Volume 1, Number 3 -- October, 1996
fiction by Tony Han
A man sits inside a cafe, waiting for his wife. He is seated in front of a small circular table with his coffee, his cigarettes, matches, and an ashtray, all carefully arranged on the surface. Behind him is the music, the talk, and laughter of any cafe, but none of it reached into him. His attention is focused straight ahead, past the table and window of the cafe, out at the City. Today the newsstands are empty shacks and the flower shops are briskly dispersing bouquets into the crowds. The cars on the busy street flow by, locked in bumper to bumper congestion. They move in unison, in a singular direction. Scattered along the edges of this momentum are cars, double-parked, the drivers patiently idling with hazard lights flashing. Somewhere inside the stores that surround the little cafe are passengers shopping, running errands, picking up packages, knowing that the drivers are idling for them, these relationships created with "I'll just be a moment" or "Wait here". Today, everything is in steady rhythms. The people on the street, unlike the cars pushing down the street lanes, flow to and from at varying speeds, passing one another, dodging those moving in the same direction or others who approach them, constantly weaving in and out.
The man stares at these actions past the vague reflections of the window. A white limousine floats by with writings of "Just Married" on the tinted rear window. A young woman briskly walks by - her intensity parts those around her. A small child so suddenly stops and leans against the pane of glass of the cafe till his sisters, older and younger, and his weary parents pass before him; then proceeds to overtake them. Flash of red and a large Toyota 4runner swaggers by, its driver mindlessly chatting with someone on the other side of the cellular phone, invisible. Tired elderly people. Mere youths. A young couple pulls up to the nearby curb of a recently vacated parking spot. Shiny, new, shaped of a new age, sporty, yet conservative. And so is their car.
The man absorbs these realities, his eyes zig-zagging through the dense crowds till it locks on a single image on the other side of the street. Silhouetted against a bright, neon, street-level sign of a Levi's store is the shape of a young, pretty girl. The man, a little taken at her nearness and vagueness, stares intensely through the throngs of movement. She, too, is gazing about her surroundings. Her blonde hair is held in a ponytail that snaps about as her eyes move from one object or person to the next, consistent and never pausing. What details of this young, young, pretty girl that he could not distinctly observe, he fills in with his imaginations. Perhaps if I were to approach her, I would say something that would make her laugh. And then, everything could be forgotten and we could leave (with her arm linked through mine). Since neither of us are interested in the crowds and the noise, we would walk around for a little while glancing into the windows, looking at everything and everyone. And she would reach down and squeeze my hand and we would go home...
He was so completely distracted that when her young lover exited the store sharply and hugged the girl, it took him a few seconds to re-orient himself and his thoughts. His lost musings was replaced with a smile. So young. Why so soon?
Scattered along the edges of the sidewalks, street vendors stand or sit patiently in front of their wares. The street merchants appear brittle, faced-off against the cold stone and metal buildings of the large, professional, commercial corporations. And, at night, when these contraband refugees must pack away their merchandise and drive off, the cash-register clerks, sales associates, and floor managers turn off the lights, turn on the security systems, and leave the buildings to rejuvenated by the cleaning crews. However, with throngs of consumers surging all about the streets, these make-shift stores wait valiantly and faithfully. Some of these street vendors are selling jewelry made of faux gems and even less valuable metallic necklaces, but wildly elaborate. Another person is peddling hats that are weaved in multi-colored, warm materials. One fellow sells T-shirts, bright and covered with "pop culture", one for every attitude. And there is an older woman who will tell you your life with Tarot cards.
Just in front of him, to the left, one particular couple walks up to the street vendor to admire his wares. The man scans the couple and becomes fixated on this woman and man. Both in their twenties, the male-counterpart looks about interested at the items, relaxed, and jovial. The woman glances about her with less interest in what's right in front of her. She looks, concentrates on certain subject matters, but shies away as quickly as she had caught the sight. Her shoulder length, dark brunette hair is trapped under a black, round hat. One of them is carrying packages from Crate and Barrel. The other one flags down a taxi and, laughing, they both steps inside. The man in the cafe smiles. Shopping together for kitchenware. And the couple leaves the immediate area.
The man follows with his eyes. Who was it that moved into the other's apartment? Or was it more important that the both of you find a new place, together? (Or do you carry your clothes in your car ready to rush to the office the next morning?) Are you still excited and enthralled at making love in the living room, neglecting to turn off the lights, and waking up on the couch together in the morning? Do you leave the bathroom door open so the other can expectedly join you in the shower? During the long hours of work (for you aren't ready to call it a career, yet) do you tease yourself with random flashes of the other, an illusionary scent when you're walking down a hall, startling yourself, or actually telephoning, just to hear?... And have both of you talked about your pasts?
Among the merchants and the shoppers are beings, trapped in between. These individuals are mostly seated along the sides of the building, waiting, watching. And when a passerby drops some coins into one of their containers, some of them smile, and all hope for the next one. A few of them pluck at stringed instruments singing. (hoping to convert altruism into consumerism) Are there people who still ask why? There is one who is huddled along the wall covered in rags and blankets, a sign and a cup in front of him like others, but he doesn't move. There is no acknowledgment of generosity given to him or most people ignoring him. You can only see him breathe.
The man traces the building wall towards the corner of the street. Standing under a traffic signal a couple, perhaps in their mid-thirties, is mouthing a conversation. The woman nods towards the building behind her and the man acknowledges this by pointing to a different building across the street. Both look at their watches. The woman turns and walks down the opposite sidewalk as the cafe that the man sits in. Her sight is focused straight ahead of her till she sees