They had been talking for nearly an hour in the coffee shop. It wasn’t a big chain store; it hadn’t sold its soul yet. It was time for a refill.
The barista poured the freshly brewed coffee in his paper cup. Steam rose and swirled around, much like the snow outside. He smiled and thanked her.
As he sat back down to discuss life and lofty ideas he took a sip. He had it neither sweetened nor watered down with milk. No this was true coffee. Dark as the deepest night and as refreshing as the longest sleep.
He took a long draught.
After such practice, he knew exactly how to hold the cup, not that the heat bothered him much. For someone who didn’t regularly drink, it might have burned them. By now his mouth was nearly calloused. The nectar warmed him from the inside out. Earthy. Bold. Delightful.
It tasted like cigar smoke floating around during the enlightenment two hundred years prior. Like life blood, sweat, tears, and the soul of every creator that had come before them. Tall ceilings, darkly lit rooms and late nights. It tasted like jungle farmers, eking out a living from their first world exports. The second most traded commodity of the world. It was vice in a cup. A completely socially acceptable vice that nearly everyone, except those blasted tea drinkers, approved of. Every blue and white collar worker had at least a cup a day.
“Alfred, there has got to be a way to market this.”
“Howard. How can you sell this experience? Most people are buffoons. There is no way the common man could have this kind of experience.” Alfred replied; he was perturbed at his young apprentice’s excitement.
Howard cupped his head in his hands. His corduroy pants were the a similar color to the liquid he was drinking. Checkered socks stuck out from underneath his slip-on dress shoes. “I bet in twenty years I can put a coffee shop on every block in America.”
“Brother, there is no way. And if you could, you’d be selling to the man. That’d be selling out. That wouldn’t be this. That would be corporate!” Alfred shouted, interrupting everyone in the small store. After uttering the most explicit word possible in that scene, the place was silent. Coffee shops were almost all underground in the mid 1980s. Coffee shops were the rallying posts of everything against the man. Herb was bought and sold, it was 4:20 all the time.
“Bro, listen. Our effin country was built on coffee shops. We stuck it to Britain from coffee shops!Maybe we could start a revolution. Everything will go back to earth. Man, can you imagine, being one with the ground.” He took a long draught.
“Keep dreamin man. We’ll get back to work in a minute here.”
“I bet you a c-note I can do it.”
“What? In twenty years, you can put a coffee shop on every street corner?” Alfred said, disbelieving. “If I make it that long, I’ll take that bet. I don’t think America even has that kind of appetite.”
Howard smiled, “Done.”
Thirty years later, they met on the tarmac of PDX. It was Alfred’s last time in the northwest. His thin gray hair was a precursor to the death he would die next year.
HOward smiled a businessman’s smile, “So good to see you.”
“I wish I could say the same.” Howard’s voice sounded tired, as if it were a great effort to even say this.
“Old friend, then why are you here?”
Alfred’s eyes were steeled over, matching his hair. He raised himself up, almost as if he didn’t need his cherry oak cane. Suddenly Howard was twenty one. He was being told how to brew coffee. How to care for the beans and the artistry of brewing. With only his eyes Alfred was admonishing him. Even now, the man’s weakness was obvious. While being chided, Howard felt pity for Alfred.
Alfred took a great, wheezy breath.”To pay a debt I owe. Everyone knows your name. You did it. Your logo is everywhere. But that man that we rallied against those years ago is now in the mirror. What happened to your dream? I hope it was worth it. I hope your soul was worth what you’ve given up.”
Alfred reached out to shake his hand. Out of habit and nothing else, Howard took it. He was left speechless as the old man walked away, leaving a one-hundred dollar bill.