I was in Starbucks in Town Square, a two-minute walk from my apartment. The coffee store is not spacious, and is part of a high-rise building, sitting on the first level in a corner by the Hudson River. It has a restroom that remains open to all, although the Restroom only for Customers marker on the door is missing.
This coffeehouse has long remained my first stop to drink any espresso. My favorite spot inside is a corner at the far end of the store.
After the barista, Stacey, filled my tumbler with blonde roast, I walked a few steps before peeking to my right to see if the brown chair and table at the far corner was occupied. It wasn’t.
When I sat there, the restroom was to my left. People walked toward me before turning around to wait in line if the restroom was occupied. The bottom half of the wall lining the length of the passage was wooded, matching the brown hue of chairs and tables; the top half was an off-white coat suggesting completeness; the ceiling – an unadorned stretch of pipes and cables – infused rawness. Next to the restroom was the Employees Only room, where stocks of beans, muffins, croissants, cheese Danish lay fresh on iron shelves; although the room remained locked, employees accessed it also to change when their shift was over.
The more professional they looked, wearing green over black with a Starbucks cap crowning their pride, the more casual they were, sashaying around when it was time to head home. Employees – young or old – mostly wore ganjis and shorts after the completion of their shift in the dying weeks of summer. I remember a girl who had a language makeover, too: at work, she’d welcome everyone with a smiley “Hello” – post which, a cheerful “FO Dude” when a co-worker teased her.
To my right was a big stained window, framing not only downtown Manhattan but part of the Hudson River, where rich people had docked their yachts.
The blonde roast tasted more pungent. The rays of the setting sun outside were almost dead in their reflections off the mast of a three-level luxury yacht, docked very close to the window. The river ripples, serenely pallid under dock lights, moved in the direction of the sun, which, now devoid of its rays, looked a tint of orange.
Glancing at the bottom of the yacht, I saw a head pop out of the first level. He was a yacht cleaner in a white V-neck and yellow pajamas, with a piece of cloth in each hand. He replaced the pieces of cloth with a muffin in his left and coffee in his right hand. His Starbucks cup startled me. I wondered as to when he’d visited the store: it would’ve taken him ten minutes of a U-turn walk from where he was. But if I could open the window that Hurricane Sandy couldn’t break, he’d be in the store in ten seconds. He shifted his half-eaten muffin to his right hand, holding it along with his coffee, leaving his left hand to wave at me.
He appeared to be in some discomfort, jumping up and down. Then, gripping the US flagpole that was tied to a railing, he looked stiff in an army posture, as though ready to negate a drone attack. I cursed the insensitive yacht owner who’d probably locked the restroom in the yacht. How could a poor soul disobey nature’s call?
I was helpless, but soon he wasn’t. His face glowed under the orange sky. His smile appeared to grow into muffled laughter; he blew me a kiss – which I rejected – and when he blew me another, I thought that was enough. But when I watched him closely through the developing blurriness of my contact lens, I learned that his gaze, its line of sight, was angled a few inches away from me, in fact over my head to a target perhaps to my left. Just then Stevie Wonder crooned I Believe on the jukebox. As I turned to my left, I saw Stacey standing right outside the stockroom, blowing kisses back, which again went over my head.
She smirked at me, indicating that I’d made a fool of myself. I stared at my computer before closing my eyes; the sound of her footsteps receding. She’d disappeared for him, and he was also not there, anymore.