While I wouldn’t consider myself a religious person, I do firmly believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Even the darkest of occurrences can be rooted in deeper understanding or fulfill one’s further gratitude for life itself. On the morning of December 31, 1998 I ran downstairs to retrieve my new calendar for 1999. I remember what joy I felt to be able to hang up my new puppy themed calendar I was given for Christmas. As I held both calendars side-by-side I proceeded to ask my mother where I should put my 1998 calendar for when it comes back. “It’s never coming back,” she said. “1998 will never come back.” It was then that I realized time is not cyclical but linear, once something occurs you will never have a chance to correct it, for as my mother said “It’s never coming back.”
Just as time moves forward, so did I. 21 years of age and 15 years later, I watched a double shot of espresso drip into the cracked, white, ceramic mug that I had been pleading with my boss to be rid of. My mind wandered from the bitter taste of caffeine to what I was going to do once off work. Full well knowing that what I should do, once home, is buckle down and tend to the ever-surmounting homework on my agenda. My eyes glanced up from the mutilated coffee mug to the slew of caffeine addicts that were drowning in their last cups of coffee for the evening and to the gold, ornately trimmed clock, which revealed my shift was nearing an end.
James. Classic James, arriving mere minutes before close and trying to sweet talk the baristas into giving him something for free.
“Hello, James. What can I do for you tonight?”
His eyes wandered around the coffee shop and locked in on a young girl who had just arrived from China to start school at the University.
“I’m just browsing.”
I nodded, smirked and went back dumping out the remaining coffee for the end of the evening. It was then that my fellow barista, Brittney, emerged from the back room and started yet another rant about working too many hours. Seeing as this happens every time I work with her I didn’t pay much attention, my mind wandering again to how best organize my time once the clock struck 10 p.m. and I could escape to the comfort of my bohemian apartment.
I looked up finally to see James across the room conversing with the young girl I had seen him looking at before. James notoriously courted significantly younger girls than he, which always made me uneasy. Although I had talked to my boss on numerous occasions of James’ excessively flirtatious behavior, he decided it wasn’t enough to ban him from the premises. He saw him as just another paying customer who was equipped with some strange antics.
Tonight James was wearing a cleanly pressed white button-down shirt paired with pleated slacks and a pair of camel colored suede oxfords. For an unquestionably lonely 70-year-old man he was consistently put together. He sat down at the girl’s table and became very animated with grandiose gestures; presumably due to the language barrier they were no doubt experiencing. When 10 p.m. rolled around I ushered any and all lingering customers out the door so I could lock it behind them. James walked out with the girl toward the end of the pack. He looked me in the eyes, smiled and said “Goodnight.” The young girl didn’t say a word. I thought nothing of it.
The following evening as I watched a double shot of espresso drip into that ever-present chipped mug I again thought of anything but work, only of what happens after. Not long into my shift, a young girl no more than 5 feet tall, headed with long black hair, and vaguely reminiscent of the young Chinese girl from the night before, walked directly up to the counter. Brittney was running the cash register and greeted her with our typical: “Good evening! How can I help you?”
Somewhat exacerbated and out of breathe she feverishly looked around the shop and she spit out words that I can only dream of forgetting one day.
“Your customer, James, raped my friend.”
The final drips of espresso reached the brim of the mug at that moment. My eyes became heavy as I picked up the mug and placed it on our counter. My voice, decorated in faintness and wavering in guilt spoke “double espresso.”
Brittney fled past me abruptly to reach the telephone to call the owner, and I froze in time. Moments of last night’s events hurdled through my mind: visions of the two of them talking, occasionally laughing and leaving side by side. I then became paralyzed in guilt. I knew James had an eye for the under aged but never in my wildest dreams did I think he would get to this level and rob a girl of her security and sense of self. I fumbled with one of our many cobalt blue rags attempting to brush the stray ground espresso beans into the garbage. I couldn’t find my bearings. I couldn’t find my words. I couldn’t help but feel responsible.
Not knowing what to do or say to her I offered the girl a muffin from our bakery case while we waited for Brittney to come back with news from the owner.
“It’s blueberry. My favorite,” I said meekly. “I’m terribly sorry to hear about your friend.”
While the girl failed to give me an answer, she did grab the muffin and begin to pick at the sweet crumbles on top. I didn’t know what to do in that moment. Should I watch her eat her muffin? Should I offer her more words of condolence? I struggled for what felt like ages when Brittney finally came out from the back.
“The owner is on his way over to speak with you. Have you already contacted the police?”
From that moment on it was a parade of police officers, endless recounts of the previous evening and tears of guilt from all parties. I had been James’ barista for more than two years. I served him his French roast coffee in his most preferred blue mug almost every day on the job. A man who had made me laugh on numerous occasions and sometimes brightened my day was now a man that I hated. I hate him for what he did to that girl. I hate that he did it on my watch. I hate how he made me feel consumed with guilt for months and months. I hate him.
I will never have a chance to correct my actions from that evening. I can’t help but feel that if I had stepped in and said something to the girl or called my owner to have him leave the shop that night, this young girl would not have to carry the burden of what must be the most miserable night of her life. Life is linear. I can’t correct the wrong from that night, nor can I correct the wrongs of others. Sometimes life is as bitter as the taste left in your mouth after sipping on a double shot of espresso.
“It’s never coming back.”
That night nor any other.