Outside the splotched windows only a few people passed by. Orange streams of sunlight cast a glow on the brick buildings just across the narrow street from the café. I waited behind the counter, sleep still beneath my eyes.
I didn’t know how to turn down the air conditioning, so I was freezing. The machines hummed beside me, warm with tasty coffee and fresh pastries. Luca was outside in the back, smoking. I could hear his gritty coughs echo in the dish washing room. As I peered over my shoulder, I saw his blackened fingernails scratch his hairy neck. Luca was a nice guy, I suppose.
I needed someone to come through that door, so I could pour them the steaming coffee and feel the warmth seep through the cup and into my hands.
I felt waves of exhaustion wash over me. I was hypnotized by the steady stream of vehicles of all sorts driving by and the busied strides of the early birds headed to work or breakfast. Come in here. I’m so alone.
The bell ringing shattered my lull. I saw the door swing open. The paint was chipping around the handle. An elderly man stepped through and sat down at a table in the far corner, right beside the window. He looked somewhat familiar, but all of the elders in that neighborhood looked quite similar. He had a bag in his hand that he set down on top of the table. He reached his skeletal fingers into his pocket and pulled out a handful of loose change. A few pennies clattered on the floor beneath the chair. I just watched in silence.
I whipped around and saw Luca struggling to pick up several baking trays that had fallen on the floor. The old man glanced in my direction for a second, then went back to counting his change.
The bell rang again. This time, a lanky middle-aged woman came rushing inside and set her fat wallet onto the counter.
Ciao. She ordered her breakfast in a slur of words and ripped her credit card through the reader. I popped a croissant and a small cup of Nutella into a white paper bag. The steaming of the milk pierced the silence and the old man’s head shot up again. He wiped his brow and threw most of the change on the table into his hand.
As I poured the milk into the cup, he stood up and walked over to the counter. I stuck the cup beneath the espresso machine and let it do its work.
Ciao. Buongiornio. The old man flashed a slight smile and smacked his change down on the counter. I stopped a quarter from rolling off the edge. He only wanted some tea and a cookie.
I got his cookie before handing the woman her macchiato. She huffed and crossed her arms. I put a cap on the cup and passed it over the counter. Buona giornata! I received no response. Then she was gone.
I put the tea bag in a ceramic mug and filled it with hot water. The old man sighed with satisfaction at the soothing aroma of the peppermint.
A subway train rumbled up above, shaking the café. The lights on the ceiling flickered and the air conditioner buzzed.
Buona giornata, signore! He didn’t smile again, but he simply nodded his head and brought his cookie and tea back to the table.
Then, the old man picked up the plastic bag and pulled a black book out of it. There were no words on the cover. He opened it up, pulled out a pen from his other pocket and crossed something out of it. I wasn’t trying to snoop, but I was just curious. He was then writing something inside of it. I took a closer look. It was a name. Giuseppina… I couldn’t make out the rest.
As he was closing the book I noticed another name. I can never be certain, but I believe it was my name. The one he had crossed out.
He finished his tea and cookie, wiped off his mouth with a handkerchief, and then left, swallowed by the morning rush. I never saw him again.