The story might start with me going to the nearest supermarket to buy something or just to clear my mind after a noisy office on a Thursday night. I had been working for several years as a clerk in a bank. The weather was surprisingly warm and pleasant for this time of the day. I walked around and thought about the inevitability and sameness of life. The supermarket was the most ordinary one that was open all night. I think you know what it looks like. Furthermore, there is this run-down little store with a neon sign saying “24 hours” but really it was “24 hurs” because the neon bulbs on the “o” had burned out. Thus, there in this store among the hapless souls and a couple of standard families with children who most likely have 3 bed-room houses with a perfectly mowed lawn, on a mortgage at insane interest rate. Nevertheless, most likely, they consoled themselves with a phantom sense of ownership. However, back to that store, with people scurrying in and out, trying to get the freshest bread and the last of the stale bananas. However, there she was, and by she, I mean a girl totally unsuitable for this store, for this time, for this city. She was smiling, you know, really smiling in this run-down store with yesterday’s bread and in this run-down town with yesterday’s expectations and dreams.
I walked between the rows of beans and other canned foods, how typical it is to be canned in this town and in this life just like those beans. I walked around, trying to catch her eye to get a little closer to her. She was standing at the counter with the peppers. Apparently, they were fresh, so much better looking than the bananas next to them. Alternatively, maybe they were the same as everyone else in the store, but her presence there made not only the peaches but the whole store fresher and more decorous.
As I approached the fruit and vegetable counter, I finally caught her gaze and found nothing better to say than
– “Are the peaches fresh?”
She was clearly surprised by my direct question to her as if she worked here. But she replied
– “I can tell it is fresher than these bananas and clearly fresher than this evening.”
She smiled at the corners of her lips, and at that moment, I understood the meaning of the concept of life before and after what I had read before, just in books. At that moment, I felt that aching and future-exciting feeling you get when you jump off the bungee at summer camp. That is when I realized that what came before was not just today’s work slowdown and my boss is shouting about an unfinished transaction with some successful businessman. No, it was my whole life that had gone by like a roller coaster before me. My first love, my first loss of my dog and then my father. My first betrayal and my first night in the woods. How is that possible? I only saw her smile, though not even a smile, just a slight twitch of the corners of her lips upward.
After such a roller coaster adventure of my memories, I could not just walk away and miss the opportunity to see her real smile, one that would only be for me, that would only be meant for me.
I mustered my resolve and blurted out in the same breath, just thinking about it.
– “I will take a couple of peaches if you want to walk through the night and quiet city” I myself knew how absurd it sounded because the city never sleeps and is never quiet. Nevertheless, it caused the corners of her lips to quiver again, but again not a full smile.
– “I will take a couple of peaches, too, and walk with you through the night and the quiet city,” she said with a chuckle. After all, she obviously also understood the absurdity of my invitation.
We stuffed a couple of peaches in a paper bag and paid, at last, leaving this stuffy store with its equally dull customers. Then, we wandered through the completely restless and vibrant city’s center straight into the middle of nowhere. At first, I felt pretty uncomfortable; I had never experienced anything quite like this before, and I had never worked up the courage to even look at a beautiful girl. Weaving down the street in complete silence between us, but in the absolute noise around us and we laughed about how absurdly all supermarkets look the same. After that, we discussed everything about my stupid boss, the economic situation and peaches.
It was already about 4 a.m. in the morning, and we drastically felt a lack of caffeine in our bodies, as there were only two options: drink coffee or go home. After all, it was Thursday; to be more accurate, it was already Friday, and I had to be at work by 7 a.m.
A general decision was made to go to another 24 hours’ place with the proud name “24 hours serving fresh coffee and pancakes”, and again some of the letters burned out and it turned out “24 hous seving resh coff ad anake”. Perhaps from so many huge neon signs all around and everywhere, minor signs like this and like the sign-in that supermarket where we first met her just did not have a chance to survive.
We walked in and were enveloped by the invigorating smell of strong coffee and the perfume of the waitress, who was in her 40s. It was apparent from the look on her face that she had worked here since her youth, and nothing in her life had changed much, apart from a young man who had once promised her that he would take her away and change her life. She lived with that hope for years and even had a baby, thinking that it would speed up the marriage process, but one day he just did not come for coffee, and the next day too. Nevertheless, that is just my thoughts on it.
There was no one in that restaurant except the waitress, the cook, who was imitating the work process to get his 6.99$ an hour. There was also an older man who was kindly poured free coffee every day by the waitress.
Thus, no one could disturb or interrupt our conversation, except the waitress pouring coffee at 10 minutes intervals even if the cup was almost full. We discussed everything in the world and nothing simultaneously; we talked without interruption and were silent without interruption. Everything around us did not make sense, nor did we want it to make sense. We planned our future journeys and discussed what kind of dog we would get in our rented flat near the center. It looked like an old black and white movie, you know, the Charlie Chaplin movie, and I was in the scene, but I was a spectator on the side of the dialogue. It is probably the moment when people can experience the infinity of life when you can truly feel every cell of your body with every atom of this hectic world.
How ironic that the sleaziest little place in this night city has become our haven of peace and solace for those few hours before dawn.
However, now it is 7:05 a.m., and I am sure to get my share of ten minutes of shouting from my boss and a promise to fire me if I suddenly decide to repeat such an insane stunt. Again, I looked at her and finally, her smile, a real smile dedicated only to me, lit up her face. It was no longer just a twitching of her lips. It was her honest and most fantastic smile in the whole world.
– “I have to go to the real world” I said. Finally, someone had to voice it, and I took on that heavy burden. Her smile was still on her face, but something had clearly changed.
– “Really, the real world is calling,” she whispered a little sadly, but without taking her eyes off mine.
We spent the last few minutes agreeing on where to meet after I finished work at 5 p.m. We decided that we would definitely go to the cinema to watch an old subtitled movie. She promised to buy tickets and meet in front of the cinema at 5:30 p.m.
We said goodbye to each other on the way out of the place at night with thoughts of meeting up soon.
I did not even know her name, nor did she know mine. However, we had agreed to exchange names outside the cinema in the evening. And I ran with all those people who were also running to the office or to a better life. And we ran.
I never got her name. And the peaches had already rotted…