The street was empty that evening. The asphalt, beaten and abused by rush hour traffic, seemed to breathe a sigh of relief after being cooled off by a brisk shower of rain. Stores were closed, resting from the daytime shopping. The closed signs still swung slightly as the daytime shops slept peacefully.
The foreigner was standing on the corner, glancing at his reflection on a puddle left behind by the rain. He was intentionally unaware of the curious glances from the silent stone facades. Even his blurred reflection on the thin surface of water on the asphalt seemed to point accusingly.
The foreigner walked past several times until he got the nerve up to go in. It was one of those coffee shops no one ever sees, where the menu has nothing and the coffee always tastes like it’s the last cup from the pot. The entrance was a wooden staircase going down, all its steps ready to crack.
“We’re closing early,” said a man behind the counter.
“I’m Miguel,” said the foreigner.
“You’re Miguel? Well, Miguel. We’re closed.”
“Then close,” said Miguel. He navigated his way through the empty misshapen tables and roughly made stools. They all protested, stomping unevenly as he went through.
“Hey. HEY! I said we’re closed, amigo! Get your ass out, before…”
Miguel had reached a table in the farthest corner, where a shadow had chosen to take a seat. He sat right beside it.
The man at the counter made an obscene gesture and turned on a small TV he kept beneath the counter. He pulled a short stool and sat on it. Miguel could barely make out his head over the counter.
The shadow in the corner didn’t acknowledge when Miguel sat next to him. There was a whiskey bottle on top of the table and a half empty glass. The shadow’s features were partially seen only because of the lighted cigarette on his mouth. Miguel thought better of reminding the shadow smoking was not allowed indoors.
“You are late, Miguel,” said the shadow.
Miguel’s head was full of excuses. He made them when he was late for work. He made them when he was late for the rent. He made them when he was late home. Miguel was good at trying to inspire sympathy for being late. Something told Miguel he shouldn’t try to give excuses for being late to a shadow in the dark corner of a closed coffee shop.
“I am late.”
“You were also missing last night. Did you forget?”
Miguel’s throat was very dry. Different excuses came to mind. He was ill. His wife was ill. Hislandlord threw him out. Or he could simply say, his wife threw him out of the house because he couldn’t find a job. But that had happened a week before he had actually decided to go in business with a group of people who talked to shadows.
The whiskey glass seemed to be singing a very familiar tune to Miguel. He knew that song. He had once sung it way too often and way too loudly. That was the source of his problems, problems he didn’t want anymore.
The shadow was waiting. Had it been an hour since he had asked that question? Miguel felt so, but probably was wrong. He needed to answer back as soon as he can.
“No. I chose not to be there.”
Miguel was horrified. Had he actually said that? Of all the carefully crafted lies he had said in his life, couldn’t he come up with one more? Why had he chose to simply give the shadow a reason to finish him off?
“How is your wife, Miguel?” asked the shadow.
A hand came out of the shadow and grasped the glass in front of it. The movement was fluid, with no violence. The hand was crossed with the scars of someone who has dealt too much in the business of shadows. The man put the cigarette down on the ashtray with the other hand while he emptied the glass. A satisfied gulp noise resounded in the darkness.
“She won’t take me back,” said Miguel.
“Sounds to me you had taken steps to obtain income. That’s why we expected you at to work with our little group last night. Wouldn’t your wife take you back if you had money coming in?”
There were eyes somewhere in that corner staring at him, but Miguel didn’t want to meet those eyes. He stared at the lit cigarette in the ashtray.
“That’s what she had said”
“Don’t you want your wife back, Miguel?”
A man’s face came out from the shadow. He was barely older than Miguel, but the scarring on his face seemed to make him older still.
“She left with another man. I checked this morning. The place is empty.”
Miguel swore that if he heard someone laugh right then he would make a move even if that meant he would have to eat a bullet for it.
“She took everything, Miguel?”
“She was everything.”
There was a heavy sigh from the man made of shadows.
“If that was this morning, that couldn’t be then reason why you didn’t show up last night.”
“I didn’t show up last night because I am not a thief.”
“Don’t be insulting, Miguel. I am not a thief either. Last night was simply a recovery of stolen goods.”
“It involved killing people.”
“Only people who involve themselves in getting killed. You didn’t say a word a week ago”
“I’m saying it now.”
The cigarette was out. The shadow fished out something from his overcoat. Miguel twitched without being able to control himself, but the shadow was just taking out a cigarette. The lighter’s blue flame was hypnotizing. The scarred face leaned back into the shadows, leaving behind it a trail of smoke.
“So you decide to do the honorable thing and you find your wife has taken off. What are you doing here, Miguel?”
“I am facing consequences.”
There was a raspy cackle. It took a minute for Miguel to figure out that the shadow was laughing. Miguel had to be very careful not to start laughing himself.
“We are closed, Miguel. Get out.”
Miguel stared at the shadow for a moment, unsure he had heard correctly. Then he got up and left. The man behind the counter got up and closed the door behind him. Then he turned to the shadow in the corner.
“You let him go. You never let anybody go.”
“Assisted suicide is not my business.”
Out in the street and a block away, Miguel figured he could stop looking from behind his shoulder. As he neared the corner, he could see a Help Wanted sign in the pub across the street. He headed in that direction.
A breeze started blowing. It played with the trees a bit. The young trees joined in with amusement. The old ones stayed in place, barely ruffling their leaves at the annoying newcomer. The gust of wind
insisted for a few moments, then gave up and left for the next corner. Wild newspaper pages followed, nipping at its heels like dogs after an intruder.