By Sabrina Chapman
My cheap drugstore aviators are no match against the blinding glare of the afternoon sun. The wind is bracing on my walk to the coffee shop. A hollow, brittleness spreads through my body, as if my bones will crack and splinter with each step. I sniff, dabbing at my cheeks with the sleeve of my sweater. Are those actual tears or the wind making my eyes water? It’s been a long time since I had a good cry, but I don’t have the time or luxury for tears.
My last job was a runaway freight train that careened off the rails. In my waning days of employment, I was an equal opportunity bitch to co-workers and clients alike. Telling everyone what they could do with their shit felt good at the time. Now—not so much, since the sassy, blonde ‘it girl’ is unemployed.
I regret not wearing a jacket. But then, I regret most of my past actions. At twenty-five, my career catapulted to the top so fast it became unbalanced, untenable, and I became unsound. For the past month, I’ve taken refuge in my apartment binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and sleeping until noon. Neither are conducive to seeking employment.
Inside the coffee shop, it’s a cacophony of whirring and buzzing. Baristas grind beans, blenders hum with swirling concoctions, and patrons mill about waiting on orders. The warm, rich aroma of coffee permeates the shop, fostering a relaxed atmosphere. I’m here for the free Wi-Fi.
I mentally tally my dwindling funds. My severance, which included an agreement not to file Title VII claims, won’t last much longer at the rate I’m burning through booze, ordering crap I don’t need from Amazon, and now buying over-priced coffee.
Gold Dust Woman emanates from the sound system. Despite my annoyance of it being overplayed, I can’t help but mouth the words as I wait in line. Did she make you cry, Make you break down, Shatter your illusions of love?
All the tables are occupied. I shift my overstuffed satchel to the other side, alleviating the pinching pain in my shoulder. I place my order and linger around the shelves filled with coffee paraphernalia, hoping a table will become free.
I make one final scan of the shop before trudging to the door. Faces gaze in deep concentration at screens, and I wonder if something newsworthy happened. Being jobless, there’s a sense of living in an alternate universe, as if the employed are privy to essential facts the unemployed are not.
Outside, a blast of icy wind takes my breath away. At a sunny table, the metal chair is freezing, but it’s a break from lugging my satchel. My cold hands fumble with my case. The laptop slips from my grasp and my too-expensive coffee splashes to the ground.
“Dammit!” Frustration and anger roll through me like waves crashing to the shore. My first instinct is to race back home, but going back now seems like defeat. Tossing the empty cup into a nearby bin, I sigh and stare into space.
“Believe in possibility. Believe your angels and guides are here to help. Believe the universe is conspiring on your behalf.” A man is proselytizing on this bitter, windy day emphasizing each word with outstretched arms.
It’s not politically correct, but I assume all street preachers are homeless. He doesn’t look like the typical bum dressed in a camel hair jacket, white Nehru shirt, and jeans. A gold chain and pendant hang from his neck. Micro braids drape down his back. The most remarkable thing about him is his dazzling white smile. What the hell does a homeless guy have to smile about?
Staring too long, I make unintentional eye contact, an unbidden invitation. I rummage in my bag for my headphones—the universal sign for ‘don’t talk to me’—but can’t find them.
He towers over me and everything on this corner. His features are backlit as sunlight beams over his shoulders like an aura. His massive stature blocks the wind, and everything goes still and calm.
“May I join you?” Not waiting for an answer, he pulls out a chair and sits.
I want to ignore him, but I can’t help staring. He’s more than beautiful; he radiates, as if lit from within. His golden, brown eyes are kind. His mocha skin glows.
“You probably think I’m homeless,” he says with cultured diction.
A deep flush rises from my neck to my cheeks. Can he read my mind? Embarrassed, I stare at his chest, and notice the pendant. Wings.
“You don’t believe me?” Fine lines crinkle around his eyes as he chuckles, setting off a deep resonance inside me. A business card materializes from inside his coat, and he pushes it across the table.
‘Moringa.’ I wonder if that’s his name or a business. The same gold wings are embossed on the card with an address. Feigning politeness, I nod and shove it in my satchel.
“Um, I have to go,” I say, slipping my laptop inside my bag.
The chair scrapes against the concrete, as I stand signaling the end of our encounter.
“See you tomorrow,” he says, smiling.
Turning, I shake my head and quicken my pace to put as much distance between us as possible. Pompous asshole. What if he follows me?
“I promise you, I am not an asshole, or a stalker” he calls, chuckling that deep, resonant laugh.
I stumble and crane my neck around to see him raise an arm overhead. He grins, displaying those dazzling white teeth.
* * *
It’s been two weeks since meeting Moringa, and despite our first encounter, I now look forward to our daily meetings. I pretend to ignore his preaching like the rest of the populace, but can’t help listening. Maybe there is something to his message? I get up earlier, drink less, and work on my resume. I ponder his words even though I’m a non-believer. “What you think about, you bring about,” he says whenever I roll my eyes.
This afternoon is as cold as the first day we met. He’s usually here when I arrive, but it’s been several days since I’ve seen him. I scan the neighborhood as I log on and try to answer a few emails, but succumb to the chill. Fingers stiff with cold, I pack up. My hand brushes against something inside my satchel. It’s the business card Moringa handed me. I enter the address in my phone—two blocks away.
* * *
Climbing the stairs to the brownstone, I press the buzzer, then lean against the iron railing. Muffled footsteps approach from behind the door. A lock clicks, and the door creaks. Heart pounding, I realize I haven’t thought this through and back down a few steps as the heavy, wooden door swings open.
“Yes?” An elderly, yet handsome woman stands in the doorway. “Can I help you?”
“Hi…ahh…I’m sorry. I’m…looking for Moringa.” The words throb in my temples.
Her eyes cloud with pain, a grimace twists across her face. For an instant I think she’s going to slam the door. “I haven’t seen him lately,” I say in a rush.
“My son has been dead for two years.” Her brows knit together, grief and sorrow contort her features.
Fuzzy blackness overtakes my vision. My knees give way and I begin to collapse.
“Miss!” She’s by my side before I faint. “Let’s get you inside.”
Her arms are comforting. She sits me on the sofa and excuses herself. I cannot fathom what’s happening. Uneasiness churns my stomach, as the sour taste of bile rises in the back of my throat. My eyes dart around the room. Every available surface is covered with pictures of Moringa at various ages, interspersed with artwork.
Returning, she hands me a glass of water and sits. “It’s all right, dear. You didn’t know. It’s still hard for me, too.”
I take a sip and place the glass on the table. Twisting my hands in my lap, I glance at her. She’s staring at me, nodding.
“Um-hmm. So it is you. I always wondered.”
She moves to the credenza and picks up a framed painting. Fond recognition brightens her features as she studies the small canvas. “You must have meant a great deal to him. He never talked about his work,” she says, handing me the painting. “You have the same….” Her voice trails off as her fingers flutter at my chest.
My hand shoots up, clasping around something. His pendant.
Stunned, I gaze down at the painting, blinking until realization dawns. My breath catches. It’s me and Moringa. With trembling fingers, I reach out and trace his wings.
This time there is no question—real tears stream down my face unbidden.
Writers’ workshop and writing group