The Hotel Cafe

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man trying to deal with war in his country's past

Submitted: May 10, 2009

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Submitted: May 10, 2009

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The Hotel Cafe
He was on his fifth cigarette and she was on her third magazine. She kept talking and reading; and he kept smoking and staring. There were moments when she asked a question, but she never expected a response. She simply continued to flick the pages, absorb more gossip from the glossy pictures and he continued blowing his smoke ahead of him, blurring his vision, which was not the best anyway. He just did not want to see.
His dark hair was so black that everyone thought he carried night in his head. His mother had been so stunned with his mound of shiny black hair at his birth, that she had hailed him an angel, for literally, it shone. Throughout all these years, it had stayed this way; not one grey or white imposter could be found. His friends were jealous and he had laughed this off before all that, but not now. Now he just wanted to look and smoke.
The woman mildly ignoring him had a head full of blonde curls. Of course, they were dyed that way, but they suited her face; high cheeks, pointed chin, tiny nose and mouth. Her hair gave her some depth, some character, and at least got her noticed, and therefore gave her work.
This work was easy because he just did not want to sit alone. She knew this, knew some of his story. It was enough for her. She was not someone who cared about details. She lived as simply as she could, with little distractions. She had enough money, a boss who was not too rough and an apartment to herself. She did not know why he lived here. This was a small town, and he did not seem like a small town man.
He lit another cigarette and puffed smoke across the table. There was only one other table occupied that afternoon; a young woman on a lap top, who paid little interest to anything else but the screen in front of her. He signalled to the waitress and ordered another coffee without saying anything. She did not even look up from the magazine.
His face was fixed. His mind was empty. He had a mouth built for smoking and eyes made to stare. His skin was the colour of an olive left out in the sun, not as shiny as his hair, but dark, almost purple. He had many lines on his face; deep trenches which hid his thoughts and past. She had always thought him handsome, for an older man. And women that passed him in the street thought the same. If he wanted, if he could, he could probably get married, like his brother had. But that only leads to more tragedy.
The waitress set down the little cup, a tiny glass of water and a small plate with two little pastries. Immediately, he picked up the plate and handed it back to her. Food crowded and disturbed him. It was never on his agenda. The girl looked up, because she would have eaten them, but they were already on their way back to the bar. She said nothing and turned the page.
He had been in the war. The big ugly dirty war. He had not had a clue what he was doing. He only knew that by being there he was making people proud; people he did not even know. A famous politician in a suit had come to shake his hand before he left. He remembered that the hand had been sweaty and limp and at that moment he had not trusted anything the man said. He never read a newspaper after that. They just told more lies.
His brother had died. It was as if the earth had opened up and his brother and new friends had all just fallen into it. In pieces. Because no one he knew came back in one piece. Skin fell off faces, bones broke dreams, blood filled lungs and letters were written. We’re sorry, they said. He was a brave soldier, they said. They probably had limp handshakes too after all that writing.
His mother had never spoken again. When he returned, defeated like the country, he walked funny and had too many wrinkles for a man his age. His mother held him and stroked his hair. His brother’s wife had patted his knees and shoulders, but she could not keep still for more than a minute. Every sound made her jump. She had dreamt her husband’s death; the bangs, the fire, the smoke, the cries of the dying. She had heard his last words and no longer slept because she did not want to hear them again. If he had come back, it would never have been the same. She knew that.
The city was not the same either. People did not look at you and everybody lied. The bright wide leafy avenues were filled with shadows to him. The sun was the devil. He tried to work indoors, but it was impossible. There were too many people, too much talking. He went to the country and had been scared of the silence. People were more sincere, but no less imposing and repressive. The space was fine, but then someone always did not want you to be alone. Sometimes he wished the earth had eaten him up as well.
Life was not what you made it. It was what made you. Heroes were just in the minds of those who never left. Memories built the roads he trod and no matter how he hid in the shadows, the sun came up everyday and forced him to comb his hair and walk again in the field of the dead and dying. Places have no significance when you have been to the worst one in the whole universe and come back, the only one breathing.
The girl on the laptop started to pack up her things and the woman looked towards the clock on the wall. It was nearly time. Easy money. He was just finishing a cigarette, so she knew they could leave afterwards. He put some money on the table, which was far too much, and gave her some notes, again, more than what he needed to. Guilty money spends without guilt.
They walked out onto the street. Grey clouds were forming and getting darker. It looked like it would rain very soon, so the woman bid her farewells until tomorrow and quickly walked towards her apartment. The man decided to head towards the plaza. If it rained, he did not mind. Storms were difficult, but rain he could handle. It was a little cleansing, and the world needed it.
He crossed the road as the first drops fell.
Written February 19th 2009, Campana, Argentina; from the couple at The Plaza Hotel.


© Copyright 2017 Laura Plum. All rights reserved.

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