It was the heart of summer and the roadside cafés in Paris were brimming with patrons. Enjoying their cup of coffee and watching the world go by. It has been five years since the boy first stepped into the life of being a Parisian. During that time, he had prided himself as a go-to guy for all coffee and café related stuffs within his arrondissement. He has tried and tasted the various coffees at the numerous cafés that dotted the area that he stayed and worked in. There were cafés that were suitable for afternoon coffee because of their sandwiches, cafés where you could get an early-morning pick-me-up, he knew it all.
So it came as a surprise when he found a new café opening just two blocks away from where he worked. The place was a prime area but when he tasted the previous owner’s coffee, he was put off by the taste. And so it proved to be correct, that franchise lasted all of three months before closing shop. Now a new proprietor had taken over. Maybe this time it would work, the boy thought to himself.
It took him two days before having the luxury of visiting this new café. The décor was unpretentious, typical of all Parisian café but it was the name that caught his eye, just a simple Café. Now this was surprising as most new coffee shops would rather have a catchy name in order to place itself right in the mind of the people, but the present shop owner went for the mundane, Café. He went in and took a sit by the counter. It was his favourite spot whenever he went to a new place. The counter will give him a view of how the barista prepares the coffee and it is also a spot where he could chat up with strangers while at the same time, observe the rest of the patrons. He liked observing and making mental notes. Today, he took up seat at the counter right in front of the barista, a girl, who incidentally was the owner of the new shop.
“Un café s’il vous plait,” he made an order.
What made it even more interesting was that the owner was from the same country as the boy. So they had a few things in common. He went for the house coffee. Usually made fresh with cocoa beans and added with fresh milk from the dairy. The first sip told him all he had to know. The aroma, the type of coca beans used and how fresh the milk was. This cup of coffee was much better than the previous, although it still lacked something to make it one of the best he has ever tasted. But that wasn’t what he was looking for, coffee aficionados like him, prefers the complete package, good coffee, good company, good views and good vibes. This coffee shop was beginning to tick a few boxes.
The boy would usually spend two to three days at the same coffee shop and at a few different times to ensure that it wasn’t a one off thing. Sometimes, the barista would take time to prepare the coffee for a preferred customer, but when faced with multiple customers, a long working schedule, the coffee produced might be different. But for this particular barista, it didn’t. The boy visited during the long lunch breaks when the place was brimming with people clamouring for coffee, he visited during the brief short breaks when there were no customer. Each time, he was impressed. He was beginning to like the girl behind the counter. The both of them would trade stories, poke fun at other patrons and jabbed at each other. She was a bubbly person and the job suited her perfectly. There wasn’t a day that he didn’t see her smile, even underneath the stress of work and sweat.
Slowly, the boy and the girl became a couple. They started seeing each other. The boy has now forgotten the rest of the coffee shop within his arrondissement. He would spend his free time watching her work. While she would spend her free time in his arms. One day, she surprised him with a new blend, which she haven’t found a name for it yet. It was nothing like he ever tasted. The aroma was thick and the flavour heightened the senses. The creamy taste mixed with just the right amount of milk. This was definitely one of the best, if not the best coffee he has ever tasted. The girl was impressed. She was happy. He was happy. Right in the heart of Paris, next to a busy side street, on the corner of Rue Honoré and Rue Martin, lies a coffee shop that brews the perfect coffee.
The boy had an out-of-town conference for a week. He promised her that he would come back with a surprise for her. By the time he had returned, the Café was closed. It was unexpected. She hadn’t told him anything. He tried calling her on the phone, no answer. He went to her apartment, it was locked. He took out the spare key and went inside. Everything was the way it was when he left. There was no note, her clothes were still in the wardrobe. Nothing seem to be amiss, except the girl wasn’t around. He asked the neighbours, he called her co-workers.
Everyone said she left without saying a word after he had gone. The café had been closed for almost a week. He found her keys to the shop and went inside. Everything was there, but still there was no sign of her. He was worried, he called the hospitals around the area, he went to each and every one of them, no one had seen her. It was as if she had disappeared. Vanished into thin air. For one whole week he took time off to search for her. Asking the police for any missing persons description. He was desperate and in pain, he remembered the conversation they had just before she went missing.
He talked to her about his dreams and hopes. The girl poohed at the answer. She never believed in hope or dreams. She said that they weren’t important. That’s why she declined to be photographed. There were no pictures of her on his phone or otherwise. Which was what made him a fool when he went to the police looking for his girlfriend and when they wanted a picture of her, he couldn’t produce it. She said only fools believe in hopes and dreams. She said she never expected anything out of this relationship with him. He told her she was wrong, hopes can be big and can be small. Even the hope of just receiving her messages, or the hope of seeing her tomorrow, is something that someone in love would feel. The expectation of hearing her voice, even though they have just seen each other barely five minutes ago. It doesn’t have to be something big like having the hopes of having grandchildren, or expecting to live to eighty. She would hear nothing of it. He was disappointed that their last conversation had to end that way, with both parties angry and hurt.
It wasn’t until her landlord came calling regarding the shop rental that he snapped out of his funk. It was her dream of opening a coffee shop in Paris, he couldn’t let that dream die. She might have left him out of spite but he has to have faith and hope in her. He paid the rent and started to call on her co-workers. They would be returning for duty next week. He went to the shop. He was not prepared for this. He might be a connoisseur of coffee but a barista he was not. Least of all, a businessman. But he had decided that he would not let her dream die and if there was one thing he was sure about himself, the boy always kept his promises. He took a hiatus from his job, which his boss accepted rather unwillingly but the boy was determined. He went online and he bought books to help him out. The first week on the job was a disaster. The coffee were not up to standard, one by one, the customers left, only the loyal ones stayed. Days turned to weeks, the shop was in the red. He tried to make it work, he took classes in coffee making, he asked around, he sought help. The process was slow, he was not cut for it. But he kept on going, all because of the memories of the girl. Even his co-workers left as he was unable to pay them, the shop was now manned by a skeleton staff. But he persevered, he endured the pain. Weeks turned to months, by the fifth month, he finally struck gold. He got the hang of being a barista and the customers were slowly trickling back. He invested almost everything from his savings into the shop. He had to move her things into his apartment, he cannot afford to pay the rent for both. They were all kept in boxes all around his place. There was still no word from her. Nothing from the authorities. He thought she might have flew back to the country but the immigrations had no record of her. It felt like she was just a dream, but the cafe was the only real thing that reminded him that she existed. That she was not a figment of his imagination.
A year had come and gone, business was picking up. He was finally in the black. The Café was bustling with customers. Even his former colleagues were dropping by. They were surprised that he would quit his job for this but when they saw the place, they were impressed. He didn’t tell them what it meant. This was no simple job, there was a much deeper meaning behind it. He wanted to keep her memory alive, he wanted to prove to her that it takes hopes and effort to keep things alive.
Fourteen months have passed, even his co-workers were giving him stick for not having enjoyed any relationship during that time. He always replied with a smile. He still held hopes that she would come back into his life. And come back she did. It was on a cold mid-Autumn day, when the faint dingle placed on the entrance sounded. The boy had just opened the shop and was about to start his day, he wanted to tell the person that they would only be ready in another half an hour. He went to the counter and found the girl staring back at him. Except this time, there was no recognition of him in her eyes. To her, he was just the barista.
“Un café s’il vous plait.” she said.
This was her and yet it was not. She would have known that he was from her country, they wouldn’t be speaking in French. This was her shop, she wouldn’t be ordering, she would be the one making it. He tried to gathered his thoughts but all it came out was a stammer. She looked at him surprisingly and said she could wait and away she went to a seat by the window. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, the girl was in front of him, in his café (her café actually) and yet acted like a stranger. Her orders were for two cups of black coffee. It was a bitter coffee, one which she herself have said she would never drink it. And yet, here she was, ordering two of it. He was going crazy when he was brewing the coffee. He would sneak a peek at her sitting by the window when he had the chance. The mannerism, the shape of her back, the way she walked, everything pointed to her. He brought her the coffee and their eyes met. The boy’s eyes were full of hope mixed with confusion, the girl’s eyes were just pool of black. No signs of recognition. No signs of the sparkle that was always in his mind. She thanked him and paid on the spot. The boy walked away more confused than ever. To make things worse, the door rang again and a guy walked in and went straight to the girl. He placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned forward for a kiss. She handed him the cup of coffee and they both sat by the window and drank.
Confusion was replaced with anger and hate. A bitter resentment rose within him. How could she do this to him? He hadn’t treated her badly, as far as he knew. They were actually happier than ever but yet here she was, in someone else’s arms. Treating him with the full force of a cold Autumn wind. The one that went straight to the bones. Was he wrong? Did he build up the hopes only for it to come crashing down like a house of cards? Warning bells rang in his head. The ache in his heart was so overwhelming that he had to sit down. He could see that his fists were clenched and he was trembling. The girl and her new found love stood up and left. The boy couldn’t wait, he had to do something. He called his co-worker to man the counter for a while, he had to follow her.
Luckily, it didn’t take long. A block away, both of them entered an office block. A quick chat and an invitation to the café for the security guard below told him what he needed to know. Both of them worked at the same office. He is the boss, she is his secretary. The business had just moved in two weeks ago. They were previously located in the outskirts of Paris.
The boy’s mind was racing. Surely fate didn’t play this card just so that he could watch her walk off with another man. This wasn’t merely a coincidence that she would appear, after fourteen months away, to walk into his café and then work just a block away. The flame was still burning brightly within him and he wasn’t going to let it all go to waste. She might have forgotten about him and their memories, but as long as he was alive and breathing, the memories were safe with him. He was determined not to let her slip away from his fingers again. The boy made a promise to himself.
The first few days were a pain to him, to see both of them walking hand in hand right up until his counter. He had asked the security guard to inform their company that their employees will be given one month’s supply of half-priced coffee. She asked the boy why, he told her that it was a community program. Any new company in the area will get coffee at half-price for a month. She didn’t know that it was for him to get her to become a loyal customer of her own coffee shop. Weeks passed and there were times when she came for coffee alone. During those times, he would bring her the coffee, still the black coffee which the old her had hated. He knew it was her after two weeks, he overheard the other guy calling her name. A month in, he accidentally saw her mole on the chest when she shifted her shawl. With that, he doubled up his efforts. She was coming in much more frequently now but most of the time, with the other guy. She was chatty and whenever he brought up the past, she would just brushed it aside but he could see that she was disturbed by it. Three months had passed since she first walked into his coffee shop when she finally opened up. She wasn’t disturbed about the past, but she had actually forgotten all about it.
Her only memory was of her childhood, she couldn’t even remember why she came to Paris. All she remembered of recently was from one and a half years ago. She woke up at one of the district hospitals located at the outskirts of the city, one which the boy had never searched. Not because he didn’t know, it was because the hospital was too small to be significant enough to warrant a mention in the directory. The doctors there told her that she was in an accident. All she remembered was that she could speak French and that the hospital canteen served her black coffee during her stay. She told him the black coffee reminded her of the accident and the memories that she had lost. The boy asked her about the other guy. She told the boy that she could remember being in love once and it was with the guy. She could only remember his phone number, that’s why she called him up and from then onwards, he has been looking after her. Six months after the accident, she started to work for him at his office. She said she remembered working there before the accident and even the colleagues looked familiar to her. But there was this one year prior to the accident which she lost all memories off. The doctors told her that she might never be able to recall the memories. She shrugged her arms at the boy. Who knows when will she remember? Four months ago, the company relocated and here she was, sitting in the boy’s café and sipping coffee. She even asked him why he named the place, Café? He told her it was an inside secret. She gave him a smile that almost broke his heart.
Now that the boy knew her story, he felt more determined to make sure she remembers. But try as he may, the boy was still a barista to the girl. Nothing more than that. Once she even considered him a like-minded friend, but that was it. A friend. He thought hard, he thought long. He searched online for the answer, he had left his old job for too long but the knowledge was coming back to him. He has to trigger her mind, in order for the brain to reset itself. However, that trigger must fall short of becoming another concussion to her. He found his answer, he would have to brew that perfect blend of coffee that she did for him prior to her accident. How was he supposed to do that? The recipe was not found in books, that recipe was her own, which she never shared with anyone else. It was supposed to be their secret. He wasn’t about to give up, he tried. For every single day, he tried. It might sound easy to some to brew a coffee but to get that perfect blend, it needed the right everything. The right water temperature, the right beans, the right milk, the right timing, the right brew, the right flavour, the right acidity, the right aroma, the list goes on and on.
It was already two years to the day that she left him and almost half a year of trying on his part to brew the perfect blend. He was getting frustrated, he was getting angry, he was getting disappointed. Every day, he had to put up with the thought of seeing her with another guy. And at the same time, he had to make the perfect coffee. The toll was beginning to tell. He was almost at wit’s end. He has begun to spend the nights at the coffee shop, cutting into his sleep, just to get the recipe right. His heart ached and his mind was screaming for him to stop, but he was having none of it. Then the idea struck him like an arrow. He knew what was missing. He has been too preoccupied with trying to get the perfect blend that he had forgotten that it wasn’t how she would have made it. That time, the boy and the girl were deeply in love, when she made that coffee, it was infused with love. His efforts were all about disappointment, ache and pain, no wonder it didn’t taste the same.
He closed his eyes. He called forth all the wonderful memories that they spent together. Although it was only a year, it felt like a lifetime for him. He let his hand and heart guide him. His nose chose the coffee beans, his heart decided the time that it needed to brew, his hands did the grinding, all the while, he remembered everything they did together, all those nights cuddled up together, the time they spent bickering about which Star Wars character deserve to die (Jar Jar Binks by the way) and whose turn was it to wear the One Ring. When he opened his eyes, the tears have dried and there was a smile on his face. He poured a cup for himself. Yes, this was it. If this was a movie, they would have shown both the boy and the girl side by side in cut screen, brewing in exactly the same way. How’s that for effect. Now, all he needed to do, was to get the girl to drink it.
The girl dropped by after two days of prolonged waiting for the boy. He said he had something special for her. Unfortunately, she was busy, she wanted the coffee to go. So he poured her a large cup and gave her a wink when she left. The girl was inundated with office work, but when she took the first sip, she was surprised to find that it wasn’t the regular bitter coffee she took. This was different. The taste went straight to her brain. There was a fog whenever she tried to remember the past. The boy was different. She felt she knew something about him once. The coffee in her hands, was dissipating the fog. She took another mouthful. Something was stirring in her heart. She took off the cap and took a deep smell of the aroma. The fuzz in her mind was beginning to clear. She tried to take another sip. The cup was empty. Then her boss (her boyfriend) asked her to join the meeting. She was caught between two worlds, does she go back to get her coffee or does she stay in the meeting. She went for the latter.
It was already nine at night when she finished her work. The café was probably closed by now. She decided to give it a try, she packed her stuffs and ran all the way to the shop. She hoped that he was still there. This was something the old her would never do, hope for things. But this was different, she felt different. The light was still on when she turned around the corner, he was still there! She walked really fast and at the same time, trying to compose herself. She looked like a mess during her run. He must be wondering what has gotten into her. Her mind was pounding, the wall that was holding the forgotten memories was starting to crack. She stood at the entrance. It said closed on the sign inside. She buzzed the ringer. While waiting, she looked at the name of the coffee shop. Café. C-A-F-E. She took a step back, she had to hold onto the sides of the door, her knees were trembling. Things were starting to be clear, thoughts and flashes were going off inside her head. Where was he? He must come quick. This was her coffee shop, it was written there plainly in front of her eyes all the time, why hadn’t she realise? No wonder the boy said it was a secret. To any ordinary person, the shop was called Café. But to the certain few important people in her life, it was her café. Her name was there, mixed in-between the lines. Why was she so blind? What had she done to him during the last two years? What had he gone through?
The boy opened the door and caught her as she was about to fall. Her head was ringing and she felt dizzy. He carried her to her favourite spot and asked her what happened? She opened her eyes and there he was, the same eyes, the same face, the one from her memories. Everything came flooding back. She took a deep breath, the coffee shop was filled with the aroma of the coffee she had just tasted in the morning. The mist in her mind dissipated into thin air, everything was now clear.
“Un café, s’il vous plait,” she said it again.
This time, the boy realized it was different, this time he could see the sparkle in her eyes, this was the girl that he had waited for. This was the girl he had hoped for. This was her, in front of him, asking him for the same coffee that she brewed for him two years ago. This was his dream come true. He poured a cup for her and they sat in the coffee shop. For hours they sat there talking. They had a lot to talk about.
The sun was shining on his eyes as the boy stirred from his sleep. He opened his eyes and found himself back at his apartment. Was last night all but a dream? He rubbed his eyes. He pinched himself. He was at the coffee shop last night and now he was back at his apartment? Something moved underneath his blanket next to him. He pulled the blanket away, the girl stirred and open a lazy eye at him. She was smiling. He was smiling. It wasn’t a dream after all. It was real. She gave him another smile and pulled him closer. He told her that he has something to do, he walked up, pulled the curtains close and went back to cuddle her beneath the sheets. Everything felt perfect.
“Good morning dear”
“Good morning my love”