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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Cafe Guy

Hi. I wrote the following as an entry in NPR's Three Minute Fiction Contest. Obviously I didn't win, no doubt in part because they figured out that this was little more than a non-fiction blogpost. Enjoy!

The Cafe Guy, by Aaron White.

You might think that hanging in a cafe all day every day would be an enviable lifestyle, but his face was never not scowling. He never had company; no one ever sat or spoke with him. He always had a copy of the free weekly paper open on his table, but I never saw him reading it. He preferred to gaze levelly out the window, sitting sullenly in the cafe, all day long.

The preacher of my hometown church often admonished the congregation, "You may be the only contact someone has with Christ today," and while my religious beliefs had undergone a pronounced shift since I last heard that warning, I still believed I had a responsibility to reach out to others. I was a regular at the cafe myself, and whenever I saw the cafe guy I felt a twinge of guilt for letting him sit there in his glowering loneliness. Maybe I lacked gumption. Maybe I lacked love. Maybe I was uneasy about giving an opening into my life to such a sour person. Whatever the reasons, I never spoke to him. The occasional fleeting smile was all he got from me. He always feigned not to notice.

I assumed he would always be alone in the cafe. But one day, to my astonishment, he was sitting with another guy; a large, soft man with earnest open eyes. The large man seemed to be pleading his case.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," said the large man. "I think your ideas are incredible; I think you're a genius. But if that's the way you feel, I suppose I'll leave you alone."

The two of them went outside and sat at a sidewalk table while the cafe guy smoked. I saw but couldn't hear the large man continue to plead with the impassive cafe guy. Finally the large man left. The cafe guy remained, sipping his coffee and staring into the middle distance.

Soon thereafter the cafe was bought out and turned into something other than a cafe. I switched to another restaurant across the way; one that turned out to have better coffee anyway.

The cafe guy switched to my new restaurant too. I thought I had a greater claim to it since I bought food there as well as coffee, while he only ever got coffee. I was peeved with him for hanging out at my new spot without ever sampling the excellent menu. At the old place he had been the cafe guy, but he was never the restaurant guy. He was just a guy who never got any food, and never looked happy. I no longer felt guilty for not speaking to him; he really ought to have tried the salad sampler.

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