this story is probably not about coffee
(first published as winner of the writing award In ExBerliner , Issue July 2016)
Sometimes there is nothing but coffee. Coffee that tastes like piss and you think, is this it, and the coffee says yes, yes it is, and you say okay, and you don’t finish the coffee.
And sometimes there’s no coffee, only life – and there’s so much of it that you think, this must be it, and you feel very thirsty but there is no time to drink and you even think, I would love some piss coffee right now, but your brain says: BA BA BOOM and darrraaSHUM because you heard those sounds in the movies. And your brain feels like it is in the movies. And you look funny as an actress. Your hair is ridiculous and you’re not very convincing in the sad bits, but some people might see the charm of you. You will never win an Oscar but you’ll make some people laugh, two of them will even cry, and you’ll be invited to the afterparties, and you’ll have a little dog. You will be happy.
This story is not about coffee, so I don’t know why it started this way. I never even drank coffee in this story. Well, this is not true. I drank coffee in many moments of this story, but only because I drink a lot of it usually, and not because this story is about coffee.
This story is set in Rome, because I was set in Rome. I was in Rome and saw a bus and went into the bus to pass time. Eventually I got out of the bus because this is how it works in buses and in life: you find a seat and then you leave the seat. Anything else defeats the point of buses and of life. Suddenly, I was in front of this building. I cannot say anything more about it other than that it was as big as the universe. It should have filled the whole world, but for now it was content on a hilltop in Rome.
I looked at it with such intensity that I was making love to it. I wanted to consume the building with my whole being. I wanted to eat it and touch it with my
hands and with my tongue and feel the difference – it was so beautiful, maybe it was the most beautiful building I had ever seen, and I felt terribly sad suddenly, because it was so beautiful.
I quickly turned and left because I didn’t want to know the function of the building or the name; I didn’t want to find out that it was some shitty embassy or the institute of archaeology or something mortally mediocre like this.
There were trees in the distance. I walked towards them because trees have a way of making me feel like things are going to be okay. They say: hey girl, we got you!
The evening before, I had lost all of my things in Berlin. By all my things I mean only the things that had numbers on them. I was with my first friend of Berlin and I said: I will go, nonetheless, and he said: but you have nothing, and I said: that’s all I need. It was incredibly dramatic. I wanted to bring up the bus analogy. Life is a bus, I wanted to say to my first friend of Berlin. In that moment, it began to rain like it does in films, with fat raindrops tumbling down as though the sky had ripped its pearl necklace.
I would have liked to fall in love with you, said my first friend of Berlin. BA BA BOOM said my brain. Drip Drop, said the sky. And I said: I’m sorry.
But this story is not set in Berlin. I only mention this incident because I was very hungry and so I took out the carrots that I was given by a crazy person three days ago. He had been my neighbour in Berlin and I accepted them because this person only touched things with his special gloves. He insisted on me having the carrots but I wasn’t very thankful because I didn’t care about the carrots. Now they were all I had, and I felt guilty and unfair towards the crazy person. I will write him a thank you letter, I concluded. You should never question free stuff that is given to you by Life or by a crazy person.
I wondered if I’d ever buy anything ever again. This morning, I had borrowed someone’s phone in the bus from Berlin to Rome to call my bank. I lost all my shit, I said. Could you send me a new card? They asked me many questions and I felt like I was at a pub quiz and the theme was my social identity. What were your last four transactions, they asked.
What’s your mother’s maiden name, they asked.
What’s your favourite animal, they asked.
At the end they said: we can block your card but we cannot send you a new
one because of some faulty answers to our security questions. Then they hung up, and I wondered what had been my favourite animal five years ago.
Another thing that was amongst my numbered shit was the telephone number of my father, who was in Rome.
Many times I had imagined meeting him again. Often, I pictured myself sitting on some marbled stairs in a peach coloured outfit. I’d be smoking a cigarette with my eyes closed because of the sun. It would shine on no one else, only on me. I’d be illuminated. People that passed by would notice my inexplicable air of independence. What a self-governed individual, they’d say.
He’d be in his black lawyer suit. He’d cross the piazza with hurried steps and he would look for me but he wouldn’t recognize me. Then he would think he was seeing my mum, and then he would realize that it was me. We’d stare at each other for a while without saying anything. The original male gaze of the world would melt away in this moment. All my heartaches that I had ever felt would resolve in this very moment. POOF! all my heartaches that I had ever felt would say, and that would be the last thing they ever did.
But I’d stay silent because I’d be too elegant and independent for words. He’d stay silent because he would understand in this moment that there was nothing that he could ever say again.
There are many versions of this scenario but two elements are indispensable: the air of independence and the peach outfit. At this moment, I possessed neither; at this moment, I had only the carrots, and so I decided to wait.
I went to an address that I had written down in my notebook, which was luckily a non-number thing. It was the workplace of a friend, who I had met only once before, two years ago, when I was looking for a job in London. I saw a sign in a coffee shop that said “Barista wanted” and I went in and said: I’m your barista.
An Italian man behind the counter asked me if I could do latte art. I lied and said yes. Let’s see then, he said, and I said, right now? And he said, right now. I then proceeded to produce the ugliest cappuccino that he and I had ever seen. We looked at the spilled milk foam in silence. It’s abstract, I said, take from it what you want. It’s not the cappuccino but you, who can choose the beauty or not. I gave you the freedom to choose!
You can’t have the job, he said, but we can be friends.
I wondered if he would remember his lying latte friend as I was standing outside of his new workplace. There was a long queue and the baristas wore aprons with their names stitched onto them. They moved their hands like ballet dancers. I spotted my friend. He was very busy drawing things with milk and so I stood in the queue until it was my turn, though I hoped that it would never be my turn, because I didn’t have any money. Luckily, my friend looked up before I had to order anything and he swung his arms and yelled MADONNA! Amanda! and he asked someone to make space for me on
their table. Wait a moment and I will make you the most beautiful coffee of your life, he said, and he came back with a cappuccino on which there was drawn an ancient mandala or seven dolphins.
I told him that I was somehow stranded and he said: my roommate is gone for a few days so you can have her bed, and he gave me keys and I said: that was the most beautiful coffee of my life.
Later, I ambled to the address and looked up into the sky. There was a cloud in the shape of a steak. The street smelled of jasmine but when I turned around the corner it smelled of something else, too – something I couldn’t name. A certain warmth or a type of people – the aroma of Rome, perhaps. My brain didn’t know what to do with the smell but my body seemed to remember something it thought was long lost. It pulled the smell generously through its nostrils into the solar plexus region. And there the smell lingered for a while, tickling my belly with its scented little pinkie fingers. Ahhhhheeheheh! said my body. And for the first time, I knew that I had been born here not because of my passport but because of something else. Which was handy, as I didn’t have my passport anymore.
In the evening I went to an art school, where I managed to get a gig as a life model. All I had to do was pretend to be a Renaissance sculpture, which sometimes I do by myself anyway – I often pose as the Pieta when I wait for the bus, for example, and sometimes I do Michelangelo’s Aurora when I’m in bed – but I don’t normally get paid for this, and so it was wonderful that this time I did.
On the way back, I passed some market people who were still packing away market things. There was a pair of peach coloured trousers on a table of mini radios. I was ready to give all my life modelling money but the market person told me to just
take them. This means a lot, I said, and I gave her my carrots – I wouldn’t need them anymore.
The moon was now covered in warm milk foam. Yesterday’s evening in Berlin seemed very far from this moon. I wondered if it ever existed. I wondered if my first friend of Berlin had ever existed. I wondered if Berlin had ever existed.
At my friend’s apartment I wrote an email that said:
Hi. I am coming to Rome tomorrow, maybe we can have coffee or something. Ciao, A
and I sent it to my father. My mailbox made the PHSSS sound it does when an email is sent off or when a domino falls over. One minute later the computer made the other sound, when something comes in, BLOOP:
i've been waiting for a long time, said the email.
said my brain.
That night, I thought about many things. I thought about all the people I was ever in love with and about boiled asparagus. I thought about the building and the buses and building buses. I thought about things that I could never articulate in a story and then I thought about this story and I wondered if it was, after all, only about coffee. You’re funny, I said to Life. No, I’m abstract, said Life, take from me what you want. It’s not me, but you, who chooses beauty. I gave you the freedom to choose.