The man sat down, cigarette in hand, musing about his life.
He had coarse light grey hair, which was only now beginning to bald. His black beaded eyes revealed everything about him, his deepest secrets, lies, truths, and everything in between. He had kept a cleanly styled beard ever since he could grow one.
The creases on his face, his calloused hands… he had worked a 9 to 5 for the past 38 years, and age had taken its toll on him. Yet, he had no family, no kids. He was a survivor, fighting with every inch of his being to thrive in the world. Family didn’t concern him, at least not in the traditional sense. The thing that mattered most was himself, first, above all else, and if he were to ever fall in love, that would stay a priority.
He preferred wearing muted colors, so as to not draw attention to himself. In his clothing, he was a traditionalist in every sense, and hated to experiment with new styles and colors.
He had taken up smoking as a way to “kill time”, he thought, but now it just became the one thing that he truly enjoyed in his life.
The cafe near his work was his home away from home. A cup of coffee, some smooth jazz, the smell of tobacco was all he needed. And on some rare occasions, the sound of an original 1768 piano would sooth his ears as he slowly took sips from his coffee. The baristas always knew his order, down to the exact beans he liked.
He had become used to sitting on the red leather chairs, studded with black plastic buttons and lined with silk string woven into the furniture. The legs were made of fine ebony wood, sturdy enough to hold the man through his best and worst times. The cafe had become used to his almost ritual like routine. He had become used to the rhythm of the cafe; in time he had started dancing to its beat, going with it through both its ups and downs. It felt like the cafe had a life of its own, and he would have done it a disservice if he went against his home away from home.
Is this truly the life he had wanted to live? Had he no aspiration in life? No dreams, no purpose, nothing to live for? Is this the dream he had worked so hard to achieve? What was his dream in the first place? He thought it was so long that he didn’t remember what it was anymore. Maybe he had wanted to work as a pilot. Maybe he thought he’d make a good doctor, but got turned away from pursuing that goal…
… Or maybe fate really was this cruel, making such a man work the worst possible job, a 9 to 5 in some mega corporation. He had to only do the most menial tasks, working for a living wage, while all the corporate higher ups get to feed off his misery, with greed for more money taken from the shoulders of those who worked much harder. He was the rank and file of the corporate world, a mere expendable asset that could be disposed and replaced almost immediately.
He exhaled, releasing a cloud of smoke that seemed to cloud his thoughts, making his inner demons fight a chaotic war against his mind and sanity.
Alas, it was too late for change. But, did it truly have to be this way? He stared into his piping hot cup of coffee, set upon a decorated coaster. A singular tear dropped into the cup. He looked into the pitch-black cup, bubble forming at the edges. His reflection almost seemed to be alive, moving, materializing itself into the boy he once was.
He stared into the reflection, as it stared back at him. Memories past of a time when life was easier, more compact and not nearly as tantalizing. When he could dream high; there was no limit, not even the sky. Now cruel reality crushed his hopes, he was cursed in a never-ending limbo, teetering on the line between happiness and depression. No way his younger self would have approved of what he had become. The reflection changed to show his aged face, covered up in smoke.
His inner demons felt more like determined killers now, attacking him from all sides, bludgeoning every part of him, slowly turning him from whatever sanity he thought he had, into total chaos.
He felt his head aching, pulsating, exploding into a million pieces. As he clutched his face in pain, his vision started blurring and darkening into a pitch black. He wanted to scream as loud as he could, but in his agony, he was all alone, no one there for him, no one to save him from his torment and madness.
In his torment, he saw visions of his past… The first time he learnt to ride a bicycle, when he tripped and fell. His father picked him up, and without giving up, the boy decided to keep going.
Delving deeper into his memories, ones that should not be opened up, he remembered the intense feelings of sadness and misery when his mother died just before he started high school. His dreams died that day, as did a part of him. His grades suffered throughout the rest of school, as he could never get over that horrendous day.
It was obvious to him; in order to gain inner peace, he must relinquish himself of all emotion. He must become selfish. So that he may never feel the pain of losing a loved one again, he must no longer make any more emotional connections to anyone.
He had suppressed these memories decades ago, never to be remembered again. Yet, here they were; his demons were taunting him… Or perhaps were they helping him rediscover himself?
He reminded himself that the boy is gone, and only the man remains; that though each and every decision he took was painful, it was a necessary evil to ensure his survival, and his sanity.
In truth, the boy was never gone, and the man remained an empty shell with no being, no purpose.
And so, he finished his coffee and cigarette, and made his way back home.