The year is 2030. A couple walks out of The Rewind Button, a cinema in the heart of the city. Undertone chatters, laughter, rowdy and silent movements out of the auditorium grow behind the two. Grace and Cliff walk hand in hand through the crowd, then past a board, which reads “A trip down memory lane.”
Neatly scribbled below the welcoming message, are the faded prescheduled titles. On the lead is the 2013 Sci-fi film, After Earth, casting Will Smith as Cypher Raige, and Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige. Second, is the 2014 romance/drama film, The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s novel, and casting Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, and Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters.
The Rewinder, as the locals have dubbed the cinema, now stands paces behind Grace and Cliff. They have been walking in silence, each absorbed in their minds.
“What do you think; coffee for your thoughts?” Says Cliff.
The two now stand outside a cafe with few people in it. From the glass door, they can see at least two unoccupied tables. Grace tries to smile but tears instead well her eyes. She lets one fall, and another follows. She wipes her cheeks with her palms, shying off.
“I’m sorry, pumpkin. But you insisted, remember?” Says Cliff.
He takes Grace’s hand, hugs her tight, pats her back, then lets go.
“But Cliff… Hazel. Hazel Grace Lancaster—Oh!”
Grace collapses back into Cliff’s arms, crying. Cliff strokes her hair.
“Okay, pumpkin. Okay, I know… and get how you feel. Why don’t we go in for a sip, then we can head on home; is that…”
Grace nods, and they go in.
They take a table overlooking the streets through a glass wall. The cafe’s lighting shimmers a warm daylight, completing a beautiful combo, with the jazz that played in the background. The streets are lit, and not many people still walk up and down in duos or solos.
Grace dips her hand into her handbag, and out draws a novel. She places it on the table—a John Green’s original 2012 copy; a little old, but neatly kept.
A young, smiley man walks over to the two. He greets them, readying his small notebook for an order.
“Coffee, please? Black,” says Grace.
“I’ll have the same, thank you,” says Cliff.
The young waiter okays their order and rushes off. Cliff turns back to Grace. Both her hands are circled around Green’s novel.
“Hey, pumpkin. It’s just a movie, just a book, just a story. They always are,” says Cliff.
He withdraws his hands, wishing he could say the same about his words.
“Just—a movie? A book? Just a story!” Says Grace, tapping the novel’s cover, “This, Clifford, although I doubt you would understand, is something true. What would you know about life?”
The young waiter arrives with their coffee. Cliff sighs. He takes the sugar on the table, adds two scoops to his cup, then stirs.
“Sugar?” He asks.
Grace rejects the offer. Cliff sits back, then looks at his girlfriend. He smiles.
“What?” Asks Grace.
“I’m just thinking,” says Cliff, “you fascinate me. Your attachment with these characters and their stories—I find it interesting… attractive.”
“Huh, interesting. What do you know about life, Cliff?” Says Grace.
“Come on, we’ll have to lighten that mood now, pumpkin. Don’t be sad and mad all night, eh?”
“Pumpkin this, pumpkin that. Couldn’t you call me anything better?”
Cliff chuckles, reaching out for his leather jacket’s inner pockets. He takes out a small can, opens it, and takes a quick swing.
Grace has had her eyes on him the whole time. Of course, she wants some. She wants more than “some.” Her mouth is almost dripping at the sight of the can. She sweeps her hand across the table in a failed attempt to grab it.
“Not too fast, missy,” says Cliff.
“Give it to me,”
Grace pauses looks at Cliff, then at the table.
“Please give it to me,”
“My God!” Says Grace, “Honey, would you please give it to me?”
Cliff smiles, then nods.
“Sounds much better. Okay, here, pumpkin.”
Cliff hands the can over, and Grace grabs it. She takes a swing, then another.
“Hey, slow. Go slow on that,” says Cliff.
Grace hands the can back. She looks down at her coffee cup, aware that she will not have it. Cliff takes a swing from his can, and passes it to Grace.
“How are you feeling, now?” He asks.
“I am not really sure. I don’t know… bored? Stupid…”
“Don’t feel stupid for your kind of attachment,”
“It’s not that,”
Grace shakes her head.
“I feel stupid to always hope for the best in life. The Fault in Our Stars reminds me how some things just cannot be. How could they be so perfect and yet imperfect for each other? Well, the end is always inevitable, Grace should have known that. She must have always known it. But does knowing so lessen the pain or fill the emptiness? Hmm… it breaks my heart. And I feel the weight worse whenever I replay that last letter—oh, Grace!”
“Sir, Ma’am…” interrupts the young waiter, “we do not allow our guests to take any food or beverages bought elsewhere. If you could please…”
“Oh. Would that apply if, for instance, I bought this some other day but for this purpose, tonight? Here? I mean, I know I’ve had it for a while now…” says Cliff.
“It does not matter, Sir. Still, please…”
“Okay… we hear you, and we are truly, very, very sorry. Extremely. We will get out of here. Right now.” Says Grace, “Get your feet moving, Clifford.”
Grace dips her hand into her handbag, unbothered by the attention they have drawn. She flashes a Ksh. 500 note, then places it on the table.
“Keep the change, please,” she says as they walk past the waiter, “you probably need it.”
“You are smoking fire right now,” whispers Cliff as they stagger out.
The booze wasn’t too much, but enough to lighten their spirits. The chat through the walk that ensues is full of life and laughter.
“Sir, M’am…” Cliff imitates the waiter, sipping from his can, “we do not allow… allow what?”
“He couldn’t say “booze”,”
The two lose themselves in laughter.
“He said… he said… if you could please…”
“He must have wanted a sip…”
“Of course, he did!” Says Grace.
They laugh as they stagger on in the night.
To be continued tomorrow.
Alone With Death will form part of a collection of at least 3 short stories. I’m not done editing this particular story, so the title, cover and parts of it are still subject to change (especially the cover. Today’s featured photo is not official).
I’ll share a pdf copy upon the journey’s end.
Benson Langat is a poet, fiction writer, and freelancer. A dreamer, he realizes a world of possibilities through stories and explores life in poetry. Benie is a dad and lives in Nairobi, Kenya.