Open 25 Years
The popular restaurant chain has an outlet co-owned by a celebrity icon, and which arouses interest and intrigue for its very location especially for those already around and aware during the 1990s.
But Roseller is not one to be easily swayed by superstition nor pure paranoia. He lives through what his naked eyes see; things logical. As a brainchild of a business idea that has given him fortune, he fully understands the point of those behind the branch risking opening a diner at a location with a scarred past.
“I read that the owners spoke to the spirits and they asked for their blessings. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to maximize a strategic location to earn in a manner within the bounds of law and fairness,” Roseller tells his friend-business associate who’s with him to take out some food.
Luther asks, “So you find it cool we’re right now in the same place where 25 years ago, some students celebrating the end of school year found themselves dead by midnight?”
He replies, “The owners implied they have nothing to do with the tragedy. They surely paid respects to the souls of the victims and feel sorry for what happened. That’s fair enough, and it may have been too good a deal to pass up. My alma mater occupies a lot that used to be a cemetery. It has remained to be among the premier schools in this city and very beneficial to the community.”
In a pandemic-free world, he and Luther will choose to dine in. It’s their favorite food hangout in the first place, and it’s near their houses. Back in college they would save part of their weekly allowances to set a day or two wherein they spend lunchtime at an outlet just blocks from their university.
If not for the woman also waiting for her takeout order, they will not be discussing the owners’ decision to build a branch of the household name famous for being open 24 hours a day and 1 for hyperbolic punchline. The woman is likely their contemporary, with a pleasant, attractive face. But even that is not the main reason she gets their attention. Both her arms show unmissable scars of third-degree burns.
At least Luther is keeping his voice low enough not to be heard by her. The bit about the outlet is public knowledge and she will definitely notice it’s her they are talking about or at least her scars have prompted them to touch such a topic.
Roseller, now overweight and quite balding on top after spending his youth thin and sporting long hair, reverts back to his previous subject. He’s typically irritable of present-day scenarios, and “back then it was better” is among his favorite lines. That his beloved city is practically in lockdown since summer 2020 ups the ante.
“What a pathetic world we’re in!” he sighs, sounding it off to his already-accustomed buddy. “Imagine not being able to dine in because we’re scared of contracting the virus, and we’re wearing face masks and shields that are either limiting our view or making our breathing less comfortable.”
Luther, who has somewhat kept his youthful looks owing to his tendency to break into a smile at the slightest reason, tries to pacify his angst-driven pal the way he usually does. “Just think about what she went through,” referring to the woman on the other table. “You’re a lot richer now than you were and you didn’t experience your skin peeling off due to extreme heat.”
“There you go again, Luther. You try to make things less discomforting by comparing it to something worse. If they close the borders early on, the people wouldn’t have to suffer this much, and we’re not tallying the highest number of cases in the region.”
“Don’t worry yourself of what you can’t undo, bro. You’re only attracting some negative vibes. Why don’t you just look ahead and hope we’re in for some better days? We two at least should be thankful we’re alive.”
“Of course, we are,” Roseller’s biting tongue continues, “Because we can afford to protect ourselves. How about the poor people who can’t even buy face shields or live in a house with proper ventilation?”
Luther may reach his limits, but often remains smiling, “Why don’t you help them instead of blaming others or wallowing in things you can’t do nothing about?”
Roseller knows he needs to take a leak to steam off. His moment of irritation began when he opened his Facebook account and saw news about the need to go back to stricter quarantine rules because of infection case spikes.
The two of them are seated in their favorite corner. Roseller stands up and manages to say something more before he rushes to the restroom. “You know Luther, if I will be given the chance to alter history, things will be better you bet.”
Roseller has lived all his four decades in the same city and does not attempt to leave because it is where he spent his childhood, his challenging teenage years, and his eventual turnaround into a successful businessman. He has seen his beloved hometown develop from vast empty fields into a bustling city dubbed the City of Bright Stars for good reasons. TV networks are all found in the city. There’s a couple of executive villages where many of the residents are popular people. It is home to one of the most popular coliseums in the world, and the avenue he frequents to enjoy the nightlife. It is the same avenue where their current favorite dining stop chain outlet has been opened to public delight and debate.
Inside the restroom, Roseller takes off his face shield and mask, and washes his face. After some seconds while drying it with a hanky, a sudden feel of cold overtakes his body. It jolts him. Then, in an even stranger occurrence, he’s hearing some noise outside the door that isn’t there a while ago. By instinct he rushes to the door to check it. He can’t believe what he’s seeing.
The restaurant becomes darkly lit and packed with people, with loud upbeat music engulfing the place. The blinking lights are blinding him. He realizes that a number of people, most of them teenagers, are lined up waiting for him to get off the restroom and give a chance to others. He quickly gets away from the door and finds himself being pushed by bodies that have filled up the place.
The bumps left and right, and having to deal with a crowded space minus his facial coverings which he left in the bathroom out of confusion, is so much for Roseller that he quickly loses his temper.
“What happened to social distancing you bunch of juvenile young people?!” he angrily screams.
Some girl’s voice shouts back, albeit still trying to be polite, “You don’t have to shout, Mister. This is a disco house. It’s supposed to be crowded.”
The angry man in his forties has to pinch himself after hearing what the girl’s voice just said. He feels like everyone’s eyes on him though he can’t be sure as it is too dim to even see faces clearly. He steps away from the pack and tries to move where there’s some space and less people. Once he finds a corner safe for him to further observe what’s happening, an idea concretizes in his head.
Somehow, he knows where he is, though he doesn’t know why. A few seconds later, noticing everyone within his eyesight looks way younger than him, and practically just kids having the time of their lives, he approaches the DJ’s booth and gets the attention of the man in charge. He devises a plan, making use of his mature look. Being business-like is his way of curing his temperamental tendencies.
He extends his right hand to the DJ and pretends, “Hey, young man. I’m Mr. Navarro and I’m a friend of this place’s owner.”
The DJ, quite baffled, responds, “Nice to see you here tonight, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I have a couple of requests. But please let me ask you first what’s the date today.”
The DJ finds the question quite odd and answers in a slow manner reflecting his thoughts about it. ‘It’s Monday, sir.’”
“I mean the year.”
This time, the DJ can’t help but scratch his head. He must be thinking the older dude is some crazy guy. He still replies, though, but at an even slower pace: “Nineteen ninety six, of course, sir. March eighteen, to be exact.”
Roseller gives the DJ a look of concern. He feels he needs to act now. “Okay, boy. You have to trust me on this.”
The DJ holds his breath.
Roseller speaks, “We should ask everyone to vacate this club. Announce on the mic there’s some technical problem going on and they all have to step outside.”
The DJ isn’t moving as he wonders about the stranger asking him to tell people to leave the place. It’s a packed, promo night for Christ’s sake.
An off-duty policeman saves the moment for the DJ. He appears from out of nowhere, acting like he’s been observing what’s going on.
He interrupts, coming in between the two and making his presence felt in the eyes of Roseller. He announces with authority, “Mister, I’ve heard you scream over there and now you’re asking the DJ some troubling request.”
He pauses for stress, “Can we both step outside and talk where there’s no dance music over our heads and the cool summer breeze of our hot city blows kisses to our cheeks?”
Roseller feels like he’s on autopilot once the guy intervenes. Things escalate from there. In no time they’re outside of the establishment. It’s the same venue he and Luther got into less than an hour ago, only that it’s not a diner anymore, but a disco house he’s familiar with for a sad reason. He sees the familiar sign board, the glass door. Appearing before him is his city one score and five years ago. Everything he misses is right around him. The party strip he has always loved is back in its old form. Yet, of all evenings to turn back the clock to, this evening.
“Tell me why are you bugging those kids just having a party?” The policeman in civilian clothes asks Roseller.
The latter refocuses himself. It’s not time to reminisce and savor his beloved city in its modern classic state. It’s time to save people.
“Whoever you are, you don’t understand,” Roselller answers in a brave stance. “I’ll further explain things later but right now, you have to help me convince everyone to get off that nightclub for safety.”
“Are you telling me you put a bomb in there?”
“No! I am not a bad person. All I want is to save those people from the fire that’s about to raze that place to the ground!”
The policeman is keeping his cool. He doesn’t want to cause panic by letting people see him confront the strange man he thinks is being delusional.
“Please calm down, sir. Don’t let me do something you wouldn’t like,” he warns, almost in a whisper. “If you’re saying you didn’t plant a bomb inside that disco and you’re just some good man out to rescue people, let me tell you that I am a law enforcer, off duty, and just having a fine time with my girlfriend who’s about to graduate in college in a few days’ time. We are celebrating. You’re actually disturbing our own peace because I am here tackling you and she’s on a table I have reserved for us two.”
Hearing that scenario, Roseller attempts to rush himself back in. He’s about to yell. But the policeman wrestles him down before he even makes a move. He is pushed down the road by a younger, obviously fitter man who already loses his cool.
Some of the nightclub’s patrons who are temporarily out for smoke or for some fresh air notice the commotion. They’re about to be the center of attraction when a louder noise comes out of the establishment. The sound of panic takes over even before the policeman stops his tight grip of Roseller. The disco house is burning. People are fleeing, some of them in flames.
Still on the ground, Roseller watches the club burning in real time. He’s seen the place on the news countless times, already gutted by fire. He hears wailing, people running everywhere. Then, the policeman falls to his knees and breaks into tears, hoping against hope his girlfriend is coming out of the inferno any second. He lets out a long howl.
Roseller feels the cold water on his face and sees himself in the mirror. He’s back at the restroom. He hears someone’s knocking. So he immediately wipes his face, takes a deep breath, and opens the door. It’s Luther.
“What’s taking you so long? Our orders have arrived. Looks delicious. Are you okay, pal?”
Roseller gives him a calm look. “I’m okay now, buddy.”
The best friends walk back to their seats to pick their orders. Their separate families are both waiting for the stuff they ordered. Their endless craving for the menu of the food house open 24/7 they have passed on to their loved ones.
But Roseller stops on his way out and asks Luther to wait for him in the car. He approaches the woman that catches their attention awhile back. He excuses himself and gestures he’d like to speak to her.
She’s seated, likely still waiting for her own takeout.
“I hope you don’t mind, Miss,” Roseller says to acknowledge her, “Were you there that night?”
The woman looks at him, releases the shawl in her arms trying to cover the scars, and says, “This same night, exactly 25 years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’m not here to relive that night in my head. I’m here to, in a way, honor those who didn’t make it.”
Roseller gently nods, “I understand. We can’t undo things. But we can always learn from our experiences and be better persons somehow. It’s fortunate that you are here and I’m able to talk to you.”
Almost by impulse he informs the lady, “I am a businessman. I wish to be of help to people like you, those who survived that night. Maybe you can assist me by putting up a foundation for you guys. Help me find other survivors. I want to hear your stories. Let the world know what you have become. Your lives did not end that night. And together let’s honor those who had their lives cut short.”
The lady listens to every word Roseller says. She then smiles, in a bittersweet way. It is her way of appreciating what a stranger, a good Samaritan to be more precise, has just told her.
“My boyfriend would have loved to hear you say that,” she tells Roseller.
“Really? Are you waiting for him to fetch you?”
“No. He didn’t survive that night. It wasn’t the fire that killed him. He had a heart attack thinking I was inside as he watched the nightclub being eaten up by flames. I was looking for him and was on my way out. He just didn’t see me get out in the middle of chaos. Later, I found him in one of the hospitals. He was declared dead on arrival.”
“So sad to know that. I’m so sorry, Miss.”
The woman sounds apologetic, “I just had to tell you because I’ve always been fond of him. I’ve never married. He said he was going to marry me after I graduated from college. I did graduate that March, although I did not attend the ceremony for obvious reasons.
She adds, “He was a young policeman. Off-duty that night.”