Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our Agreement

I peep into the window and hope to catch her attention. I stand around waiting for her to notice my presence and five minutes later my patience runs out and I risk unwanted attention by tapping the glass gently. Finally her gaze meets mine and she nods ever so gently that you might swear it never happened. I walk to the back of the store at a leisurely pace and as I reach there, she stands waiting with a small cup of freshly brewed coffee.
“This is becoming a habit,” she remarks. I admire her in her uniform; her bright green apron and black T-shirt. She smells of coffee beans. I accept the cup and look at her for any signs of a smile. I find none; her glossy lips do not allow me that honour. “Don’t worry,” I tell her. “I’ll be moving on from here today. You have my deepest gratitude. If your boss ever saw you handing out free coffee to people like me, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes then.”
“Yeah, save me the details,” she says coldly and heads back inside. I head out onto the park and find myself a wooden bench that isn’t taken by a perspiring jogger or by an amorous couple who plan to get to third base. I sit down and remove the protective plastic lid and toss it into the nearby bin. The aroma of coffee engulfs my senses and as I sip the hot brew, I am reminded of her. I don’t know her name but I would like to imagine it be Jeanne. It is starting to get chilly and I zip up my old dirty jacket to block a fresh breeze. I reach into my backpack and fish out my harmonica. I finish the drink and put my empty cup on the grass, dropping a pound and a few pennies into the cup. The trick of the trade is never to start with an empty cup. No points in letting your audience think you stink. I start off with Roadhouse Blues by the Doors. I close my eyes and concentrate on the music and open them intermittently to see if the cop at the street corner would decide to rain on my parade. I work through another song or two and take in the crowd. Over the past year or so, I have seen the multitude of reactions. Some pass by without caring. Others keep their distance, worrying that they would be obligated to pay the poor bastard if they got close enough. Yet others look at me carefully, as though observing my life under a microscope; looking for signs of what may have led me down this path. A broken home? An abusive father or an alcoholic mother? A runaway delinquent perhaps? I didn’t care for their opinions. I didn’t care about their condescension. I cared for their spare change.

"We ask nothing of each other; our names or our secret ridden pasts."                    

I finish my set and I’m greeted by mild applause and the sound of coins hitting my initial deposit in the cup. I chance upon Jeanne standing in the distance; the wind blowing through her cream colored cotton skirt. I nod and play “Hey Jude”. She closes her eyes and loses herself in the melody of the harmonica. Jeanne and I have a silent agreement. We ask nothing of each other; our names or our secret ridden pasts. She gives me free coffee. On the cup she writes the name of the song that she wants me to play. It was our little agreement; our little game. I finish playing Hey Jude and stand up to indicate that the gig is over. People hurry past as I put my harmonica; my vestige of a lost childhood, into my bag.
She approaches me and hands me another cup of coffee.
“One for the road?” she suggests. I say nothing and take the cup from her; both of us careful to avoid the accidental brush of hands. She walks away and once out of earshot, she mouths the word “Goodbye” and I see the edges of her lips curl into the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. She’s gone.
I look at my cup and I grin. On the cup was a single word written in her unmistakable hand. She had broken our little agreement. I pry off the plastic lid and take in the aroma of the latte and try my best to etch her smile into my memory; to trap that fleeting moment and freeze it forever, to recall and seek solace in it in my darkest hours. I sip slowly and think about her short blonde hair, her skirt blowing in the wind and her name. For important things like these cannot be carried around in a backpack.
Thank you, Annette.


vinod said...

Lively description....I could really imagine the whole scenario....great piece...:)

Girish said...

really good writing.. the whole story ran like a muvie thru my read...

prateekmathur said...

nice usual, great scene..!
i could smell the coffee.. :)

Alvaro said...

very beautiful.