I am sitting in a café at night. I have a table by the window.
The café is enveloped in a soft, dim light, but this does not disturb the pitch-black darkness outside. I find it strange that even though there is light, there seems to be nowhere where the light could come from; no lamps or wall lights.
I also notice I seem to be the only one here. There is a light drizzle of steam emanating from the hot chocolate in front of me. As I take a sip, I wonder how I got here.
Did I drive?
No, I’ve never owned a car.
Did I walk? If so, where from? I don’t know, and for some reason, I don’t think that matters now.
I realise I should be scared. Or at least, confused. But with an odd dose of innate reflection I find I am neither, but I have found myself in a pleasantly humid gauze of serenity.
I am at peace.
‘Is everything to your liking?’
I am alarmed to see a young woman in front of me, wearing a cosy apron and an even cosier smile.
‘Would you like to have something to eat?’
‘I don’t know…’
‘Are you hungry?’
I suddenly realise I am. I nod.
The waitress draws from her pocket a notepad and a pen.
‘What would you like?’
‘Shouldn’t I see a menu?’
The waitress laughs. She then says, ‘Just tell me what you would like to eat.’
‘Well… okay, but I’m not sure you have it here… wherever “here” is,’ I say, looking around the café. ‘Hey, you don’t think you can tell me what this place…’
‘It is The Café At Night,’ the woman says with a subtle smile. ‘Now I think you might be getting hungrier, now, please tell me what you would like to eat.’
‘Well right now, for some reason I’d like a shepherd’s pie, but…’
‘Coming right up,’ says the waitress as she scribbles down his order and leaves through the wooden door at the other end of the café.
I am alone again. But I don’t feel lonely.
I decide to try some of my hot chocolate, worrying it may have got too cold. But to my pleasant joy I find it is now at just the right temperature to my liking. I slowly begin to take it in, letting it fill me up with warmth, feeling a prominent smile arise on my lips.
After a leisurely time, I drink the hot chocolate and feel the smooth milky nectar flow through my body, permeating my being. Soon I see the waitress appear from out of the door, a tray with a steaming plate in her hand with smells wafting richly through my senses.
‘There you go, just what you ordered,’ she says, placing a plate of food in front of me. ‘And a little something extra,’ she adds, placing a glass of water next to the tray.
‘Thank you,’ I say, and begin to greedily dig into it.
‘Take it slow,’ says the waitress. ‘Give it time to truly be.’
‘This is… this is just so good,’ I say, through a mouthful of exquisite pie.
‘I thought you’d like it,’ says she, with a glow in her eye.
‘This tastes so much like the pie my grandmother used to make before, before she…’ I stop, taking a heaving gulp down and stare at the darkness outside. It begins to rain; or maybe it had already begun; I had just failed to notice.
‘What’s out there,’ I ask, ‘in the dark?’
‘What’s always out in the dark,’ says the waitress, staring right into it. ‘A place where most are lost and wander, before they find a place like this, a place of light and hope and good pie… so eat up,’ she says, smiling, and then walks away.
I reflect as I begin to eat the rest of the pie more slowly.
The sound of the rain as it cascades on the windows does not remind me of something unpleasant, but rather the comfort of a shower at just the right temperature and pressure after a long day of work.
‘Are you finished with your pie?’
I look away from the rain and notice the woman.
‘I…’ I look down at the pie. I ate it all and I didn’t even notice.
‘That’s what happens in life, you’re not totally focused on one thing, take your eye away from it and it slides away, like sand castles on a beach… washed away.’
‘It was nice though,’ I say.
‘Most short things are… it’s a pity people think the bad things last longer; usually it’s the same, or maybe not, depends on the way you look at it… and with what eye…’ The waitress winks at me and then picks up the plate.
‘Oh, how much is it, I…’ I scramble for some money in my pockets, but I find them empty. ‘Oh no, I don’t think I have any money.’
‘Never mind, darling, you can have it for free,’ she says, and begins to walk away.
‘But wait…’ I call to her, ‘surely I can help in some way… anyway.’
‘Well,’ the waitress says, smiling, ‘you might be able to help me clean up.’
Hooked onto that enticing smile, I nod and get up from the table, following her into the backroom. It’s a small kitchen, just room enough for a sink and an oven. Something is cooking in the oven, I don’t know what it is, but it smells sweet, like roasted cinnamon.
Next to the sink is a pile of plates, stacked up.
‘Have there been more people here than just me?’
‘Of course, there are always those that wander in from the darkness, craving that light to warm up their hearts.’
She then gives me a cloth. ‘Here, you dry while I clean.’
She begins to clean and I help dry, and it’s silly that I should feel such a state of warm union doing something so mundane.
I am silent for a while, and then I ask, ‘What is this place again, how did I get here?’
‘It is what I said, and you got here from the dark…’
A ridiculous thought struck me; in different circumstances I would not voice it but I feel that I had struck such a bond with this person in such a short time that I would ask it, even if it would unravel ridicule.
‘Is this… heaven?’
‘It is what every good café is on a rainy night; a refuge from the dark.’
‘Are you… are you God?’
The woman laughs; it’s is not cruel laugh, but one full of joy.
‘No, I am not.’
‘Do you know if I will be able to get home?’
‘You will know, soon, just tell me, what do you feel like doing?’
‘I…I….’ I tell her what developed mistily in my consciousness, ‘I wish to serve.’
The waitress raises her eyebrow.
‘It’s just you were so kind to me, and now I remember the darkness and cold outside, and I wish could help serve others as you have done to me.’
‘It’s time,’ she says.
She gives a smile and turns towards the oven, ‘It’s baked.’
She then opens the oven, a thin white smoke rises out of it, and on the tray are two white wings. She places them on her back and they unfold.
‘Once I was like you, but now I am ready,’ she says, and she then begins to untie her apron and give it to me. ‘Now it’s your turn.’
‘My turn for what?’ I ask.
She points through the window of the kitchen door and I see someone sitting at the table I was once at, looking as lost as I once was.
‘To serve,’ she says, then flies through the backdoor into the light, leaving me alone with glorious purpose.
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