I have to do something with the wall. The formless stains left after the last roof leak dried up to dark brown. I could tear down all these newspapers that cover it and get creative with paint, or, perhaps, someone could fix wooden planks for me. A part of me wants to give it all up, let it die as we are dying out.
I stare at the old papers for a while. Some of them date 20, 30 years back. It will be a pity, but it's time to freshen up the place. I think warmly of my youth.
Back in that day, we at least had hope. We clung to it and treasured it like a child does their most beloved doll.
Now, protest after protest, it’s getting worse.
The young ones still do believe it’s not over. Maybe it is the blessing of youth; maybe, it is that we are cursed with the cynicism of age.
They could be my grandkids. And I am — since quite a while, who could believe it — the oldest.
I no longer think I will ever see the end to this battle. There were moments of peace — seven, ten years ago, but never since have I felt but a pang of hope. I had to become good at hiding it, as their elder, as someone taking care of this place and welcoming them in.
The less of us remains, the more are gathering here. When I was just a patron, now many years ago, we were a small crowd of the most desperate folks — recent immigrants, activists, artists. Now, everyone is desperate enough to have nowhere else to go. It has become virtually impossible to find a place where they would be willing to serve a fairy.
Most of them newcomers are here for a cup or two, a cake, and a chat. They hurry away with the fifth bell, to make it home before dark. Some stay. Then, together, we plan, strategize, fight. We fight, oh we do. We just never win. Our brothers and sisters are being dragged away, their wings clipped. We never see them again, and so we say our goodbyes. There is no end to it. They will not stop before each of us is finished. A hunt turned genocide.
I think I don't want to bother, so I will just paint the wall.
The bells over the door chime. It’s Cal rushing in.
He falls onto the couch, rubs his hands over his face. He looks well, clean-shaved, his clothes meticulously ironed, but I know this face. Please no. I am not ready to hear about another death, but I know already, and he knows what I’m about to whisper.
«A friend of Mika’s. We don’t know him.»
There is no relief in that.
When one of our closest died, at least we knew they were ready. We talked about it all the time, in this very room, at every table in this shop. Every day for us is readying to death. That's why we need a place to gather; that's what it was built for; the rest — paying customers, sweets for sale — it all came later.
For most, my shop smells like chai and cinnamon; for me, it also smells of death.
We bow our heads in solemn gratuitous mourning, as we always do.
Some minutes pass.
«Red or green?» I say.
Cal looks up at me.
«I want to paint the wall,» I say, pointing at it.
He snorts. I see him take a very deep, deep breath.
I don't understand what exactly made him so upset. We've been through it so many times, too many.
«I can't,» he says.
«We have to,» I say.
Then a thought strikes me. Mika. That friend, his new gentle blue-eyed man, who we heard so much of but never saw, who he was scared to introduce to us, fearing he would go reckless. His family was slaughtered; he would not hold back. But it was them who came after him too.
I forcibly stop myself from the dramatics of covering my mouth with my hand.
«You mean— Oh. Poor boy,» I say, and I don't know who I really mean — all of them — the dead friend, Mika, or Cal, my dear old mate who is too badly in love with a man who is not even too good.
It has been going on for almost a decade. They would hook up once in a while, when Mika was bored, but the relationship never developed past that. Cal looked at Mika with unconditional adoration; Mika never saw him as more than a sentient toy.
Before the blue-eyes, Cal, for the first time, felt like he finally had a chance. It looked like it; he never did though. He could never stand up to the standard Mika set up ages ago, and he would not make him suffer, which was essential as it reportedly made Mika's poetic soul thrive.
This, however, must bring about a kind of suffering I would not wish upon him. As if these days it can be avoided.
«You know,» he says. «I wanted— And yeah, they are not together anymore.»
It will not be a year before every one of us knows what it's like to lose the closest family, friends, lovers. Not just us the freaky loud crowd, but all of our kind, including those who stay home after dark and those too ashamed to fly.
Out of the window, I see a small crowd about to come in. Again, we'll have to go back to pretending our efforts matter and it is not getting worse day by day. At least we are taking some with us.
The bells chime. A polyphony of voices fill the room.
I stand up and kiss Cal on the back of his head.
«Would you like some tea?» I ask gently.
«Black, red, or green?»
«Green,» he says. «Do the walls green too.»
I promise him that I will.