I stood under the shade, bathed in blue light, watching the lonesome coffee shop in front of me. Until now, I had an excuse to wait, and hesitate, for the rain had come down with might and I was not carrying an umbrella. Others who had retreated under shelters were already back on their ways and hurrying to their destinations.
I stood still with memories creeping up in the back of my consciousness. Finally, the light pouring abundantly out of the shop seemed to beckon me. I couldn’t dismiss the call.
I adjusted the disposable anti-pollution mask, lowered the cap further down to shade my eyes and walked forward.
The coffee shop had not gone through much change. The single flight of stairs that led up to it through a cramped space had not conspicuously eroded. The graffiti on the walls were as incoherent as ever. As I pushed open the door, the tinkling of the bell and the involuntary turning of heads seemed almost ancient.
The change that actually stood apart was the crowd. It was thin, only five visitors, talking in low voices and chuckling noiselessly, even at the busiest hour of a metropolitan evening.
What can I get from a place like this?
Then again, I was not so experienced to go big at my first try itself.
I took a seat nearest the counter and ran my eyes through the menu card. Even if I had no time to waste drinking cappuccino, I thought I at least owed it that much, to know what it served its visitors these days.
“What would you like to have, Sir?”
The oh-so-familiar tone made me jump. The fear of having my cover blown up gnawed painfully at my stomach. I went dumb for a moment and merely stared up at the face.
I had not expected him to be here at this time. Previously, he used to leave the evening hours in the careful hands of his manager. Now, it was obvious that like customers, the employees were waning as well.
It had been over three years.
There was not a hint of familiarity in the old man’s eyes. Perhaps I had deteriorated myself beyond recognition. On the other hand, he seemed to have aged more than what was plausible, his voice brittle and eyes glassy.
I sighed of relief, certain of the situation.
Pulling the knife out of my jacket, I leapt on my feet and spoke hoarsely.
“Give me all that you got.”
The shrieks of fear and surprise from behind did not go unnoticed, but I did not bother them as they rushed out of the shop. What I concentrated on was the dread and sorrow in the crossed-eyes in front of me staring at the tip of the blade, horrified.
I held the blade at his throat with one swift move, “Give!”
He reached inside the drawer of the counter and pulled out cash with trembling hands. The escaped customers must be bringing in help soon. I hastily stuffed my pockets with the money, crumpled and unorganized. It was not much, just around fourteen thousand.
“That is all there is,” He whispered and I knew he was on the verge of breaking down.
Without wasting a second, I sprinted out through the door, the bell tinkling once more, down the eroding stairs and into the street still wet from rain. There was no sign of the ones who had fled, or any policemen.
I let out a snarky chuckle. As expected of humans, they tend to leave you during times of despair.
I had promised, all those years ago, to build my career independently. To achieve my goals by whatever means necessary. It was, after all, only weakness if one did not use one’s full potential in the treacherous games of life.
I had managed to keep it.
Even today, when I have gone astray, I managed to keep my promise.
There was guilt, definitely, of being unable to carry out my plans as I had intended back in those days, when I was so full of dreams, unwise and immature. There was stubbornness too, of not letting them go, pushing forward on my own.
And of course, the primeval pride of humanity. The very basis of all destruction.
I slowed down to a walk, certain that nobody was chasing me. I touched the bundle of notes inside my jacket. I was a thief who stole from his own roots to find a place in this pandemonium of a world.
The idea was ludicrous, insanely ironic. I could not help laughing.
I knew I was headed down the path of corruption from where there was no return. The greed of what I sought was ruining me.
Yet, such is the abominable habit of humans to hope, such is the lure of the land over the mountains, I wanted to hold on even to that single, weak thread that had the potential to drag me onward.
By whatever means necessary.