Between Sheets of Solemn Beats

A Short Story:Image

They choose a much too small marble table with uneven legs, so that it can’t help but stand funny and wobble when people sit close.

She sits on the bench, across from a still-standing Baba, and begins unpacking the necessary items from her modern, metallic bag: silver laptop, black smartphone, white paper checklist. Baba sinks into the chair, and looks about the crowded coffee shop.

She tests the table with all her items, and the table shudders a bit, shaking back and forth, as she places her sweating cup of iced coffee next to the silver laptop, which is inches from the black smartphone. Once everything is out and in its proper place, aligned with her whirring thoughts and busy schedule, she alights her fingertips nimbly on her black smartphone, beginning to feed her thoughts to the small keyboard. While she ticka-taps away, Baba sits, far away from the shaky table, far away from her.

It appears as though they are both waiting for someone: She scans the contacts of her black smartphone while Baba scans the shop with wandering eyes. The faint sound of reggae drifts to her and Baba’s ears, before it is drowned out by the sound of her suddenly talking on her phone.

“Hi, Stuart? Yes—I was just checking on the date of the product delivery for next week. I just didn’t want it to be a bad day, or get there late, or—yes, so Tuesday?”

She taps her foot, knee jumping up and down with energy, excited, nervous energy. Baba sits by patiently; he too is tapping his foot up and down with a similar, unsettled, jumpy energy. She works her mouth with words on the phone, as Baba chews his tongue, or gum, or worries.

Finally, she hangs up, crosses an item off her white paper checklist. Baba looks at her, and then pushes his gaze away when she reaches for the comfort of her laptop keyboard. She dances her fingertips across the keys, calm and focused, as letters jump onto and across the screen. Baba drums his fingertips to the rhythm of the reggae, to the rhythm of someone’s soul.

“Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink, Baba?” She has paused in her typing, eyes peering over the top of the word-scattered screen. Baba too stops to fix his eyes on her from across the marble table, but says nothing; he just shakes his head no, and continues working his jaw on his imaginary gum. She looks at him with a frown, a sort of sadness sitting in her eyes, but not for long. Bzz. Bzz. She jumps at the vibration, as the black smartphone inches toward her with each beckoning buzz.

She texts, possibly Stuart. Or possibly the someone who has yet to arrive, the one they are both waiting for. Baba nods his head to the music, his head bobbing to the beat, his toes tapping out the tune, and his palms planted in comfort on his thighs. Sometimes, when the music winds down to a mellow interlude, he closes his eyes to listen, to feel. In those moments, he does not chew away at his worries, and he does not scan the shop for the someone who is missing.

She looks up and catches Baba in one of these moments. With a slight smile, she sways left and right to Bob Marley, with a clumsy attempt at grace; her head moves just a few steps ahead of her body.

“Dance with me?” She asks Baba. He opens his eyes, and snaps out of his moment to look at her.

“It’s Friday. You won’t dance with me?” She asks, continuing to sway and snap, yet he stares, his body silent and still as the table between them.

She is puzzled by his silence. Though she returns to her technological responsibilities—texting on the black smartphone, searching on the silver laptop, and slashing out words on the white paper checklist—she glances up at Baba every so often, trying to solve the silence as if it’s another problem she must resolve on that white paper checklist of hers.

Baba’s index, middle, and ring finger have returned to the dance floor that is his knee. There, he taps a lighter, more graceful rhythm than she will ever accomplish on her keyboards, black or silver.

“Do you like reggae?” She tries. It is an attempt, like asking to cut into his solitary dance, but she can see he intends to dance alone. His fingers have retreated from the dance floor; he clasps his hands together, away from his knees, further away from her and from the table, which hovers like a hesitant bystander, unsure of what to do or say between the two of them.

Although, at least now Baba nods his head yes, yes he likes reggae, before looking again to the door behind him.

The sort of sadness returns to her eyes, accompanied by a slight frown on her lips. Her elbow lands on the table, which stumbles uncertainly under the new weight atop it. Her chin perches itself on her hand to brood about Baba and the silence, before her mind reverts back to thinking of Stuart, the delivery, and Tuesday once more.

Baba’s eyes pan across the shop again, from the door they entered behind him, to the one across the shop, by the one-pound bags of freshly ground coffee. Just as her eyes leave his face, Baba’s eyes decide to glide back to her, and in his eyes lives a heartbroken, waiting soul, searching for hers.

If only she could look up in that moment, maybe she’d see it. Maybe then they would see each other. But instead the hard silence looms, only slightly softened by the reggae that blankets down upon them in sheets of solemn beats.

It is the much too small table that realizes it first: No one else is coming.

No one else will be joining them to create an intimate conversation only a daughter and her Baba could have. No one will make the uneven-legged table stumble left and right with laughter, with love. The table’s only company will be her occasional elbows when she types or texts or calls, the silver laptop, the buzzing black smartphone, and the white paper checklist, which will never really be completed.

It is the table that realizes—as Baba’s eyes wander to somewhere far away, and as her mind’s traffic weaves back and forth from thoughts of Baba to business—that they hadn’t been waiting on anyone else at all. They’d only been patiently waiting for each other to arrive.

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