It was fifteen minutes to seven when the rain stopped falling completely.
Culuikha sighed. He grabbed extra floormat to prevent unwanted dirt from customer’s shoes entering his café. Also placing his favorite waist-tall container as a substitute for umbrella rack (he cried a little inside when he did it). The news had warned of extreme weather before the rainy season peak and lately, his café was almost empty. Fortunately, his loyal customer kept on ordering using the online delivery and Culuikha never felt this blessed for cooperating with a transportation service. He assumed the café wouldn’t be busy until noon, so he thought to roast some more beans. But a faint knock on the door surprised him.
“Have I flipped the signage?” he murmured. Well, in fact, he hadn’t. His business hours were seven to ten, and it made Culuikha glance at the old-fashioned clock on the table. Did I forget to pay for the billings? Or—
When Culuikha arrived at the entrance,
The man who stood in front of him was a tall, but quite lanky, guy, wearing a simple t-shirt with checkered flannel on top and washed jeans. His vintage sneakers were dirty with soil and mud, the bag in his embrace looked heavy, his hair was damp from rain and sweat – but it was his expression that captured Culuikha’s attention. As if, this man was running all his life. To describe him as simply ‘tired’ would be an insult.
Culuikha, after silently analyzing him for a solid minute, finally spoke.
“How… May I help you?”
“Can I have a cup of coffee?”
Culuikha blinked. Well, he did spare some free cups of coffee for the homeless, but this man seemed—
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ll pay,” the man quickly added, “I… I can pay, I…”
“Sir; are you okay?” seeing him stuttering made the barista suddenly cautious. He approached him and took the liberty to grab him by the shoulder. Culuikha gasped as he realized that this man was shaking. From this intimate distance, he also got the impression of fear from those gloomy eyes, “Come in, please.”
Without any word, Culuikha made him sit on the sofa and helped him to toss the bag on his side. He could catch the inaudible ‘thanks’ from those quivering lips right after. The barista deeply exhaled while kneeling beside his first customer, gently stared at him with empathy, wondering what had this man gone through.
“I’m sorry, I should’ve waited for you to open the café first,” he hummed, “I… I actually waited, outside.”
“And getting yourself soaked,” Culuikha unconsciously scolded him, “You should’ve come in.”
The man nodded, “Your opening hour is seven o’clock so…”
Culuikha rolled his eyes, “I’ll get you some water meanwhile you decide what to order, okay?”
“You’re very kind.”
The blond didn’t reply – it was weird to be called ‘kind’ for only doing his job, really. Culuikha grabbed a glass of infused water and the menu board then stood up next to the trembling man, “You need more sleep than coffee, if I may suggest,” he said in a warmer tone, “Sorry if I’m being too straightforward.”
He weakly chuckled, “I’d love to, but I have a deadline.”
“You didn’t sleep because you were working on it?”
“I…” he bit his bottom lip, “If I tell you the truth you might laugh at me.”
Culuikha raised an eyebrow, “Why would I laugh at my customer?”
“I can’t stand thunderstorm,” he answered with a bitter smile, “I wasn’t able to function at all last night, and I haven’t slept since… I don’t know, two days ago, perhaps,” and the heavy downpour washed the city for a week. Culuikha ‘oh’-ed and tapped the man’s shoulder, hoped the simple gesture soothed him.
“In that case, I won’t give you coffee, not even a single drop. Caffeine won’t even help in this state.”
He could see the defeated look from his guest, “But I need it so I can finish my task…”
“You need to relax,” Culuikha’s smirk turned into a gentle curve, “My special recipe will help you.”
Two more taps before the barista wore the apron and walked to the counter. His fingers skillfully brew hot water and crushed some herbs, then stirred the mixture on a steel container. Culuikha strained the beverage into a mug, decorated it with ground cinnamon and fresh star anise. When he placed the special drink on the table, the stranger stared at him, “You know – for a moment, you looked like a wizard.”
“Did I?” Culuikha laughed, “If so, my potion will make you stay active, protects your heart health and boost your immune system,” he gestured him to sip it while it was still warm, “It will reduce your headache too.”
“You are a wizard, then.”
“Can’t help it, I’m a novelist.”
Culuikha snorted, but he smiled, nevertheless.
The first sip gave the dull man some colors; his face brightened in surprise and his eyes wide opened. He stared at the light foam and brownish beverage before turned his attention to the barista, “What is this?”
“Spicy chai latte, one of my secret recipes,” he proudly answered, “Taste good, hm?”
“It almost feels like…” home, “It reminds me of my mom’s cooking, especially the fragrance – but in a mug, and it’s sweet, I don’t know if it even makes sense,” he spoke while kept on drinking, “In short, not only delicious, but this potion gives me strength to continue my writings.”
“Mom’s cooking, huh,” Culuikha shrugged, “Must be the cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves.”
“And love,” his word gave Culuikha a shiver; it was cheesy, but how the man’s eyes tenderly looked at the swirl in the mug silenced the barista himself, “You must really love your job, right?”
“Undoubtedly,” Culuikha decided to stay there a little bit longer, “So, you’re a novelist. What kind of genre you’re working on? Can I read some of it?” he glanced at the pile of printed documents on the table, some papers had red markings with ‘revised’ on top, with one of them with a name on it, “—Mr. Sancaka?”
Sancaka almost ignored the fact that it was raining, again, outside.