Nolisoli.ph Originals: Just Another Thursday at the Café
A gender neutral short story about being single and in love on Valentine's day
Feb 14, 2019
There are many variations to the legend of St. Valentine, but all of them have one thing in common: Valentine used love as revolt. In honor of that, Nolisoli.ph presents a series on untraditional narratives on love, from the romantic to the heartsick.
I roll up a long line of dough with my hands, dusts of flour flying lazily away with each twist. “You do know we have a machine for that, right?” you had asked before, but I swatted that question away like a fly in the pantry. I like the meditative calm that kneading gives, and besides, machines have always felt a little bit artificial, a little bit impersonal. I know most people can’t tell when they bite into a piece of bread, but I can.
Though days like today, I’m tempted to let the machines win. I wipe away a bead of sweat from my forehead with my sleeve. Holidays are a busy time for the café, naturally, but even more so on Valentine’s. Especially after we started rolling out heart-shaped boxes for the day, an idea that I unwittingly brought up. I look at the long list of orders we have stacked up, and I wince. ‘This is just another Thursday,’ I tell myself. If I can convince myself that, I can get through this day.
The wind chimes start whistling. A customer. You receive the order before I can ask. I mouth a small “thanks” your way.
It’s just you and I at work today, I think ruefully. I guess it isn’t such a weird set up. You’re the barista, so you can man the counter at a pinch. And I’m here, doing all the kitchen stuff. I guess the only reason why I find it weird is because I like you. Yikes.
It started way back during our work orientation. We came in at the same time, so the manager (bless her) decided to do it together, too. She told us the specialty tea that we served, taking extra care to mispronounce each one. “Hi-bees-cuss.” she snarled. “Kohm–buch–ah.” You crinkled your nose at the mention of kombucha. I knew I liked you then.
But you don’t like me back. I know this because you rebuff every single after-work invitation I give, and you don’t even look me in the eye sometimes. We get along well at work, sure, but every time I pry into your personal life, you snap back. “Oh god, I’m in love with someone who can’t stand me,” I’ve drunkenly said to my friends on more than one occasion. You keep me at arm’s length, but I get enough out of you from our shifts together to make me like you a little more each time. And that keeps me staying here. I should’ve left this job months ago (“You’re way too good to be worked to the bone at such a low-rate place,” my friends and old mentors keep telling me), but I can’t bring myself to, not yet.
I guess I just want you to like me even just a little bit before I leave.
So. You don’t talk to me about your life and I don’t tell you I like you. That’s fine, that’s cool, but that makes today especially suck. Seeing couples together can smart when you’re lonely, but even more so when it’s Valentine’s day and you have to serve them with the person you love just standing right there. ‘This is just another Thursday,’ I repeat to myself. ‘This is just ano—’
“Tart,” you say, bursting my reverie. “Ubos na yung tart.”
“Okay,” I answer blandly.
“And the carrot cake. And the chocolates. And the—,” you take your time looking at the empty counter, “—all the cookies.”
“Oh, and the driver will be picking up more boxes for delivery soon.”
“I’d help you out but I’m,” you say, stretching your hands out, “not a cook. Sorry.”
“It’s okay, neither am I,” I point out.
A customer comes in, breaking the beginnings of a banter. It’s for the best, I have to work, anyways. I can go on auto-pilot mode when I have this much stuff to do: cook, plate, transfer to the counter. Bake, plate, transfer to the counter. Repeat ad infinitum. You are a rolling pin and you can roll through this. During one round of transferring, I notice the customer slip you something. “Call me if you change your mind,” I hear him say. I take a mental note to ask.
What seems like hours and a few deliveries later, I’m able to relax. I stretch my arms out next to you at the counter. “Is it near closing time yet?”
“Ano ka,” you say, pointing to the clock. I look up. It’s still 1:30. Drats.
“Same,” you say, seeing the expression on my face. “Can you help me sort all these out?” You wave your hands towards the mess of papers around the cashbox. “The cash is all sorted, I just need help with everything else.”
I shuffle through the mix of packets and receipts. Someone ordered a canelé and espresso at 9. Someone else got a single slice of cheesecake at 11. A group ordered five lattes, though someone in the group had a particular palate and got hers customized. What a nightmare.
I glance through a receipt for a cappuccino with a sprinkle of cinnamon. I remember the man who ordered it; you asked me where the extra cinnamon was because we were running out. And then the memory clicked: He was the sketchy guy that told you to call.
“So, uh, what was that all about?” I venture to ask, holding the receipt for you to see.
“I saw the guy slip you something before he left.”
You feign ignorance. “I don’t know.”
I prod until you reluctantly tell me: The customer was from a high-end café, and he was scouting for a new barista. I’m floored.
“Are you taking it?”
“Nah. I get offers like that all the time.”
Floored me again. “Then why are you still here?”
“It’s a really huge opportunity! You can’t just throw it away.”
“I have a really good reason.”
“Like what?” I demand.
You look straight into me, and then I get it.
Our eyes are still locked. The only sounds I hear are the tiny little crinkles coming from the bread baking in the oven, and the wild, erratic thumps coming from inside me, my heart’s strong rat-a-tat-tat across my ribcage pulsing in my ears. I open my mouth to speak or vomit, whichever comes first.
The wind chime whistles.
A customer enters, an old lady. You finally look away to get her drink, and as you turn to make it, she comes to my corner for a pastry. As she mulls over her order, I say, just loud enough for you to hear, “I’m only staying here for someone else, too.” I can see your back stiffen.
The lady looks at me. She’s made her decision: a bundle of strawberry choux, lightly drizzled with sugar. “It’s a good day today, isn’t it?” she says, smiling.
I shoot you a glance, and then I smile back. “It sure is.”
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