Sitting at the table close to the window, the counter and every table are within view. For several minutes, all I do is watch customers walk in and place orders. Because. I’m having a terrible creative block. What’s wrong with me? About ten hours to the submission deadline and all I’ve typed is a sentence.
I sip some coffee. Dropping the mug to the table, I read the sentence and rest my finger on the backspace key. The page is empty again.
I look out the window at pedestrians, some holding umbrellas, and cars on the street, wipers on.
“A day of singlehood.” I mutter the writing prompt. I sigh. I cross my arms. Two ladies are walking past. The one on the right is wearing a red raincoat with the hood on, the other, a brown trench coat. Their jeans and boots look the same. I follow them with my eyes until they walk out of view, and then an idea pops up in my head.
A final-year college student finds a mobile phone on the ground. A few minutes later, it rings. A romantic adventure begins, and it ends at a date with the phone owner the next day.
Staring at the screen, I breathe in. And exhale. For the first time in two days, I get a whiff of progress even though I’m still at zero of at least six thousand words. I pick up the mug and lean back.
Outside, people struggle with their umbrellas as a strong wind blows. Then that day replays in my mind: how Mark joined me under the umbrella, how we walked side by side for a few minutes without saying a word to each other. Mark. It was like a scene from a movie.
Suddenly the urge to spy on him is strong. I grab my phone off the table and open the photo-sharing app.
His girlfriend’s photo is the first on his profile. Oh! Today is her birthday. Below the photo, he added an epistle that starts with “my love.” I swipe.
The next is a selfie of them in a car. She took the photo, and he’s in the driver’s seat. My finger has a mind of its own for a second and taps the “Like” button. Damn! I undo it. Would he see it? I’ll never check his profile again—never.
A “new email” alert pops up at the top of the screen. I tap on it. It’s from one of those work-from-home spammers who has figured out a way of escaping the “spam” folder. After I send it to where it belongs and raise my head, I set my eyes on a tall, flawless creation. Black hair coiffed to perfection, blue eyes, prominent cheekbones, he looks like those models in fashion magazines. As he takes a seat at the table opposite, he looks around. Then—his eyes fall on me. My heart skips a beat. I look out the window, but my peripheral vision is damn active.
It seems he’s still looking… at me. Could he? No, no, he’s not. I’m not that pretty. He probably has a hundred girlfriends and another hundred ladies drooling over him every day, sending him nude photos, begging for his attention.
Five minutes pass, and I’m still playing the avoid-eye-contact-with-Mr-gorgeous game, very taxing, applying a little bit of mathematics and physics to make sure I don’t get caught. Gazing at him, my attention gets drawn to the laptop’s screen as it fades to a red ball bouncing all over—the screensaver. It occurs to me that I haven’t typed a word since he walked in. My goodness! I shift forward to the edge of the chair and place my fingers on the keyboard. Five thousand words in five minutes is my new target.
“Asha, focus,” I whisper to myself. Then I hear him clear his throat.
I try to steal a glance, and we make eye contact. He smiles. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I say. And wave. And hit the mug as I put my hand down. Coffee spills on the table, my lap, the floor—all in a second. A map forms on my flowery dress. It’s kind of embarrassing. Everyone is likely staring; he’s likely looking. My eyes are fixed on my lap, thinking of what to do next.
I stand. He stands, eyes fixed on me. He walks in my direction and my heartbeat accelerates. I act like I don’t notice him approaching and signal to the barista that I need to wipe the table. Her face isn’t pleasant; she has seen the mess already. Hope she didn’t see the action that led to it.
“Oh, sorry,” he says, “my fault.”
I chuckle, unable to look at his face.
“Your dress,” he says.
“Yeah… it isn’t your fault.”
The barista walks out of sight and returns a few moments later. She walks around the counter, a mop in one hand, a cloth in the other.
He lifts my laptop off the table as the barista starts cleaning. I realize I should have done that and try to collect it from him. He moves it away and says, “Don’t worry,” with a smile. His thick, kissable lips stretch.
The way the barista wipes the table and then moves the mop, it’s obvious she’s pissed. She drags the chair and mops under it and pushes it back as if it spilled the coffee.
“Thank you,” I say.
“No problem.” She shrugs. Ten seconds later, she’s behind the counter taking orders.
He places the laptop back on the table and extends his hand. “Chris.”
The way his palm wraps around my hand is so pleasant. I want to stay like this forever. For a few seconds, we say nothing. And when I try to end the awkward silence, my brain disappears, my mouth agape.
He releases his grasp on me, and I quickly pull my hand from his before he does.
“Do you mind if I join you here?” he asks.
“Uh… no problem.”
Chris, actually it’s not a good idea. I’ve to write a six-thousand-word story that could get me a promotion at work. You’ll be a distraction.
He settles at my table, on the chair opposite.
“Are you busy?” he asks.
Did he hear my thoughts? “No, no.” I force a one-second laugh. “I’m not doing anything serious.”
The scent of him boosts whatever makes humans creative. I get another idea: write about me and Chris, blend fact and fiction. Quickly, I save the student-finds-phone-on-ground draft and open a new doc.
He leans toward me and says in a low voice, “I was having a bad day. Then I saw you.”
“Yeah. Beautiful people have the power - the power to change bad days to beautiful ones. I’ll get you another cup.”
“No,” I say.
He smiles. It sedates me. I follow him with my eyes until he reaches the counter. He looks back at me.
“Don’t worry,” I say, almost whispering, hoping he would read my lips.
The barista asks what he wants.
I start typing:
It was just another afternoon at the coffee shop, sitting at my favorite spot, looking at motions of man and machines after a light shower, different thoughts running through my mind, hoping to meet a deadline.
He walked in: a tall man with movie-star looks, drop-dead gorgeous with a broad frame. I fell instantly, though he was likely not going to notice me. Why would he when he probably had a hundred ladies who would do anything to have his attention.
Well, after several minutes of gazing and imagining us as a couple, we made eye contact. He said “Hi,” and I spilled my coffee. Oh damn! I spilled my coffee. But it was kind of a blessing.
One thing led to another, and he introduced himself. He moved from his table to mine. He told me I was beautiful. He got me another cup of coffee.
Chris, he made my day brighter. I hadn’t had that sweet feeling in my chest for months. An hour with him flushed out memories of my ex, which seemed to have gotten a permanent spot in my heart.
“Asha,” Chris says as he places the mug on the table, and I’m jolted from the black text on white background my eyes are fixed on.
“Thanks. What about yours?”
“I’m just waiting for someone,” he says. “I won’t drink.”
“Who,” I ask, my voice: low.
“Tell me about yourself.” He ignores my question, or maybe he didn’t hear it.
“That’s broad. What exactly do you want to know? Okay, okay, um… I’m a writer, and I work for Fiction Company. Have you heard of Fiction Company before?”
“Yes.” His phone rings. He looks at the screen and then looks toward the entrance before answering it.
I sip, listening carefully to every word he says, preparing myself for the worst: some lady walking in and him introducing her as his girlfriend, fiancée, wife…
But the call leaves no clue about who he’s waiting for. It’s a 5-second call that starts with silence and ends with “I’m waiting.”
“I’m a regular reader of Fiction Company,” he says. “My favorite author is Asha Sim—” He pauses. “Are you Asha Simons?”
I nod. “Yes.”
Wow. Chris loves my writings. He says nothing for about ten seconds, and I pretend to be typing.
“I have read Crush about ten times; it’s deep. You’re a great writer, Asha. Seriously I can’t believe I’m sitting at the same table with you.”
Everything is going fine, but soon someone would walk in and ruin everything. I won’t get carried away.
Chris talks about himself: ex-military, a native, owns a gym, one of his sisters recommended Fiction Company to him.
“Which countries were you deployed to?” I ask.
His phone rings again. A lady who looks nine months pregnant enters with a phone pressed on her ear. He looks at the entrance, and she waves and starts walking toward him.
“Excuse me, Asha.” He stands up and meets her halfway.
It feels like my heart drops to my stomach. I thought I’d prepared myself for this. So, he would be a father soon.
He says something to her, and they both look at me. I look down at the screen, seriously not ready for the awkward intro that would happen next.
I continue typing:
We exchanged numbers, and he asked me to go on a date with him that evening. I accepted.
I notice they start walking to the table. I sigh. It wouldn’t take more than a minute.
“Asha, meet my sister, Sofia. She’s the one who told me about Fiction Company.”
Really? His sister? Relief.
I stand up, my hand outstretched. “Hi, Sofia.”
“Asha, I’ve read lots of your stories. I really love Crush,” she says. “My husband dislikes reading, but I made him read Crush. How or… where do you get inspiration to write such great stories.”
While I’m thinking of a perfect answer to her question, she reaches for her mobile phone in her bag. We take a selfie.
Fiction Company should allow us to use our real faces and not those avatars they say is part of the company brand. This feels good.
We exchange numbers.
Before he leaves with his sister, he steps close—very close—and asks me to go on a date with him in the evening.