A waitress at an outdoor cafe’ carefully refills a man’s coffee at the next table as the sun breaks through the clouds, catching its rays in the long coils of her deep red hair. It tangles itself in her mane, sending copper-orange sparks dancing. The woman turns her head and those same rays light up the porcelain skin framing her pale green eyes. Her mouth, unremarkable yet somehow perfect, opens up ever so slightly and flashes a bashful smile at me.
The waitress turns away and walks inside, returning a moment later with a fresh pot. The man at the next table takes a sip from his cup, then pulls a worn out black briefcase from beside his chair and slides it onto the table in front of him. The man’s ill-fitting grey suit, old briefcase, thinning brown hair, and far from memorable face all pull together to form the image of an average man; one who undoubtedly wastes away each day in an unobtrusive cubicle somewhere.
The waitress darts cheerfully from table to table, refilling cups and taking orders. The man clicks open his briefcase and pulls out a file with a small red label. He deftly opens the file, and with unusually long fingers, begins flipping through its contents until he finds a paper with a photo of the waitress clipped to the front. The man glances up at the waitress, then quickly down to the photo. He closes the file and places it back inside his briefcase, which he snaps closed.
The man raises his hand to his ear, says something to nobody, then drops his hand back down. He stands, picks up his case, places a few bills on the table, and walks away unnoticed. The striking young waitress with the unremarkable smile continues to dart from table to table, oblivious of everything but coffee, bagels, scones, and omelets.
Without warning, three unmarked white vans pull up to the curb, and as the doors slide open, men in bullet proof vests, black uniforms, and caps spill out with guns drawn. Similar men appear from either side of the cafe’, and within a few short seconds they are everywhere, swarming like ants on a piece of cheese.
Customers duck, cover their heads, and slide under tables. The waitress turns, plants her feet, and slightly cocks a hip. She points her chin down just a bit and raises an eyebrow, as her mouth twists into a smirk. She slowly begins to raise her hands into the air as her smirk widens into a grin. As her hands near her shoulders, she drops the coffee pot, sending it crashing to the pavement. The noise momentarily silences everyone, and it seems that time stands still for the space of three heartbeats.
Noise and movement return. Someone shouts at the waitress. Someone handcuffs her. Someone reads her rights. Suddenly there is a small explosion. Smoke strangles the air. A moment later a second explosion shakes the cafe’, this time accompanied by screams and flying debris. People are injured, some are dead. Limbs are strewn about between fragments of tables and shattered glass. Shadowy figures undulate on the pavement as sirens approach. Emergency personnel appear and set to work on the possibly living, averting their eyes from the clearly dead.
I look around for the waitress, feeling dazed and strangely concerned for her safety. She is gone. The next morning the headline reads “Gas Line Explodes at Local Cafe’.” The story is short, the explanations evasive. There is no mention of a waitress with fiery curls, or of men with their guns spilling out from white vans. There is no mention of an average man with a briefcase, walking away. A freak accident, they say. Five dead and eight wounded. No one is to blame. No one is responsible. An extraordinary accident at an ordinary cafe’.