Waiters and Dogs in the Age of Reason

By Cem Gokhan

 

A man in a black coat had just been formally evicted from his place of work and sat, without issuing a word to anyone, in the warm, orange-tinged light of an empty street side cafe. The scene resembled a Van Gogh in its melancholy,  with the colors of objects seeming to run at the edges. A waiter, emerging from his cavern solemnly announced his presence to the man, tasting the stale desperation in the atmosphere. He asked if he could offer his customer a beverage, after apologizing for the closed kitchen. “You must understand monsieur, we do not get many customers at these depths of the night.” His customer, without looking up,  pointed to a half-empty coffee cup at the table next to him from which a young couple had just risen. The waiter came back momentarily and with meticulous fingers gently moved the man’s carefully packed possessions to one corner of the table. He placed on the impeccably white tablecloth two ceramic figures, which met the table with two blunted knocks. The man in the black coat hesitated while trying to communicate that there had been a misunderstanding, but the man in the apron stopped him before he fumbled another half-syllable, “It’s on the house” he said with an older-brothers grin. The man produced in return the kind of smile where the corners of ones mouth struggle to unhinge themselves from their fixtures and the eyebrows never move. The waiter put his left hand over his right and disappeared back into his cramped corner of the Parisian darkness. The man looked down, past his now loose neck tie hanging by his heavy neck at the items on the mahogany table. In perfect complement, lay a small coffee and a saucer of creme brûlée, steam still rising into the night. The dessert made him think of Luz and how she refused to ever taste that poor excuse for a confection again after that night in August when they had first met in a humble cafe, not unlike this one.

 

She was a slender, elegant lioness with sharp cheek bones and lips of carmine. Latin, not only by way of birth but also by way of spirit. Her eyelashes, perfectly filed blue-black blades with sharp curls at the ends whispered tales of worlds of sand and sky, while her naturally self-assured demeanor and coffee skin were unmistakably characteristic of those raised by the ocean. She had disappeared almost twenty years ago, yet he still remembered her telling him in that sweet song of hers how a single spoon of arroz con leche could do for the soul what a barrel of creme brûlée couldn’t. Increasingly so, he thought she had been right. She spoke with such a fondness of her native Cartagena that any bystander who overheard her musings reconsidered his chosen life.

 

As the man and Luz continued seeing each other, he came to notice things about Luz that had escaped him when he first saw her that night in August. The way she averted her eyes when she spoke of the past, and then suddenly became unreachable, for example. As if things gone by were too irresistible a temptation for her to resort to living in the present.  He took notice of the manner in which she jutted out of the polluted, monochromatic streets of Paris, in her color saturated dresses revealing even more color saturated legs, you could tell even the sun had loved her. Perhaps, the man thought, this observation was owed to his strong Parisian intuition, but he had to concede that even a pesky camera-eyed tourist on his first day of arrival could tell, she did not belong. She was far too free in her being, far too passionate about life for this city of disillusioned masses living in the back of their heads and smoking all day, not to squeeze the last juice out of life but to expedite the process of death.

 

She would sometimes tell him, “I should have never moved to Paris. I should have known! There aren’t enough hounds in the streets!” Luz was superstitious, it was in her tradition to be so. Her grandmother had instilled a love for cosmic story lines when she was just a girl. They would sit for hours in the sun stained balcony of their slowly crumbling family home, listening to the breeze rustled leaves as the grandmother told the young girl about the secret magic sewn deep into the fabric of life. “Its always there my dear, just below the surface. Sometimes it’s renamed luck, or destiny, or coincidence. But it’s magic. It’s always magic.” Her father had painted the old house a brilliant blue for her mothers birthday a few years before Luz’s birth to liken it to her childhood home in a forgotten town. Luz never liked the color of the house, after all like most little girls her favorite color was pink. Above all her superstitions though, Luz’s peculiar beliefs rested on three truths. The first was that the stars never lie. The second, was that a woman, as she reaches age, will invariably find herself transformed into her mother. And the third; Dogs are animals of emotional mysticism. “Mutts,” she would say, “roam the earth in search of happiness and stay only as long as it persists, and that is the greatest wisdom. Have you ever seen a dog subject to the crying of an infant? The poor animal suffers with all the bones in its body, because it knows the sound of innocence escaping the flesh. A hound has a capacity to love greater than that of any other mortal being on this planet, an intelligence of the heart humans dismiss as loyalty. It is crucial a faithful hound dies before the one who he has adopted as master, or he will suffer at a capacity no other being has to suffer. And dogs recognize that the world is fair in unfair ways, so they do.”

 

The man in the black coat sitting at the cafe couldn’t believe the white shadow hinting at a sun to come had made its entrance on the horizon already. He had not even noticed the waiters leave to catch the last bus. Sometimes, as if by learned habit, he would wonder what passionate act of love was blooming at this moment on those shores of Luz’s Cartagena. A world apart altogether. Perhaps it Alberto, the old shoemaker dancing on his weak legs, made ecstatic by the sound of a trumpet on a sunday afternoon colored yellow by a brass phonograph. Perhaps it was Angela, finding in Gabriel’s eyes why her grandmother had looked at her grandfather the way she had for all those years before their death. In any case, the only thing the man in the black coat wished for now was to watch his Luz sitting across from him. Smoking with such intense pleasure that cherubs in heaven weep at their misfortune of not having been made to occupy the same soil as her. All he wanted in this world was to sit watching the the smoke escape the cigarette held loosely between her regal fingers, her skin tinting the night with a caribbean glow. Instead, the man in the black coat settled for watching the first cooks arrive to work, in dirty white undershirts smelling of last nights fish.

 

He thought of how rapidly the night had passed while staring at the tanned box of belongings from his now former office. But Luz stared back at him from a photograph upturned and balanced between a stapler and some papers, and he could hear her laughing at him for forgetting that the world operates in two timelines, that “the imagination works on its own accord, rushing nor waiting for no one”. And so he watched the morning invade his solitude, bringing about the first unwelcome sounds of existence in the city. The man reached into his breast pocket and pulled a withered white rose from the pages of his diary. Admiring the stained nub of a thorn from where she had pricked her palm and bled, he forgot about his sorry state; jobless and destitute but most of all alone. He felt a weight on his foot and saw a small pup, curled and sleeping on the spot of morning sun which had settled precisely on his right foot. As he stared tenderly at the dog, a quick stepped, keen waiter scattered over to rid his customer of the discomfort, making all too big of an event of the small happening . When the dog awoke, shook and scared out of blissful morning slumber by a swift kick, the withered white rose fell from the edge of the table. Neither the man nor the waiter noticed the small detail, but the rib-cage pup hadn’t been fed by the grace of a back-alley cook in days, and he heard the sound of the first petal hit the filthy, grated pavement, and by the time the last petal hit the ground it had the withered flower in its mouth. The little mutt ran with fear and desperation away from the commotion which he had unknowingly caused, and suddenly the man in the black coat noticed his white flower evading him. And so began to chase it.

 

The man hastily chased the dog through an array of fruit-vendors, weaving between colorful carts put on display for the morning crowds, scattering the pigeons feeding in the plaza with his heavy step and flailing coat, all the way to the north bank of the Seine and watched the mutt leap into the frigid stream, without thought or hesitation. He had no time to consider his posh shoes or cotton coat before jumping into the water as well. The dog struggled to keep his head above the surface, undoubtedly swimming for the first time in such waters aw the man floated with the help of the current not too far behind, cursing the dog while for the first time noticing his ridiculous, foolish state. Before he could further indulge in the comforts of his self-deprecation, he lost sight of the little gray head and in a frantic moment of grief felt himself contributing tears to the great river which had taken countless misfortunes to fill. The sky began to pour itself onto the god-forsaken city with a torrential might, and the man in the black coat felt for the first time in his life, the will to live be evicted from his heart. He searched the water, above and under for any sign of the thief, but saw nothing, until he heard whimpers from the bank above. Shivering and wet, ears combed to the back of its head was the now black, grey dog. The man clad in black hoisted himself up by the wall of the river and took after the dog once again, running out of breath yet vastly unconcerned for himself altogether, he turned on to the Rue de Deux Destins and found the dog heaving in a gutter, and upon finally reaching the animal, felt sorry for him. He walked towards the shivering and soaked pup out of breath,  holding his drenched coat spread in his hands with the intention of warming the asphyxiated creature, and upon bending down he saw something he almost couldn’t believe. There, in the Parisian monochrome, in those streets of utter filth and melancholy between two rows of tremendous gray slabs was a small, glowing, charming house, painted a brilliant and unforgettable, blue.

 

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