You wore a red jacket that day. The jacket was a good choice; it was cold outside where you sat. Though, I feel that you would have worn it had it been thirty degrees warmer – for that was your ‘going out’ jacket. Aviator sunglasses shielded your likely hideous eyes from a non-existent sun. You sat there rolling a cigarette. From the look of you it was clear you had done that many, many times before.
Your skin was wrinkled like a sultana. Unlike a sultana, though, you would not be rejuvenated when placed in water – born again, plump and juicy. No, you would simply drown. The spawn of Satan is not taught to swim.
I remember not your hair, but for the sake narrative flair and ammunition to insult, let us say that you were bald – pink and grey spots clinging to your dry scalp.
Your voice was husky, but not the sexy kind. If you were on the radio, receivers all over the world would spontaneously combust. Death by fire, a more palatable option than listening to the metal-on-metal rasp that escapes from your mouth.
I would describe you as a rough bloke, but that would be insulting to rough blokes. You were something else.
“Hey mate,” I say with all the faux-hospitality-happy I could muster. “What can I get for you?”
“Large cappuccino,” you excrete from your weathered and leathery lips.
I walk back inside. Order up!
A large cappuccino you did not receive. Shame.
You brought me over The Abomination: the small cappuccino. This is not what you asked for, you tell me. I apologise. It was cold, you tell me. (Read: not hot enough for you.) Once more I apologise. I did not make that one, I tell you. I will take The Abomination from your scaly hands and make you exactly what you ordered. But this did not satisfy your insatiable craving for conflict. You could never help yourself, could you?
“But I told you what I ordered!” You poke at my chest with a knobbly, arthritic finger. Not hard enough to hurt – no, that would have broken your calcium deprived bones – but hard enough to assert your perceived dominance over me. I drop my hospo charm and tell you again that I did not make this one and that your temperature woes are not my problem. Impolite on my behalf, I know. But we all make mistakes – I know you certainly have. You storm out. I make your coffee.
After our previous run in, I decide to stay silent. I deliver your large, hot coffee and scurry away, hoping not to anger you further. Oh, but unbeknownst to me, I did.
As the minutes pass I relax, thinking that you are satisfied, that the stars have realigned and that the demons that live within you have calmed, no longer gnawing at your soul. But there you are, darkening my doorway. Interrupting a conversation I am having with another customer, your anus-mouth spews the question: “Mate, what’s with all the cold coffees?!”
That is the hottest I can make without burning the milk, I lie – I had burnt the milk already. The smell still clung to the back of my throat.
Knowing you have been beaten by logic, you resort to a thing you know so very well; misplaced anger.
“Oh fuck off!” you reply.
Admittedly, you did catch me off guard. “Excuse me?” I ask with all the embarrassing sass of a teacher who has lost control of their classroom.
Once again, you storm out, slamming the door.
I am sorry. I am sorry that life has made you this way. That your parents never really loved you the way they loved their other kids, your brothers and sisters. I am sorry that school wasn’t easy for you. Numbers and letters can be really tricky, I know. I am sorry that people weren’t always nice to you because of your droopy eye. I am sorry that your dreams and ambitions were replaced by substances that gave you an ephemeral sense of accomplishment. I am sorry that in your darkest moments you see yourself for the failure that you have truly become. I am sorry that anger bubbles away inside you, that it consumes you and keeps you awake at night. I am sorry for your miserable existence.
But I do feel for you. Life is hard. Sometimes we ask the universe for hot, but it gives us cold. Sometimes we pray to God for large, but he gives us small. But it does get easier. I know it does. Anger subsides, love finds us and we find love. The storm clouds of the mind clear and an eternal calm begins to grow within us. Life does get better. Until then, we’ve just got to keep swimming. Alas, you never learnt.
By Eamonn McGrath-Lester
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