The Foreigner

I’m back at the cafe, but I can’t work. Some guy is sitting at my usual table, and I’m stuck here in the corner. This table’s no good. Can’t concentrate. I’m trying to stare the guy down, will him to move from my table, go away. Go away.

Well, that was funny. He looked up from his cup and straight into my eyes, as if he heard me. I’m sure I didn’t say it out loud. But he smiled, got up, and left. So I moved to my usual table now and — lo and behold — a stroke of inspiration. Got to write it down!

Oh, the writing was good today. The words flowed out of me and it was easy.

*

I came a little early today to make sure that I got my table. And good thing I did because that guy came in today too. I haven’t even noticed when he sat at the table next to me. We talked a bit. He said he had watched me write, said he could tell I was working on something special. Apparently, he’s some kind of an artist too, but he didn’t say what it is he does. I think he’s a foreigner, he’s got a bit of an accent.

Work’s going good, I’m writing good words, beautiful, wise words.

*

it stopped oh god the inspiration is gone I have nothing the old despair creeping up what was I thinking

*

Another day at the cafe. Nothing. Too much caffeine. No words.

*

That foreigner came in again. He said I shouldn’t give up. He said that the words weren’t coming because I didn’t believe in them enough. Said maybe I didn’t sacrifice enough for my craft. What the hell does he know?

The work is not flowing at all. I read through my previous pages, and I can’t feel the excitement. I can’t rekindle the passion. I can’t even remember why I thought it was so good. It’s not. It’s just lame.

*

I was at my usual table, not writing, empty, when I noticed that foreigner. He was sitting on the other side of the cafe, staring at me knowingly. Oh yes, the adverb is justified: if there ever was a knowing look, it’s precisely what he was giving me. What was that bullshit about not sacrificing enough? What exactly would he want me to sacrifice? I sacrificed my academic career when I declined their offer in order to write. I sacrificed prosperity when I quit my job to write. And when I did that — I sacrificed my home peace too. Wife never ever stops reminding me about how destitute we are, while I spend my days in a cafe. Oh, I sacrificed a lot. But is it enough? That’s what the foreigner seems to be asking, sitting there, with his gorgonizing stare.

Just to scorn him, to prove him wrong, I started typing. Empty words, incoherent sentences, furious, senseless paragraphs. I looked up. He was still looking at me, smirking. I grabbed my notebook and stormed out the cafe. I run. I think I cried.

*

A giant row at home last night. Wife said she had enough. Not said, shouted. She called me a loser. Called me a spineless sloth. Or was it a lazy coward? She cut my bank cards in half. Said I could go to the bank and try to get them renewed, if I dared. I have only a little change left, need to pace myself with the coffees.

The foreigner just came in and sat at my table. Looking somewhere past me, drumming his fingers on the tabletop, he said: “The question is, how much would you give for the inspiration to come back.” Then he turned to me with a smile. “You should write it down,” he said nodding at my notebook. “When you have the answer to that question, you should write it down. Writing things down makes them more real.” Then he left. I keep remembering his smile, his yellowish teeth.

*

Yesterday was surreal. Two policemen were waiting for me when I got back home. Asked me about the wife. If we quarreled. If she was suicidal. They took me to the morgue to identify the body. Later at home, I deleted everything that I’ve written that day, all that nonsense. Just in case. It would only raise questions if there ever was an inquiry.

Considering all that had happened I slept surprisingly well last night. In fact, I woke up with an idea. I was so excited, I grabbed my notebook and run to the cafe to write it down. Only later I realized that I haven’t called the wife’s folks, to let them know. So I called them from a phone booth across the road and got straight back to work. I’m not callous or anything, I just get carried away when the words flow.

The foreigner is sitting at his usual table, gazing out to the street, looking very smug.

*

Wife’s folks came down for the funeral, and they’re staying at my place. They’re a mess. For two days I couldn’t get away and so I haven’t written anything. It’s been killing me. The funeral was this morning. Now my place is occupied by her family and friends, eating, drinking, commemorating. I couldn’t stand it any longer, had to get out, needed to write, to make up for the lost time.

Writing’s going good.

Had a moment of panic when I spotted my wife’s folks walking down the street. I thought surely they’d see me. Them all grief-stricken and me in a cafe, happy as a clam. There’d be hell to pay. But then, just as they were about to walk past, a figure stepped in between us, someone walking the other way, effectively screening me from their view. My guardian angel.

I recognized the foreigner even before he turned around and smiled. No, it doesn’t quite seem to fit him: the guardian angel. Something about that toothy yellow smile.

*


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