Daniel pulls from the handle and drags open the heavy glass door. After treading neglected cobblestones under the Caribbean sun for almost two hours, he rather enjoys the refreshing cold blast he gets as he enters the café.
It smells of coffee and puffy croissants. He has been visiting this café, the best he has found in the old town, almost every morning for the last week.
Two groups of locals wait in line, the group at the front beginning to place their order. As they discuss options among themselves, occasionally pointing at the menu in the wall, the woman behind the counter looks past them at Daniel. “¡Hola!” she says, smiling at him.
Daniel forces a smile. “Hola.”
Somewhat surprised, the three people at the front of the line stop talking and turn backwards briefly to eye Daniel. One of them frowns slightly.
The cashier turns her smile to them and continues taking their order. With many hours to kill and nothing better to do, Daniel waits patiently at the back of the line.
When he gets his turn he asks for the usual: a cortadito and a sandwich.
“I'm sorry,” says the girl, and her thick lips curve into a sad smile. “We are out of salmon today.”
Daniel shrugs lightly. “Oh.”
“Mark,” calls the woman, turning back to face a man grinding coffee behind her. Today she's wearing her black curly hair in a bun. “¿Todavía hay salmón?”
“No,” says the man, shaking his head. “Se acabó.”
She turns back to Daniel. “Sorry, we ran out,” she repeats.
Daniel considers the menu behind her.
“You can try the tuna salad, if you want,” she offers.
“Hmm... okay. Yeah, let's do that,” he says and he nods, pleased. “In a wrap.”
“In a wrap,” she says, clicking numbers in a screen. “What's your name?” she asks.
“Dan,” he replies, like every other day.
“Dan.” She writes it down in the screen.
He gives her a bill and she gives him change. The coins make a clinking noise against the glass bottom of the tips jar.
“Gracias,” he says and their eyes cross.
“Gracias a tí,” she replies.
He turns to survey the café. It is somewhat full today, but a few tables are still free. He sits down on a red chair and as he drags his weight to the table, one of the chair's legs screeches loudly as it cuts against the old black and white tiles.
Daniel fishes a book out of his satchel and tries to read. Instead, he ends up overhearing the American couple next to him, who have been looking at a map and discussing their plans for the day. The husband opines confidently that what the old town could really use is more trees and fewer cars; the wife keeps talking about much she loves the fact that they have cats in every street and these cats seem to be doing pretty well too, they're actually relatively healthy, if you think about it, although it does make it very obvious that all house cats back in America are really very obese, wouldn’t you say?
Every minute, or so, Mark, the guy operating the espresso machine, calls out people's names and hands them out cups, wraps, croissants, and sandwiches (but none with salmon; they ran out).
“Excuse me, Dan,” calls out the cashier across the room.
He looks up and smiles lightly. “Yeah?”
“Will you want your coffee with your food?”
“Hmm, sure,” he says.
“Or before?” she asks.
“Oh, I see,” he says. “Yeah, whenever it's ready.” He doesn't really care.
She nods and he goes back to his book.
Classic salsa starts playing from some speakers, filling up the room, drowning the shrill screams of a toddler in a stroller by the door to the patio. The American couple gather their belongings and make their way out to the sunny streets.
A small plate lands gently in Dan's table, next to his glasses; he looks up and sees that the woman has brought him his coffee. It has a heart drawn in the foam.
“Que aproveche,” she says and smiles.
“Alone today, eh, Dan?” She starts picking up plates from the other table.
He nods sadly, somewhat taken aback and trying to hide a frown. “The girl... she had to leave.” He doesn't know what else to say so he clears his throat.
The cashier nods. “I see.” She smiles sadly, with understanding and compassion. “Such is life, eh?” She shrugs.
Dan lets out a sigh and tries to recompose himself. The woman is too young to really understand it. “Her time came to leave,” he hears himself repeat.
“I'm sorry, Dan,” she says, emphasizing his name. “Would you like a glass of water?”