The September sky blushed red as the sun began to set. The hum of traffic began to slow as rush hour ebbed away and dusk set in. For most people, this was a time for unwinding and relaxation from a day’s stressful work, but for one girl, the stress had yet to begin.
In a cushy café tucked away at the end of Lloyd Street, Nuri stared impatiently at her last customer whilst scraping a bit of a steak pie off her apron. He was an elderly man, languidly finishing off his custard doughnut. Realising that he would probably take a long-time finishing, she picked up a towel and began wiping the wet dishes on the counter top, stealing a glance at him every so often.
Five minutes passed which then became ten and eventually dragged on to fifteen. All the dishes were dry and put away and the floor was wiped. She thought that by stacking the chairs away in front of him, it might evoke a sense of guilt or embarrassment for him to hurry up, but she received no such response. Not even the drumming of her fingers against the counter top would hurry him up. ‘How is it even possible to take that long to finish one doughnut?! He is definitely doing that on purpose!’ she thought, watching the man relish every painfully small bite.
All that could be heard was the loud ticking of the clock which was showing ten minutes to eight. ‘Ten minutes ‘til closing time. Ten minutes ‘til she shows up.’ Nuri thought to herself. Just as she opened her mouth to passive-aggressively usher the man to chew a little faster, he gestured her over to take his plate away. A wave of relief washed over her as she took it and rushed to the cash register. The man hobbled over and stared at her gloomily. “Fifty pence, please.” Nuri chirped. He slowly reached for his trouser pocket, but not finding any change in there, he then checked the other one and his back pockets after that. Nuri’s eyes twitched as she watched him check and double check every single pocket.
“I was sure I had fifty pence in here somewhere..” he murmured before looking up at her. “You close in a few minutes.” he stated blankly. Nuri nodded with a smile plastered on her face, knowing exactly what he was getting at, but trying as hard as she could to stand her ground. The man began looking through each trouser pocket again. Feeling as though her heart would give up if he started checking his jacket pockets, she slammed the cash register shut.
“You know what, it’s on the house!” she exclaimed, giving in through gritted teeth. The elderly man nodded at her. “Ta.” He said ungratefully, shuffling out of the shop, not fifty pence poorer. She looked after him with narrowed eyes and shook her head. “Old goat.” she muttered under her breath, collecting the day’s profits to put into the vault.
The clock had struck eight, and it was officially closing time. Nuri pulled down the blinds and shut off the all the lights apart from the neon bars on the walls. They hummed gently, throwing out light that covered the whole front of the café in a peachy glow. She grabbed a sandwich and a slice of cake, laid the corner table at the far end of the café and fell into the booth.
“What a grumpy old miser!” a voice opposite her cried. Nuri munched on her sandwich grumbling, unsurprised by the sudden comment.
“I know!” Nuri, shook her head, trying to talk as best as she could with her mouth stuffed with bread “How are you anyway? It’s been a whole month.” Nuri looked up at the ghost of Via, her childhood friend for an answer.
Via rolled her eyes. “As good as I can be, being dead and all.” Nuri stopped munching and looked down guiltily. Just as she was about to apologise, Via let out a hearty laugh that filled the café with echoes of joy.
“I’m joking! You don’t have to be politically correct with the dead, ya know!”.
Nuri laughed in relief “You had me worried for a sec!” she sighed, looking at her pale friend who looked so real apart from the soft moon-like glow that emanated from her. Via was not as ghastly as the ghouls she had imagined from the stories she read when she was younger. She was not scary, or titanium white, or translucent, and she most definitely did not look like someone who would haunt people. Via looked exactly as she had the last time Nuri had seen her in the world of the living, with her drenched mousy brown hair and hazel-green eyes. As much as Nuri tried to ignore it, her soaked image stood as a chilling reminder of her friend’s death. Nuri once asked her if she ever felt cold being so wet all the time, to which Via laughed but then fell silent. “I don’t feel anything.’ She had said faintly.
Nuri shook off the memory and smiled at Via who she had the pleasure of seeing on the thirteenth day of every month, since that was the date she drowned. “Well, tell me about your life! What’s changed in the last month?”. Via beamed at her, the pink neon specks dancing in her dead eyes.
“Not much really, just an interview at the Kingsman Research Institute.” Nuri said poking at her cake.
“That’s great! Did you get in?” Via asked excitedly.
Nuri stared at her fork, not looking up. “Uhh, I don’t know yet..” she replied shrugging her shoulders. Via looked at her friend of sixteen years.
“I’m sure you did! You always aced stuff like that! And when you go-”
“-If.” Nuri interrupted bluntly. “If, I go.”
Via smiled. “When you go, you can move to London! Our dream, Nuri!” she cried, clapping her hands together, making her wet locks sway side to side against her shoulders. Nuri shrugged again, unable to say anything, as a painful lump had developed in her throat. “Oh, Nuri just imagine! You might even see Big Ben from your window! Imagine that, just imagine it!” Via laughed, but stopped when she saw that her friend was not mirroring her reaction. “Nuri? Oh don’t worry about it! I’m sure you did fine. You’re great at interviews! And if you didn’t get a place this year, then there’s always nex-”
“-I got in.” Nuri admitted looking up at her friend’s ghost, feeling her eyes getting hotter. “I got a place.” she repeated croakily, blinking away the watery film that had already formed over her eyes.
“Oh, well that’s great!” Via grinned. “What are you so worried about? If it’s missing this job, then just think of the old man from today and you won’t miss it again, I promise you!” she laughed. Nuri was not smiling. “Oh come on, Nuri this was our dream!”
“I know!” Nuri cried. “That’s why I can’t go.” she wiped away the streams of tears that were pouring out from her eyes.
Via sighed. “Nuri..not this again..”
“No! You don’t get to tell me what to feel and what not to feel! If it wasn’t for me, then you would still be here! If I didn’t push you down that stupid hill, then you wouldn’t have died!” Nuri yelled, stamping her foot on the ground where Via had died five years ago.
Via looked across at her friend and smiled sadly, repeating the same thing she always did in parrot fashion when Nuri felt guilty about being alive. “That wasn’t your fault, Nuri, I tripped into the lake. I’ve told you a million times! You need to stop blaming yourself!”
Nuri shook her head stubbornly like a child refusing to listen. “I’m not going to this stupid institute. I’m staying here with you!” she shouted.
Via paused for a moment and then frowned. “Wait..why did you mention a hill? I died drowning.”
Nuri’s eyes were glued to her plate. “You know what I meant.” She muttered becoming more and more focused on her cake.
Via stared at her friend who was suddenly as quiet as the café itself. “Why were you talking about a hill?” she demanded.
Nuri raised her head but her eyes darted everywhere except at her friend’s gaze. “Just forget I ever said anything, I’m just feeling torn about whether to follow my dreams or to stay here with you, as I have been for years. The least you could do is be grateful!”
Via looked at Nuri in hurt disbelief. “Well I didn’t tell you to stay here all these years!” she cried.
Nuri scowled at her. “Well sorry for trying to be a good friend!”
“A good friend wouldn’t have pushed me down a hill.” Via retorted.
Nuri slammed her fist on the table. “I didn’t.” she growled, glaring at her drenched victim. She clutched her fork a little tighter in a white knuckled grip.
“Don’t lie to me, Nuri. I can tell when you’re lying. I won’t get angry, I promise.” Via softened, looking at her friend with kind eyes. Nuri began to shake with tears and yanked at her hair as if she was going to pull out every strand. She was beginning to grow red in the face, her crimson shame visible even under the pink light.
“I- I didn’t mean to.” she stuttered.
Via’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“When I pushed you, and you fell…I thought you were dead. I – I was scared. I d-didn’t know what to do!” she cried hysterically, her breath quickening and her heart racing as the truth poured out. “I didn’t want to get into trouble!”
Via looked at her confused, but seeing Nuri’s guilt oozing out of her, she finally understood. “You threw my body in the lake. You drowned me.” Via finished, shocked.
Nuri nodded in quiet shame. “I told everyone you slipped… I didn’t think you were still alive!” she trembled desperately. “ I didn’t mean to!.”
“Didn’t mean to?! You didn’t even confess!” Via yelled. Nuri whimpered and tried to reach for her friend, who pulled her hand away in disgust.
Via said nothing for a while but stood a great distance away from her killer. “I didn’t get a proper burial. I couldn’t..rest because of you. I didn’t grow up because of you! I’m stuck like this..forever because of you!” she gradually built up to a scream, the echoes reverberating off the pots and pans hanging on the wall. “And to think I was ever grateful..to my killer!” she snarled with hatred so sinister, it sent a chill through Nuri’s spine. She had never seen a look like that in her friend’s hazel-green eyes before.
She looked at Via helplessly. “I’m sorry-”
“What use is that now, Nuri!? I’m dead for goodness sake! And it’s all your fault.” She spat. “You won’t get away with this..”
Nuri pleaded with her. “No – no please!” but it was no use. Via had disappeared into nothing. There was only a dark shadow where she once stood. The buzzing of the neon lights sounded uncomfortably loud as Nuri stood by herself in silent shame. She eventually got her coat and decided to leave.
A month later, the thirteenth came round again. It was eight o’clock and Nuri had packed everything away, laid the table and sat patiently for her friend. Surely she could not have been too angry. ‘After all, what’s happened has happened, there’s nothing I can do but apologise.’ She thought, nodding to herself. She made a mental note to apologise relentlessly to Via until she gave her forgiveness. She was her best friend after all. She had to forgive her. Nuri sat and waited. Half an hour had passed which grew into an hour and then two. Nuri sat silently and alone, with a heavy heart. She did this for months and did not give up hope that Via would show up again, but it was all in vain. A year had passed and there had been no sign of Via at all.
However, on the thirteenth of September, Nuri still sat in the corner booth and waited for Via for two hours as she normally did. As the clock struck ten, Nuri staring at the empty booth opposite her, realised that Via would not show. She hesitantly got up to leave. There were tears streaming down her face, so much so that she could barely see where she was going. ‘It’s not fair! Via has an eternity to be angry, I don’t have the same to apologise!’ she thought. Years of memories of guilt flooded back to her. It was all there. It had always been there, just beneath the surface of her façade of composure. Her tears obscured her vision, morphing the café into a dark blur with sporadic strokes of pink. Nuri reached for the light switch and flicked it on.
The second the lights powered on, the bulbs blew, and endless sparks flew in all directions, some setting towels on fire, others charring the floor. Nuri screamed and tried to yank the doors open, but they were locked. She pulled harder, but it was no use, they were bolted shut from the outside. “Help! Help me!” she screeched, but no one heard her apart from the undead, who really could not do anything for her in that moment. She tried to get a chair to smash the window but it would not even crack. Nuri’s thoughts were in pieces. She desperately searched, like an animal being hunted for an escape route, but the lights would not stop bursting. Ducking, she ran for the extendable tap to spray the sparks out, but that only worsened the situation. The bursts of electricity exploded into flames one by one, until the café and all its contents were swallowed in a ring of fire. Only Nuri was in the centre of the burning carnage, screaming helplessly at the flames that drowned her voice out. She collapsed on to the floor, crying helplessly as her mind began to darken. The last thing she saw was Via’s figure looking down at her, expressionless. As she began to fade out of consciousness she was unable to tell if it really was Via or just a hallucination. Tears filled her eyes as she choked on the thick smoke that filled her lungs. Nuri tried to speak to the figure in front of her before she completely blacked out, but no words came out.
The next morning, the charred remains of the café stood in grim solemnity. The elderly man from the year before trudged down the street, gazed at the debris and tutted. “That doughnut wasn’t even that nice, anyway.” he muttered, walking away, leaving the blackened remnants and its two souls behind. Nuri and Via were destined to meet again every month, having died at the same place, on the same date. Knowing they had an eternity to spend together, they repaired their differences, now equal in each other’s eyes, having taken a life for a life. On the thirteenth of every month, they met at the place where the cushy café on Lloyd Street once stood, and enjoyed each other’s company along with some sandwiches and two cups of tea.
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You have a great story telling voice, I loved how you narrated it!
Aw, thank you so much!
I really enjoyed this story!
I'm really glad, thank you! :)