Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pilot: The Girl At The Counter

"Welcome. May I take your order?"

"Yes. Caramel frap, please, with extra caramel at the bottom and on top and..."

"And extra shot and whipped cream. Got it. Take a seat first, I'll send it to you in a couple of minutes." 

She returned the change and the receipt to me and in the same time took a plastic cup using her other hand. She wrote something on the transparent plastic cup with a black permanent marker pen before turning around to face the coffee machine and started making the order. I stood at the counter for a while before turning around and walked towards the open air seating area, but before that I took a glance again at the girl, and I smiled a little. 

Can't really imagine just how many times have I been to this coffee shop; must be frequent enough for the girl at the counter to remember my usual order. Good thing I never did order anything else but the same damn drink every now and then. I chose a seat at the corner of the open air seating area and pulled the neatly-arranged metal chair out. I took a seat and flipped open the newspaper I bought before crashing into the premise and started reading while my hands unwrapped the new box of cigarette, which was also bought along with the newspaper earlier. I pulled one of the finely-encased tobacco stick and placed it in between my mouth, and I lit it with an aged metal lighter. 

Well, nothing interesting in the newspaper today.

I tossed the newspaper aside and took a look at the surrounding. It was almost ten o'clock in the morning, and the sun was shining brightly. The crowd was starting to swarm the place, all locked and loaded to shower the shopping stores with their hard-earned money, or worst, some other people's money. The mist generator fan cooled the ambient rather efficiently as the tropical sun progressively elevated the temperature around the premise. I tilted my head up and saw the dark green color on the coffee shop's signboard and the shop's name in white, along with the company's flagship icon - some crowned human-like female creature holding its twin tails.

"Here's your coffee." 

I turned around and saw the girl just now standing right next to me, placing on the table the transparent plastic cup, size grande, now filled with one of the best semi-liquid beverage I had never got tired of. Strange, how come I didn't realize that she was here just now? Maybe I wasn't paying much attention to the surrounding that I failed to notice her, or that I have been paying so much attention to my surrounding that I failed to notice her.

In a glance I saw her name tag - 'Min'.

"And here's some serviette. Enjoy your coffee. I did it myself." She smiled at me and then she turned around, walking back towards the counter, holding the brown, circular plastic tray in her left hand clamped in between her arm and her body, and her right hand busily fixed her ponytail hair, pushing the loose strands back into her green cap. She greeted some arriving customers and got back behind the counter, and I lost sight of her. 

Min. That's the only thing I know about her, other than her being a young barista at this coffee outlet. For months I have visited her here, and that was the only thing I could dig out. Smiles exchanged every now and then, if not some very daring glances almost everyday; but still we were so close, yet so far away.

In my eyes, she's definitely a lovely woman, no doubt. Physically, she's tall, say, 170 cm? She has fair skin that sometimes got rosy red when she stood too long in the sun. Her hair was naturally dark brown  in color and was always tied up into a neat ponytail, exposing her admiringly fair and long neck. Her face signified some Arabic, if not Caucasian, blood in her; her long nose, dark brown eyes and long eye lashes confirmed this. That reddish lips smiled freely at everyone she saw no matter how busy she was at the counter. My guess was that she was more or less my age. And if you asked me, she's definitely a great girlfriend-to-wife material.

I killed the cigarette and my throat felt dry and bitter. I took the drink and admired the golden caramel syrup that sank through the soft whipped cream top. I unwrapped the plastic straw from its white, paper jacket and pushed it into the icy beverage with a single stroke, stirring it gently while my eyes were again on the girl at the counter. She looked really busy, especially when the queue at the counter has gotten longer now, most probably contributed by the warm temperature. Luckily she has another guy barista to help her out, although in my opinion he was very much useless - slow and uninitiated. And of course, the customers have their own preferences and choices of drink, making her work even more demanding. As I was admiring her from my table, I took a big gulp of the caramel frap. 

Almost as instantly, I jerked out of my seat. Holy crap! my heart screamed. My head was experiencing some throbbing waves from the inside. It felt like getting a kick right at the back of the head when you're halfway through dinner or any other major meals. How much caramel syrup did she showered into my drink? It felt so very sweet, in fact way too sweet that if I had diabetes, I would have had been history by now. Why, Min, why would you want to infuse unnecessary diabetes into one of your loyal customers? I felt my eyes getting watery and my throat felt as if I just chugged down a barrel of pure and extra viscous honey. Water! Plain water please, before I die from some very unforeseen sugar rush.

I went to the self service counter right next to the wall beside the counter and nervously poured down some cold water from one of the the thermoses into a small plastic cup and drank it down right away. One down. The cold water ran down my throat like water rushing down the drain during a heavy downpour, and was not enough. Two down. The gooey taste of caramel was still there. Let's go for three then. I pressed on the top of the thermos to pump more water into the tiny plastic cup; it gave out some creaking sounds as I did. Once full, I took the cup to my lips and closed my eyes, drinking it down. 

"Was it too sweet? I'm terribly sorry."

There are three things that you should know here. First, it really hurts when you drink and the liquid is forced to blow into your nose, like when you cough or sneeze when you drink. Secondly, I was drinking, and I accidentally blown the water into my nose from my throat, shocked from the voice just now. Thirdly, was that even necessary, Min? Cannot you see that I was drinking? Now some of the water had been accidentally splashed on my shirt, and I tried so hard to bear with the pain in my nose, and I knew it didn't work because I could feel my nose getting cranky and my eyes got watery all over again. I turned around and saw her standing behind me with the circular plastic tray.

"No," I said awkwardly. "Not really. The frap is alright. Just that I had something stuck at my throat. Damn flies." I let out a nervous chuckles for a bit while trying hard not to sneeze or anything. Damn liar.     

She chuckled along before taking something out from her black apron front pocket. 

"Here," she said to me when she handed me some more serviette. "Your shirt is wet there."

I thanked her, put the serviette into my pocket and turned around to walk to my table back again. The frap was innocently sitting on the table still. I took a seat and stared at the frap; in my head I was thinking of how exactly was I going to dispose this without Min noticing. And then I realized from the corner of my eyes that she was looking at me from the counter. Oh what the hell, I said to myself,  might as well just drink it up. After all she made an effort to prepare it for me. I took out the straw and the top cap off the plastic cup and prepared to pull a show out for her. The trick is to drink as much as possible without breathing, and just swallow the damn thing down as quickly as possible.

I took around three or four big gulps of the frap and my knees started shaking. My heart was about to explode and my brain was melting down, flowing out through my ears and nose. Life memories flashed before my eyes. I put down the cup, half emptied, and for a while there I was confused. My head rang loudly from the inside again. Soon when consciousness was regained, I looked at her and smile. She better appreciate what I just did for her. 

She was smiling widely from the counter and gave me a thumb up sign. I interpreted it as putting a thumb up my ass because, seriously, my stomach was about to explode anytime soon due to the sudden and extreme sugar intake just now. I imagined it and I didn't like what I saw. I smiled back at her nevertheless, as she pulled her hand and placed a finger in between her lips and nose, and smiled even wider. 

Ah, cream mustache. Very good. I just smiled at the girl at the counter with a cream mustache on my face. Way to go, me. 

I took out the serviette she gave me just now (the ones she gave me earlier were already soaked in water that flowed down the cup's wall) to wipe the silly cream mustache off my face. As I was about to wipe my face, I saw some writings on the thin and soft paper towel. 012...wait. It was a phone number. Why a phone number here, and whose? My mind raced to discover the theories and answers to this yet another surprise. Among all, there was only one answer that fit perfectly.

Was it you?

I pulled my head up and looked at Min at the counter. She was there, looking at me back. Eyes to eyes. Her face did not show any emotion. My face however showed at least five. She leaned forward and rested her arms on the wooden counter. One of my ears lifted up for no reason. She took off her cap and pulled off the hairband while biting her lips, releasing her long, wavy hair free while shaking her head in slow motion to get the hair sexily arranged. No. She didn't. It was just my imagination. But she was still there, her face was still with no reaction. The ringing in my head intensified. I tried to swallow down the caramel in my mouth but my throat felt like a damn sheet of sandpaper. And I most certainly needed that thumb up my ass now. Without any notice she smirked at me and winked. And just like that the world stopped moving. Everything froze. Nothing else was heard but a long, ringing sound of silence.

My God, it was really you.

And the cream mustache lied silently still on my face.

...To be continued

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