What was it about this guy’s hat that intrigued him so? He noticed the other patrons in the coffee shop begin to glare in his direction, as his fixation on this hat turned awkward.
“Can I help you sir?”
“No thank you,” he quipped annoyingly.
It wasn’t the hat at all that piqued his interest but something beyond the hat. He closed one eye to bring it into focus. He tried to squint to bring it more in focus but to no avail.
Suddenly the man with the gray hat stood up and started walking toward the door. As he passed the table of the man with the latte he leaned over and whispered in one motion, “You seem perplexed,” as he kept walking in the direction of the front entrance.
He approached the door and a woman wearing a blue dress walked in and embraced the man with the gray hat. Her dress was a striking blue, deeper than the ocean, but more subtle than the midnight sky. The shape of the dress, an empire waist, clung to her hips and breasts like a leather glove to ones hand. It seemed as if the man and woman were old friends. Were they lovers he thought? She looked at least thirty years younger than the man with the gray hat? The embrace was too intimate for her to be his daughter. Once again his eyes began focusing on the man’s hat. This time from a different angle; up until then he had only seen the front. Now that he could see the back he noticed the man’s hat had a small purple feather lodged into the fabric.
The woman in the blue dress playfully plucked the purple feather from his hat and seductively played with the quiver, alternating between running it along her top lip, and then the bottom; while brushing it with the tip of her tongue as she looked at the man with the latte in a somewhat devilish behavior. He felt uncomfortable and figured she was doing this on purpose to make him feel this anxious. “Why?” he thought aloud, as she read his lips from across the room. She slowly and seductively walked up to him as the man with the gray hat had left the building. Her eyes fixated on his. He felt a bead of sweat starting to form on his forehead. His heart began to race. She leaned over the table to expose a small amount of cleavage from the low cut blue dress that rested mid thigh and whispered into his ear,”…because I can.”
She sat down at the table next to him. Close enough to where he believed he could feel the heat from her body radiate toward him. There was something exotic about her mannerisms that made him attracted to her. He felt like she knew this and was deliberately trying to torture him. Was it just him or did she do this to all men? He was about to take a sip of his latte when he noticed the man with the gray hat had suddenly appeared back into the coffee shop. He looked directly at him and said, “Eventually you will understand everything.”
He didn’t look at the man with the latte as he spoke; he just kept walking with determination and without hesitation as he proceeded to the counter. “What does that mean?” he thought.
He closed his eyes and wondered what was happening to him. Perhaps this was all part of some strange dream. Perhaps he was still asleep he thought. He remembered waking that morning and encountered nothing out of the ordinary. With his imaginary checklist he crossed off each as he muttered them one after another under his breath, while swiping his arm into the air as if he was actually checking off each item.
4. Ate breakfast.
5. …and then walked to the coffee shop.
He went over this imaginary list over and over trying to remember anything different. Something he might have forgotten. It was the same routine he had followed for nearly every morning for the past five years. Not once had he seen the man with the gray hat in the coffee shop, or the woman in the blue dress for that matter. Something had changed. He had always felt at home here and suddenly he felt like a stranger. A complete and utter stranger.
His heart started to race again. The sweat was beginning to show through his clothes as the woman in the blue dress had fixated her stare into something beyond uncomfortable. His imagination placed her naked next to him while the coffee house had become abruptly vacant. Daylight turned into night and all the lights went dim except for one light high on the wall that shown down at an angle to cast shadows upon her naked body. Her curves in those shadows began to form on the empty walls and cold slate floors. He noticed the shadow from his own hand touching the shadow of her breast on the floor. Her shadow began to arch back as he heard a moan from her direction. The race in his heart was now justified he thought. He felt he became nothing more than a voyeur who couldn’t pull his eyes away from her curves on the floor as the shadow of her leg came to rest upon his lap. There were no other tables or chairs but the ones they found themselves on. No baristas. No patrons. No furniture. NO NOTHING!
The man with the gray hat interrupted his fantasy as he pulled up a chair in front of him as she slipped away into the darkness. The light had now re-appeared over his tall lanky frame casting new shadows over the man with the latte. The baristas, patrons, furniture, and everything else that gave him comfort had returned. The chatter of voices and the distant sounds of jazz over the coffee house speakers calmed his once racing heart.
“What did you see?” he asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I can’t understand what I see. I don’t understand what’s even happening to me. It’s like the two of you know something I don’t. It’s like you can control my thoughts and actions. You can somehow get into my mind and create an atmosphere where it gives me great discomfort. And your hat? And the feather? And her blue dress? Everything seemed normal when I woke up this morning. Now everything seems strange and unpredictable.”
The man in the gray hat cleared his throat and smiled. A smile that almost seemed friendly, yet at the same time it evoked an edge of disturbance. He looked directly into his eyes and spoke in his deep monotone voice, “Why do you think something has changed? What I know you already know. You just don’t remember yet… do you?”
“I have been coming to the same coffee shop for the last five years just like you have. The woman in the blue dress who you always envision naked has done the same. It always has the same beginning and the same end. You feel the comforts of home when you enter the coffee shop and imagine this normal setting that somehow you remember as being one way every time, when in fact it changes every day. Your comfort always turns to discomfort. Today it was the purple feather in my hat that triggered your uneasiness. Yesterday it was my blue striped tie that was a little off center. The day before that, I came in with a pair of broken glasses in my hand and set them on your table. Do you understand yet what we ask of you? What we seek? We do this everyday and will continue to do this everyday.”
Looking around the coffee shop he realized that the room that was once occupied by a handful of people now had at least one hundred. One hundred patrons wearing the same white t-shirt or white top with blue jeans. All were adorned in pale white skin, black hair, and dark charcoal colored eyes. It also had one hundred sets of these eyes fixed upon the bead of sweat that was starting to form again along his forehead. He wanted to wipe the sweat before it gently rolled down between his eyes and the right side of his nose before resting along the top of his lip. He began to feel like a frightened animal, cornered and afraid to move, in fears that his predators would pounce at the slightest move… He wiped the bead of sweat from his upper lip.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, searching his minds eye. If only he could find the missing link... if he could find the missing piece of the puzzle. If it was really true, and this man and woman had been coming here every day… why hadn’t he remembered them? Why didn’t they look even remotely familiar? In fact he thought… why didn’t anyone look familiar? They were all strangers to him. What happened to the people he knew and was used to seeing? He questioned if he was, in fact, at his regular coffee shop. He recognized the painting of the red and orange tree hanging crooked and leaning slightly to the right as it had been for as long as he could remember. He swore he had never seen any of these people before. Even the baristas were not the same. Who were these people he thought?
He closed his eyes again. Tightly this time. The wrinkles on his forehead displayed his effort. Tighter yet he thought. His face started to strain and he kept his eyes closed for what seemed like hours. The jazz and the chatter had faded into quiet. He slowly opened his eyes to find these strangers hovered over him and a heightened anxiety started to form again. “Tighter! Make them go away!” he screamed.
“Sir. Excuse me sir. You fell asleep. Are you all right?”
Looking around he noticed the familiar surroundings of the McDonalds he went to every morning for the last five years.
“Would you like your usual sir? A McCafe Latte?”
“Yes please.” he replied with a relieved smile beginning to form.
Looking out the window onto the city he felt relaxed and finally at peace with himself as he exhaled slowly in relief. It felt good to breathe again.
A man came out from the bathroom with a screaming child in tow. Before the bathroom door had closed he noticed a painting of a red and orange tree hanging crooked and leaning slightly to the right on one of the walls inside. A red Mini cooper stopped behind a large white van in the drive through momentarily blocking his view of the city. A woman in a blue dress opened the car door to the Mini and approached the white van in front of her. A man with a gray hat poked his head out to meet her as he glared inside at the man with the McCafe Latte.
“Your McCafe Latte sir…” said the cashier with a blank stare poking through his broken glasses upon his face.
A man in the corner was moping up the floor wearing a peculiar blue striped tie that appeared to be just a little off center. “What’s going on here? It’s starting again isn’t it?” the man with the McCafe latte whispered to himself.
He looked out upon the woman with the blue dress and the man with the gray hat and noticed they were both outside their vehicles staring in as he could read her lips, “Yes it is…”