There is an air of restraint that morning, although much of the day's routine proceeded as mechanically usual. That tension, I reasoned, must have come from the eventual boredom and dissatisfaction with the need to adhere to this routine. My insides screamed for something new.
I'd woken up at 7 am sharp, brushed my teeth and showered, put on my Tuesday get up, got on the bus, and headed to my favorite coffee shop. Yes, in this reality, no matter what I do, I'd always ended up doing the planned thing at the exact same time right to the second everyday.
Though, today, I'd decided to break the spell, and chat up a fellow coffee patron. He seemed amused, but not surprised at my unprecedented approach at sitting with him at the same small table. It seemed as if he was ready to entertain any spontaneous whim from any stranger.
I took my seat briskly to avoid stretching time and making it awkward by the second. I'd ordered a blueberry cheesecake and a coffee and offered to share with him the cheesecake, claiming that I couldn't finish one on my own, and the cafe doesn't sell it in half-portions, yet I still insisted on having it.
"Why don't you just get it and pack it up to save it for later then ?"
"Well, let's just say I have a certain quota on the amount of blueberry cheesecakes that I can consume in a day."
The corner of his mouth curled into an amused smile, and he said nothing afterwards, accepting my bizarre reasoning as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Do we want to proceed with the small talk without the need for names as most people do, or do we wanna go with the names ?" I began.
"Well, let's make it as banal as possible with the small talk, after all, I'm sure that you're in my company to pass the time. Pretty soon, I'd end up on your facebook status as the stranger that you had a random conversation with, and that would be the last you've heard of me, and I'd probably only impacted your life by less than 0.01%, and not enough to give any other significant meaning to your life for you to remember my name."
I started measuring this guy as soon as he started his long-winded chatter. Maybe he wasn't some boring face in the background after all. I looked at my watch, 7.38 am. In 20 minutes, I'd have to start walking to the office.
"Or was I wrong to say that you were just here to pass the time ? Perhaps you need to be somewhere ?"
"Oh no. I was just taking note of the time that we'd actually started talking. I like to put as much detail as possible in my facebook status update."
"So, it's 'dear facebook wall diary, at exactly 7.38 am and 51 seconds I started a banal conversation with this random handsome stranger', eh ?"
"More or less. Maybe I'd add, '..who is also has a facebook fetish himself.'"
"Oh so you're turning the game on me now, eh. Well played."
He smiled again, amused.
I was starting to have second thoughts about this deviation from my routine, and I'm starting to wonder at the ease and lack of awkwardness in the conversation.
"So, what banal things do people talk about over coffee in the mornings, I wonder?" He started.
"I don't know. Maybe about how's work. Bitching about the boss or something. The weather."
"The weather ? Hahaha. That's a bit too cliche'd. The weather has always been some sort of symbol of banality. You'd know that from all the awkward conversations you try to start with people at the bus stop in a snowstorm."
"Oh aren't you the smartypants eh? So our conversation today is about the other banal conversations other people have ?"
"More or less, but I'd add 'while contemplating on the banality of it all'".
I was about to shoot back that he stole my line from before, but then I'd wanted to clarify something.
"What do you mean by the banality of 'it' all?"
"You know, of life, of being."
"Now, now, now, weren't you the one who suggested we'd keep it as banal as a facebook status ? What's with the philosophizing watchamacallit alluva sudden ? Are we gonna get into the fantasies of 'interesting, poignant conversations at the quaint coffeeshop with an eccentric, thoughtful, deep, handsome stranger' you get in tween novels ?"
He laughed. "Okay, I'll try to not make it poignant, or be as DEEP, but I'm okay with the 'handsome stranger'." Smiles.
Time to deliberate the situation. In typical romance novels, the way it goes is, the conversation with this "handsome stranger" will start to get even deeper, philosophical in fact, then by the end of it all, I'd decided that I liked his company and would want to see him again, and there goes the passing-time-random-stranger-that-ends-up-on-my-facebook-status-conversation. So, which will it be, and how else do I get out of the banality of this ?
"Ain't this not a conversation ?" He chimed in. "You seem deep in thoughts. Your cheesecake and coffee is finally here."
I stared down at the small plate. Not the best cheesecake that I've ever seen, but it was good enough for the purposes of the morning. (What purposes?)
"You know, I want to tell you how much I'm in love with the way you stare at your cheesecake."
I looked up at him, and smiled and said. "Cue embarrassed, flushed red face and some witty retort. Both of it, I don't have."
"Haha, so you've seen through my game eh ? Am I that obvious ?"
"Supposing that you orchestrated all this supposedly meaningful, intelligent, yet trying too hard to appear effortless charade based on some scene from a cliche'd romantic comedy, yes. You're as banal as it gets."
"Hahaha, come now. Enlighten me and play along. What I say and what I am is nothing but a show. A facade. It's all meaningless. I'm here for your entertainment."
"What makes you think you're entertaining to me ?"
"Well, the fact that you entertain my absolutely meaningless words, yes, I am entertaining to you, and I in turn, am obliged to entertain you and your sudden whim to pass the time with banal conversations with a stranger you care not to ask the name."
"If I ask of the name, you wouldn't be a stranger anymore."
"I wouldn't be a stranger anymore, if you ask more beyond than for my name." He smiled.
I paused to think of what to say next.
"Unless you can look up my name on the internet and stalk my facebook profile, " he said.
"I told you you've a facebook fetish. You started all this."
"but it's true isn't it ? I can read you like an open book."
I'm sure I was supposed to be surprised at his statement, but I didn't want him to silence me to the point that I can't get a word in edgewise out of embarrassment. I kept my cool and my tongue just rolled the next sentence, "Fine, then. I'll tell you my name."
"I could tell you mine, but I could be lying. How do you know if I've said truthful things to you. Did your mother tell you to not talk to strangers ?" His tone of voice was mocking, but it was faintly ominous too, but of course, what if it was just another one of his facades.
"Well, it wouldn't matter if you lied then, then that wouldn't change your status as a stranger as the name you'd have told me wouldn't be your real name, and I wouldn't know your real name to the end."
"Oh very good." He said, like a teacher pleased with his student. I was supposed to feel uncomfortable, but I didn't want to waver. I got myself into this, and there's no turning back. True indeed, I have gotten a bit too drawn in into this conversation, although not in that same romantic sense, but I kept a reminder at the back of my head to take a deep breath and remind myself that it'll all come down to nothing at the end of the day and in ten minutes, I'll have to get going already and bid this stranger good bye and thank him for an "interesting" conversation.
"Aren't you going to eat your cheesecake?" He asked, back to his cheerful tone.
"Oh yes, why don't we each take a bite?"
It wasn't normal for me to share my food on the same plate with a stranger, but there I was, as comfortable as wearing a second skin, with this stranger.
I was watching him as he ate. His every bite seemed drawn out, savoring every bite of the not-too-special blueberry cheesecake. He noticed I was looking at him.
"Don't say 'are you checking me out?'" I said.
He was about to say something with food in his mouth and I said, "No smart-alecky comments about my sudden change of persona either."
His eyes acknowledged that he understood. He swallowed and dabbed the side of his mouth with a napkin.
"I bet you're patting yourself on the back for giving yourself an adventure today, that you've made yourself a witty conversationalist. " Smirk.
I couldn't think of a comeback.
"It's alright, let's pretend that you did. I'm up for anything. I'll play along any way that you like, and I'll pretend to annoy you to appear that I'm trying to hit on you for you to give yourself something to talk about with your colleagues later. At least I'd have affected your life for about 0.3% compared to earlier statistics, I'm pretty cool with that."
"Do you know that I'm in love with the way you like to flatter yourself."
"I take that as a compliment. I know myself better than anybody else does." He grinned.
Yes. I think I must have been making him out as some witty, mischievous, magnetic stranger that makes for good conversations and potential boyfriend material in tween romance novels, I thought to myself.
Halfway through the cheesecake, he had stopped eating and was now watching me eat. Normally, I'm uncomfortable with people watching me eat, but on this occasion, I was fine with the way his eyes trailed the cheesecake piece from the plate, to the fork, to my lips, and into my mouth. It was disturbing, but at the same time, I'd wanted to pick his brain, I'd wanted to know what his thoughts were about the banality of eating cheesecake.
"I suppose the next banal thing would be the question how'd you find the cheesecake, huh?" He said, trying to make conversation. I was almost done with the last half.
"It's not terribly bad, but not too terrific either. Obviously, I've had better."
"How tact, what if I'd recorded that and gave it to the chef who made the cake."
"Well, he deserves to know, call it a constructive criticism."
"What's constructive about that?"
"Well, if he knows it's not satisfactory, he'd have to do something about it to make it better."
"Or he could choose to not do anything about it."
"Yeah, true. Then my comments wouldn't matter then, unless if he'd wanted people to keep coming here."
"If other people had the same taste as you."
Silent. I took the last piece and put it in my mouth. Savored it for a second or two. Perhaps the last two seconds before I had to get up, pay, thank the stranger for his company, bid him good bye, be on my way to work, comment about him over lunch with some colleagues, go home, and think about our little conversation, probably post something on my facebook as a brief note of this encounter, maybe hope I'd see him again, but dismiss the thought and resume the regular routine the next morning, and not seeing him here at this cafe anymore.
Hmm. A drawn out monologue. I dismissed the thought. Shut my eyes for a second and opened them to see him looking into my eyes. He smiled.
"Do you wanna know what I think? I'm not gonna say that's the best blueberry cheesecake I've had, or that it's special because it's the first time that I've shared it with a stranger or flatter you by saying that it's special because I've shared it with you, the one that I love-" He chuckled. "I just find it pretty good in all it's ordinariness. Yeah, sure maybe I've had better, but it's not that it's nothing. Well, maybe it will be nothing at the end of the day once it's gone down the gullet, but the thing is, as corny and as moralizingly like a feel good movie as it sounds, it's a simple pleasure in life. I just enjoy blueberry cheesecakes of any flavor. It just makes my day. "
I didn't know what to think. It does sound like a feel good movie scene. "I'm going to pretend that I'm unimpressed, but thanks for the speech. I'll have to get going now."
There was a momentary flash of some undetermined emotion in his eyes. Not sure if it was offendedness or sadness or-something else, but then he smiled and said. "Well, I hope I've made your day."
Almost like a nightmare, in a split second and one fluid, but emotion-filled motion, he took the table knife and stabbed it through my rested hand on the table. The surroundings started to blur as blood rose to my head. I couldn't hear myself scream, but everything spiraled down into a vertically twisting black hole that tore my every existence and I blacked out.
The searing pain was gone. I opened my eyes, and I realized my co-worker's hand was touching mine as she shook me to my senses by the shoulders.
"Are you okay?" She asked.
I wasn't sure what happened that day, but like some whimsical, contrived, trite, unimaginative, incoherent story, I concluded that I must be daydreaming at work again, stuck in my mechanical routine.
"You look pale. Want to get some fresh air and grab a bite? It's almost lunch time."
"Yeah, that'd be good."
"Wanna go together?"
"Uh, no thanks, I'm fine going alone."
As she left after I gave her a reassuring smile that I was fine, I let my head drop into my hands, and I chuckled to myself. "That was some cheesecake that I had this morning."