“Maybe we’ve all just been sick with the same rotovirus this whole time… or norovirus? What’s it called again?”
“Je me souviens de quelque choses… comme le parfum de printemps…”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. It seems like everyone’s sick.”
A spring day in February, warm enough to be outside, yet most of us stay indoors at the café. Perhaps we are a pessimistic bunch, or avoiding personal Charlie Brown clouds. The birds disagree with us, though. They keep up a steady patter on the sidewalk; if it’s an attempt to lure us to the patio, few have been seduced.
I order a double espresso. Returning to my seat, the Francophone woman next to me seems entranced in her recollection of memories lost and found. Her partner stares deep into his coffee cup.
“C’est fugace. Il part en un instant. Je sais, je sais…”
Her partner doesn’t look up. I wonder what he sees in the cup. Maybe, a foretelling of the future.
Next to me, more concrete plans for the future are being made. “March 15, that’s when we’re hosting the thing again. It’ll be at party o’clock. Tell Mark and his roommate John to be there.”
“Sarah! Sandwich pickup at the back,” the deli guy interjects, rising above the cacophony, and causing a member of the party-table to rise.
Sarah doesn’t get the chance to hear what Mark and his roommate John should be expecting for March 15. I do, though. It will be a jungle-themed house party, to pay homage to Tarzan for unknown reasons. He announces the address, including the apartment number. I briefly consider attending.
“Remember a week ago, when none of us could get out of bed? We thought it was a hangover. No way though. It was this friggin’ virus….” The virus-ridden duo leaves the café on that compelling note. I’m hopeful that they are taking their diseases elsewhere.
“C’est triste, de souvenir.”
The French couple and the jungle-partiers head out of the café in the same gush of warm afternoon air. I wonder if they live nearby, if the French woman will be afflicted by the primate sounds of party-goers in the ides of March. Tarzan would have respected the ancient Romans, I think.
“My agency has an office in Seattle. I’m thinking about transferring out there.”
His companion pauses to consider this comment, and responds in perfect non-sequitur:
“If there was a competition between various friends in various cities as to who is the most convincing, I think that Will would win that competition hands-down. He’s a convincing man. You can’t say no to him. If he told me to jump off a bridge, I’d be like, maybe. Just maaaybe. Though, not really, of course.”
Cracking the noise-wall again, the deli guy announces a name. Patrick. The friend of the ad guy gets up eagerly, and picks up an Italian double-salami sub. I wonder if this would be his choice for the last sandwich he ever ate, or if he’d pick something different.
I visualize the steps involved in jumping off a bridge, the mechanics of it. It’s not like going off the side of a cliff, where you could take your car or Segway to the edge and then go over. Usually, bridges involve barriers, and the requirement to get over or around them. But either way, barriers or no barriers, bridge or cliff, your brains would end up in a splatter.
My reverie continues for several minutes, until a guy-and-girl-in-matching-hoodies combo joins the table abutting mine.
“I’m, like, going to eat a salad, because I didn’t have lunch yet.”
“Oh, I had two lunches today! I ate something at eleven, and now I just finished eating something about ten minutes ago.” It’s 3pm at the café. His date inquires, “Well, would you like to eat a third lunch then?” “No,” he replies, “but let me get yours! And would you like a drink too?” She demurs on the drink, but takes him up on a kale-apple salad.
Across from me is a guy with long dreadlocks, wearing a thick knitted cap and an orange blanket with giant eyes on it. He doesn’t seem to realize that it’s 70 degrees and sunny outside. A freak occurrence in late February, in our corner of the world. Our Midwest city on a lake.
My coffee-drinking, computer-toting companion arrives. Twenty minutes late, so just when I’m starting to expect her. She glances from side to side quickly, then turns to me conspiratorially.
“There’s something strange that’s been happening lately,” she says. I nod and wait for her to go on. She’s not much for polite hi’s and bye’s. It’s one of the things I like best about her.
“This strange vegetable has been appearing in my food…thus far, in every salad this week.”
“Appearing, eh? Out of nowhere?”
“Well, I bought it and all, and put it into the salads. Of course. That doesn’t diminish the strangeness.”
An odd glimmer had come into her eyes. “I thought it was chopped green pepper when I bought it. Picked it up with the rest of the groceries from the Ethiopian store up north. So, they chop and package a lot of vegetables themselves. No labels other than the price. They expect you to know what you’re buying.”
“Of course,” I agree, waiting. She wouldn’t stop until she was done, in any case.
“So, I bought the vegetables in the plastic bag, and started putting them in all my salads. Except, they’re sweet. Almost sickly-sweet, with a tang. Here, I brought one for you to try.”
She puts on her headphones, leaving me to my vegetable investigations and the spirited conversation of newcomers behind me.
“My dad told me every day that he would get up and check the obituaries. He was checking to see if his name was in them or not.”
“And did he ever see his own name, then?”
“You know, I wonder about that. I wonder if he saw his name, the day after he died.”
I try the sweet green pepper. It was indeed pepper, after all. One mystery, at least, was solved.
About the author...
Emily Madapusi Pera is a Chicago-based writer. Her writing, as well as her baking, are gluten-free. Occasionally, mysterious vegetables appear in her salads. Often, she has bought them herself. Emily would like to thank the patrons of Z&H Cafe on 57th Street for providing such stimulating raw content. She'd also like to thank her husband, Keerthi, for everything else.
Want to read more of Emily's work?
Check out her Three Poems from our First Impressions issue!