grew quite close to, I still felt alone without you, without... him?" and he looked away, confused again for a moment. 

"Is it raining?" he said. "Ah, no. Still clear." He took the cup in his hand again, and swung back what remained. Grinds filtered into his mouth, onto his tongue. He spat them into his hand. The black grit clumped and traced the deep, dark valleys of his hands, and his hands - when had they become so wrinkled, so spotted! 

Then suddenly the scream was back, faster and faster it drew and he could no longer look at his hand. He glanced at his partner and shock bit at his heart. 

"Oh, Sugar. When did you get here?" he said. "Where is...? Oh. Oh my." Realization struck like a clock ringing the hour and his eyes filled with tears. 

And then he started laughing. 

"What a wonderful dream, Sugar!" he yelled, and the mynahs took flight.

#shortstory #growingold #dreams


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