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Originally published in Coffee People Zine, Issue 16, March 2022 www.coffeepeople.org
It’s a coffee and story kind of day. Come with me into the first chapter that I dedicate to you, muser, and our greatest search of all—happiness.
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Viola Narang
2
First light slid into the murky haze of old Janjero Street; another day started with a wide sunrise grin.
The door of the flower shop flew open, and Yan, the florist, tossed a bucket full of water and mangled stubs on the street. His hand trembled as he wiped sweat from his angry face.
“That dimwit with a brain soaked in cheap liquor! Oh, one day, dear God—” Yan growled, stretching his wiry, work-hunched back, and snapped his finger at the open windows of the bar Norumbega. His silent cussing was answered with a loud snore and a whiff of sour beer from the dark entrails of the bar, where chef Mico lay in a pile of dust, oblivious to the beautiful world.
“What does he think of himself?” Yan scurried back to the flower shop, grabbed plump peonies from the counter, and thrashed them into the bucket. “Filthy yokel! Ashing his cigarettes in my flowers... Again! Can you imagine?” he muttered to no one.
Mico could not imagine. He was sleeping on the floor, another misspent night bleeding into a false dawn—his reprieve from the future he helplessly chased or the
First light slid into the murky haze of old Janjero Street; another day started with a wide sunrise grin. It flared across dusty blue-tiled walls, motley signs for cafes and stores, and an arched church tower with a clock that never worked. The breeze, laced with ocean salts, gusted along the pavements, crisscrossed by clotheslines with pants and wet bedsheets that bent across Janjero like the sails of a faraway ship. From a balcony worn by age, a lonely radio huffed out songs, ads, and news of a wild world full of wild hopes. It was a usual morning, like any other, until it got messed up with Hell.
Énouement
1
Viola Narang
2
Dusty blue-tiled walls, motley signs for cafes and stores, and an arched church tower with a clock that never worked
The door of the flower shop flew open, and Yan, the florist, tossed a bucket full of water and mangled stubs on the street. His hand trembled as he wiped sweat from his angry face.
“That dimwit with a brain soaked in cheap liquor! Oh, one day, dear God—” Yan growled, stretching his wiry, work-hunched back, and snapped his finger at the open windows of the bar Norumbega. His silent cussing was answered with a loud snore and a whiff of sour beer from the dark entrails of the bar, where chef Mico lay in a pile of dust, oblivious to the beautiful world.
“What does he think of himself?” Yan scurried back to the flower shop, grabbed plump peonies from the counter, and thrashed them into the bucket. “Filthy yokel! Ashing his cigarettes in my flowers... Again! Can you imagine?” he muttered to no one.
Mico could not imagine. He was sleeping on the floor, another misspent night bleeding into a false dawn—his reprieve from the future he helplessly chased or the woes that ceaselessly pulled him back. It was his way of living a fun life: drinking, smoking, groping, hurling a barrage of insults. Mico smacked his lips and rolled to his other side, grunting blearily. “Shit ain’t never smell like flowers, Bloommygrant! Go back to where you belong!”
First light slid into the murky haze of old Janjero Street; another day started with a wide sunrise grin. It flared across dusty blue-tiled walls, motley signs for cafes and stores, and an arched church tower with a clock that never worked. The breeze, laced with ocean salts, gusted along the pavements, crisscrossed by clotheslines with pants and wet bedsheets that bent across Janjero like the sails of a faraway ship. From a balcony worn by age, a lonely radio huffed out songs, ads, and news of a wild world full of wild hopes. It was a usual morning, like any other, until it got messed up with Hell.
1
4
Yan looked down at the lines on his damp, calloused palms—the knotty shapes of foreign routes across lands and oceans. They stood out like scars, burying the silent secrets of his past or promises of his future. Did he always dream the wrong thing? Yan swallowed, trying to shrug off the miserable feeling of something lost. What an injustice, the goddamned dreaming! He tried to pretend he was just the same as everyone else, hoping to blend into Janjero, find his sense of home, some friends, a
Maybe human life was like this old street—in the end, all glorious stories would be crushed into dust or tossed onto pavement as trash.
woes that ceaselessly pulled him back. It was his way of living a fun life: drinking, smoking, groping, hurling a barrage of insults. Mico smacked his lips and rolled to his other side, grunting blearily. “Shit ain’t never smell like flowers, Bloommygrant! Go back to where you belong!”
3
Liquor and stupor. Trite excuses for being a racist. There goes another lovely morning, Yan thought resentfully. A frown etched his brows in the play of light against the chipped blue-tiled walls. Florist was not his dream job. Janjero was not his dream home.
Sometimes he thought his dreams were a load of cheap cigarette stubs, fervently ignited and hastily entombed.
Ah, Janjero was lovely in the sun. Fissured cobblestones, crumbling tiles and plaster, warm terracotta roofs, the soft shadow of the arched church tower, windows glinting in a cloudless sky, seagulls brushing ocean salt off their wings. Yes, Janjero was beautiful, but Yan felt something was not right. It was there in the traces of its nameless past stamped flat on the pavement: wads of chewed gum, crumpled bills, a used condom, a pink hair clip, smudged beer froth, plastic cups filled with piss and wine. So many people had lived, dreamed, died here, never knowing where they truly belonged or whether they were truly happy. Yan mused.
Viola Narang
Énouement
Yan looked down at the lines on his damp, calloused palms—the knotty shapes of foreign routes across lands and oceans. They stood out like scars, burying the silent secrets of his past or promises of his future. Did he always dream the wrong thing? Yan swallowed, trying to shrug off the miserable feeling of something lost. What an injustice, the goddamned dreaming! He tried to pretend he was just the same as everyone else, hoping to blend into Janjero, find his sense of home, some friends, a true self—so far to no avail.
Maybe human life was like this old street—in the end, all glorious stories would be crushed into dust or tossed onto pavement as trash.
Menu
Liquor and stupor. Trite excuses for being a racist. There goes another lovely morning, Yan thought resentfully. A frown etched his brows in the play of light against the chipped blue-tiled walls. Florist was not his dream job. Janjero was not his dream home.
Sometimes he thought his dreams were a load of cheap cigarette stubs, fervently ignited and hastily entombed.
Ah, Janjero was lovely in the sun. Fissured cobblestones, crumbling tiles and plaster, warm terracotta roofs, the soft shadow of the arched church tower, windows glinting in a cloudless sky, seagulls brushing ocean salt off their wings. Yes, Janjero was beautiful, but Yan felt something was not right. It was there in the traces of its nameless past stamped flat on the pavement: wads of chewed gum, crumpled bills, a used condom, a pink hair clip, smudged beer froth, plastic cups filled with piss and wine. So many people had lived, dreamed, died here, never knowing where they truly belonged or whether they were truly happy. Yan mused.
Viola Narang
Énouement
6
Sometimes, when Madame brought him un café and un croissant, asking questions, forgetting to listen, Yan thought she could relate to him. Why, she was also
true self—so far to no avail.
5
The warm aroma of freshly baked pastries pulled Yan out of his troubles. He yanked his eyes to the French cafe across the street, where bright yellow curtains bulged from the window.
Madame was a buoyant woman, so chatty and cheeky, so far from the plight and throes of his rigged world, which was probably part of the point: she belonged here, and he, a brooding outsider, did not.
Madame Rosali was a feisty, glittery woman, middle-aged, hair like dyed wool, dangling earrings, jangling bangles, plump lips, the perfect red. Either folly or strategy, she conjured up a world where her opinion was ostensibly needed. World affairs, love affairs, tacky questions about money, tinkly laughs with men. With all the thrill of being an inconvenience, she navigated through life in old Janjero as if it were her realm, stirring up trouble, radiating joy.
Maybe if he hadn’t been displaced to those ugly ramshackle tents after terrible floods and terrible wars; if he hadn’t rummaged through trash for books to read; if he hadn’t saved or stolen cash to bribe, to buy tickets, fake documents; if he hadn’t applied to a university and failed, then ended up with empty pockets in a foreign land; if he hadn’t accepted this job as a florist; if he’d simply gone back where he truly belonged, married, and worked hard or begged hard, then maybe he would fit better in life. An uncomplicated life, untethered from naive dreaming. But now? A stranger in his own skin, unhappy, unsettled, undocumented, unknown. A ghastly voice whispered in his ear. You’re a loser! Ha! A florist! Waiting out here to end up dead? Bad thoughts were contagious. Oh, it was a cruel world.
“Il est où le bonheur?” Madame Rosali, the fussing owner, warbled about happiness as she bustled behind the coffee machine. She laid croissants on the counter and poured coffee into porcelain cups.
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Where do you belong?
Viola Narang
Énouement
The warm aroma of freshly baked pastries pulled Yan out of his troubles. He yanked his eyes to the French cafe across the street, where bright yellow curtains bulged from the window.
Madame Rosali was a feisty, glittery woman, middle-aged, hair like dyed wool, dangling earrings, jangling bangles, plump lips, the perfect red. Either folly or strategy, she conjured up a world where her opinion was ostensibly needed. World affairs, love affairs, tacky questions about money, tinkly laughs with men. With all the thrill of being an inconvenience, she navigated through life in old Janjero as if it were her realm, stirring up trouble, radiating joy.
Maybe if he hadn’t been displaced to those ugly ramshackle tents after terrible floods and terrible wars; if he hadn’t rummaged through trash for books to read; if he hadn’t saved or stolen cash to bribe, to buy tickets, fake documents; if he hadn’t applied to a university and failed, then ended up with empty pockets in a foreign land; if he hadn’t accepted this job as a florist; if he’d simply gone back where he truly belonged, married, and worked hard or begged hard, then maybe he would fit better in life. An uncomplicated life, untethered from naive dreaming. But now? A stranger in his own skin, unhappy, unsettled, undocumented, unknown. A ghastly voice whispered in his ear. You’re a loser! Ha! A florist! Waiting out here to end up dead? Bad thoughts were contagious. Oh, it was a cruel world.
“Il est où le bonheur?” Madame Rosali, the fussing owner, warbled about happiness as she bustled behind the coffee machine. She laid croissants on the counter and poured coffee into porcelain cups.
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Where do you belong?
8
The man grinned wickedly as though he could hear his thoughts. “Duh! Had a devil of a fight with life, young boy!” There was a brief laugh, sharp with bitterness and fatigue. The man picked his nose obnoxiously, as if old age left shame only for the young.
7
“The king of Hell died, not knowing the sound of happiness. A catastrophe! A dead dullard he was, the king…”
“For heaven’s sake! Le bonheur!” An odd crusty voice rattled from under the arched church tower. “The king of Hell died because of le bonheur. Bleh! Happiness! All the stress of our life for such a precarious thing!”
an immigrant. Yes, she’d sauntered across the borders with privileges, polished nails and all, while he’d scratched his way out through rugged mud, harsh waves, and heartless hands outstretched for riches from impoverished souls. Yan sighed; his eyes turned surly.
He tried to pretend he was just the same as everyone else, hoping to blend into Janjero, find his sense of home, some friends, a true self—so far to no avail.
Yan darted his gaze at a shadow that rose out of the light. The haziness around the edges sharpened, and a dark blot grew into the shape of an old man. The color of bone, the man looked like an old beaten wolf, frowzy and scruffy, grizzled stubble on his chin. He picked his way unsteadily to the bar Norumbega, muttering obscenities under his fetid breath, a ragged throw knotted loosely around his slumped shoulders.
Madame was a buoyant woman, so chatty and cheeky, so far from the plight and throes of his rigged world, which was probably part of the point: she belonged here, and he, a brooding outsider, did not.
“Il est où le bonheur? Aucune idée!” Madame clamored behind the curtains.
A hobo? Yan thought as the man smacked his bare feet against the pavement to shuck off the sand. The man glared back at him. His dead eyes, bleached almost white by the sun, set off a shiver in Yan’s bones. Is he even...alive?
Viola Narang
Énouement
8
7
“For heaven’s sake! Le bonheur!” An odd crusty voice rattled from under the arched church tower. “The king of Hell died because of le bonheur. Bleh! Happiness! All the stress of our life for such a precarious thing!”
You’re a loser! Ha! A florist! Waiting out here to end up dead?
Yan darted his gaze at a shadow that rose out of the light. The haziness around the edges sharpened, and a dark blot grew into the shape of an old man. The color of bone, the man looked like an old beaten wolf, frowzy and scruffy, grizzled stubble on his chin. He picked his way unsteadily to the bar Norumbega, muttering obscenities under his fetid breath, a ragged throw knotted loosely around his slumped shoulders.
Madame was a buoyant woman, so chatty and cheeky, so far from the plight and throes of his rigged world, which was probably part of the point: she belonged here, and he, a brooding outsider, did not.
“Il est où le bonheur? Aucune idée!” Madame clamored behind the curtains.
Sometimes, when Madame brought him un café and un croissant, asking questions, forgetting to listen, Yan thought she could relate to him. Why, she was also an immigrant. Yes, she’d sauntered across the borders with privileges, polished nails and all, while he’d scratched his way out through rugged mud, harsh waves, and heartless hands outstretched for riches from impoverished souls. Yan sighed; his eyes turned surly.
10
9
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Have you recently met a stranger who with a scrap of curse, prophecy or weird clothes changed your day?
The man fished in his pocket and drew out a plastic bag filled with cherries. His crusty voice trailed off into a blissful champ as he jammed a handful of mellow berries into his mouth.
Is it my fate too? A worry lurked at the back of Yan’s mind. Dead, aloof, without home.
though. Death has its worth and discipline. Mind you, for some it could be a call to life.”
“What are you doing here?” Yan looked nervously sideways at the French cafe, sensing the possibility of a real catastrophe. This morning of all mornings! There would be hell to pay if Madame thought Yan was somehow involved.

He played with the idea of chucking this man off the street to somewhere where his kind belonged, but the word belong seemed so empty and mortifying. A shelter? A rehab center? Or straight to a grave?
“Am I missing out on a party?” The bar door juddered in its frame, and Mico poked his unshaven head out. He dragged whispers of smoke down deep, trickling it back out through his nostrils, and sighed. “By mercy of this rotten place, spare a cigarette, old man! What a night I had, what a night! But I’ll be better… Maybe tomorrow. You must know the feeling, right? You look like hell yourself.” Mico stretched out a shaky hand, reaching for a cigarette.

Yan stared at the old man, unblinking, sensing something mighty strange about him. His musty throw, probably a trophy from Zara Home, was torn and greasy in many places, as though he’d slumped along some dirty walls. His haggard face, rough plaster, bore an imprint of too many sorrows that clung to him from the past.
The old man spat cherry pits on the pavement. His voice rang stale and clear. “Death is grossly overrated, boy,” he reported knowledgeably. “Not as bad as they say
The man darted uneasy eyes at the old buildings, frowning earnestly over his thoughts. He grinned at last, his rotten-toothed mouth full of cherries. “I lifed hea, lon’ time ago, I don’t efen ’emembeh. ’Hought it woult ee nice tu come back.”
The old man snorted, amused. “Here, another moron craving the collapse. Ha! Think the future would be nothing like the past?” His barb was a shout against his hard-bitten frame.
The man hunted through his pocket and squeezed a rumpled cigarette between his gapped teeth. The bitter smoke curled around the street, scratching Yan’s throat, sliding silver tendrils into the open windows of Norumbega.
The man grinned wickedly as though he could hear his thoughts. “Duh! Had a devil of a fight with life, young boy!” There was a brief laugh, sharp with bitterness and fatigue. The man picked his nose obnoxiously, as if old age left shame only for the young.
A hobo? Yan thought as the man smacked his bare feet against the pavement to shuck off the sand. The man glared back at him. His dead eyes, bleached almost white by the sun, set off a shiver in Yan’s bones. Is he even...alive?
“The king of Hell died, not knowing the sound of happiness. A catastrophe! A dead dullard he was, the king…”
Viola Narang
Énouement
The man fished in his pocket and drew out a plastic bag filled with cherries. His crusty voice trailed off into a blissful champ as he jammed a handful of mellow berries into his mouth.
Is it my fate too? A worry lurked at the back of Yan’s mind. Dead, aloof, without home.
“What are you doing here?” Yan looked nervously sideways at the French cafe, sensing the possibility of a real catastrophe. This morning of all mornings! There would be hell to pay if Madame thought Yan was somehow involved.

He played with the idea of chucking this man off the street to somewhere where his kind belonged, but the word belong seemed so empty and mortifying. A shelter? A rehab center? Or straight to a grave?
Yan stared at the old man, unblinking, sensing something mighty strange about him. His musty throw, probably a trophy from Zara Home, was torn and greasy in many places, as though he’d slumped along some dirty walls. His haggard face, rough plaster, bore an imprint of too many sorrows that clung to him from the past.
The old man spat cherry pits on the pavement. His voice rang stale and clear. “Death is grossly overrated, boy,” he reported knowledgeably. “Not as bad as they say though. Death has its worth and discipline. Mind you, for some it could be a call to life.”
The man darted uneasy eyes at the old buildings, frowning earnestly over his thoughts. He grinned at last, his rotten-toothed mouth full of cherries. “I lifed hea, lon’ time ago, I don’t efen ’emembeh. ’Hought it woult ee nice tu come back.”
The man grinned wickedly as though he could hear his thoughts. “Duh! Had a devil of a fight with life, young boy!” There was a brief laugh, sharp with bitterness and fatigue. The man picked his nose obnoxiously, as if old age left shame only for the young.
A hobo? Yan thought as the man smacked his bare feet against the pavement to shuck off the sand. The man glared back at him. His dead eyes, bleached almost white by the sun, set off a shiver in Yan’s bones. Is he even...alive?
“The king of Hell died, not knowing the sound of happiness. A catastrophe! A dead dullard he was, the king…”
12
11
After a hangover, any conversation about life would be equally fraught.
“Eh?” Mico answered with sleepy surprise, unsure if he was being laughed at or not.
though. Death has its worth and discipline. Mind you, for some it could be a call to life.”
“That’s why you’re in trouble, boy. Just like any other sinner. Evil is calling from the past, bliss is blinding from the future. But if you had the gall to live now, you’d be not a moron but a happy-looking chap.” The man studied Mico in a bemused sort of way, like a ridiculously naive piece of art: a white T-shirt stained with liquor over his tattooed shoulders, clumps of bristle over his bovine jaws.
“Am I missing out on a party?” The bar door juddered in its frame, and Mico poked his unshaven head out. He dragged whispers of smoke down deep, trickling it back out through his nostrils, and sighed. “By mercy of this rotten place, spare a cigarette, old man! What a night I had, what a night! But I’ll be better… Maybe tomorrow. You must know the feeling, right? You look like hell yourself.” Mico stretched out a shaky hand, reaching for a cigarette.

The old man snorted, amused. “Here, another moron craving the collapse. Ha! Think the future would be nothing like the past?” His barb was a shout against his hard-bitten frame.
The man hunted through his pocket and squeezed a rumpled cigarette between his gapped teeth. The bitter smoke curled around the street, scratching Yan’s throat, sliding silver tendrils into the open windows of Norumbega.
Mico creased his forehead in consternation as the hobo passed him his lit cigarette. “What are you, caralho? A bloody savior?” He found the old man irritating.
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Have you recently met a stranger who with a scrap of curse, prophecy or weird clothes changed your day?
Viola Narang
Énouement
After a hangover, any conversation about life would be equally fraught.
“Eh?” Mico answered with sleepy surprise, unsure if he was being laughed at or not.
“That’s why you’re in trouble, boy. Just like any other sinner. Evil is calling from the past, bliss is blinding from the future. But if you had the gall to live now, you’d be not a moron but a happy-looking chap.” The man studied Mico in a bemused sort of way, like a ridiculously naive piece of art: a white T-shirt stained with liquor over his tattooed shoulders, clumps of bristle over his bovine jaws.
“Am I missing out on a party?” The bar door juddered in its frame, and Mico poked his unshaven head out. He dragged whispers of smoke down deep, trickling it back out through his nostrils, and sighed. “By mercy of this rotten place, spare a cigarette, old man! What a night I had, what a night! But I’ll be better… Maybe tomorrow. You must know the feeling, right? You look like hell yourself.” Mico stretched out a shaky hand, reaching for a cigarette.

The old man snorted, amused. “Here, another moron craving the collapse. Ha! Think the future would be nothing like the past?” His barb was a shout against his hard-bitten frame.
The man hunted through his pocket and squeezed a rumpled cigarette between his gapped teeth. The bitter smoke curled around the street, scratching Yan’s throat, sliding silver tendrils into the open windows of Norumbega.
Mico creased his forehead in consternation as the hobo passed him his lit cigarette. “What are you, caralho? A bloody savior?” He found the old man irritating.
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Have you recently met a stranger who with a scrap of curse, prophecy or weird clothes changed your day?
14
13
The man shot Yan a glinting mischievous look that seemed to say, “You see!”
The old man glanced over him, malicious laughter in his dead eyes, ignoring the question. “The king of Hell died, absurdly hoping to be happy at last.” He continued. “Happiness! Ha! What was he waiting for? A Christmas dinner? A kiss of everlasting love? Returning home? New shoes?” The man stomped his bare feet on the pavement, his tattered throw shedding white dust like a rotten tree trunk. “Waiting, waiting... Idiot! Missing out on happiness was his punishment, a penance—to be stuck in the past and only dream of the future.” A twist of frustration crept into his hoarse voice, as if the old man found his own life very upsetting. “Get up the bloody nerve to be happy now, snotty coward. I’ll tell you that for free.”
Mico scrunched his red eyes, raw at the rims, half confused but certain of insult. His bleary gaze flickered toward the hobo—a dickhead, poor, blabbing, and old. Mico sighed. His inability to pick on the senile man manifested in a sudden burst of anger he directed at young and somewhat bashful Yan.
Bonjour!” Madame Rosali cut in, beaming her effervescent smile. She bounced
“I can fuck up your happy face, Bloommygrant,” Mico said, brusquely throwing the cigarette stub in the peony bucket. “That’s my definition of penance. In a fuck-you kind of way.”
“You—!” Yan’s voice quivered, the pulse at the base of his neck beating. He couldn't turn his pain into words, but when being bullied who cared for talk?
Viola Narang
Énouement
There was a tinkling lull of silent voices on the street, ready to burst into mad laughter, when the three men noticed her pasty, paunchy body, broad feet wedged in stilettos the color of her lips, the silly red.
across the street, her tray holding two chinking porcelain cups of espresso and fresh croissants.
“Mico, Yan, oh dear!” Madame almost tripped on the cobblestones. “I know I’m forty-fi—” she caught herself “—thirty—but doesn’t this color make me younger? Mon Dieu! They say shoes can’t buy you genuine happiness, but only annoying, guilt-free people could tell such a lie. I feel like heaven! Merde!” Her stilettos lodged in a crack on the pavement, and the croissants almost slid from the tray on the street.
“If looks could kill!” The old man squinted, unable to make out whether she was lovely or frumpy. He gave up at last and threw his head back in a braying donkey laugh. Mico and Yan glanced at each other, bonding over an “oh-so women” smirk.
The man shot Yan a glinting mischievous look that seemed to say, “You see!”
The old man glanced over him, malicious laughter in his dead eyes, ignoring the question. “The king of Hell died, absurdly hoping to be happy at last.” He continued. “Happiness! Ha! What was he waiting for? A Christmas dinner? A kiss of everlasting love? Returning home? New shoes?” The man stomped his bare feet on the pavement, his tattered throw shedding white dust like a rotten tree trunk. “Waiting, waiting... Idiot! Missing out on happiness was his punishment, a penance—to be stuck in the past and only dream of the future.” A twist of frustration crept into his hoarse voice, as if the old man found his own life very upsetting. “Get up the bloody nerve to be happy now, snotty coward. I’ll tell you that for free.”
Mico scrunched his red eyes, raw at the rims, half confused but certain of insult. His bleary gaze flickered toward the hobo—a dickhead, poor, blabbing, and old. Mico sighed. His inability to pick on the senile man manifested in a sudden burst of anger he directed at young and somewhat bashful Yan.
Bonjour!” Madame Rosali cut in, beaming her effervescent smile. She bounced across the street, her tray holding two chinking porcelain cups of espresso and fresh croissants.
“I can fuck up your happy face, Bloommygrant,” Mico said, brusquely throwing the cigarette stub in the peony bucket. “That’s my definition of penance. In a fuck-you kind of way.”
“You—!” Yan’s voice quivered, the pulse at the base of his neck beating. He couldn't turn his pain into words, but when being bullied who cared for talk?
There was a tinkling lull of silent voices on the street, ready to burst into mad laughter, when the three men noticed her pasty, paunchy body, broad feet wedged in stilettos the color of her lips, the silly red.
“Mico, Yan, oh dear!” Madame almost tripped on the cobblestones. “I know I’m forty-fi—” she caught herself “—thirty—but doesn’t this color make me younger? Mon Dieu! They say shoes can’t buy you genuine happiness, but only annoying, guilt-free people could tell such a lie. I feel like heaven! Merde!” Her stilettos lodged in a crack on the pavement, and the croissants almost slid from the tray on the street.
“If looks could kill!” The old man squinted, unable to make out whether she was lovely or frumpy. He gave up at last and threw his head back in a braying donkey laugh. Mico and Yan glanced at each other, bonding over an “oh-so women” smirk.
16
15
Appalled, Madame recoiled at the sight of the homeless old man. She quirked her eyes down at his bare feet; her luscious lips dried into dull maroon.
Viola Narang
Énouement
“Who are you?” she said with disgust, dropping her well-bred coquettish demeanor.
“Any street has enough space for a coward, a fool, a woman, and a scuzzy bum.”
“Your kind,” Madame said warily, “lives in other places, but Janjero is a well-respected—”
“But I belong here. This street is my past. Just hanging around for a while. My home, my tomb.” The hobo set the cup down delicately, exactly in the center of the saucer.
“Over my dead body you do!” Madame’s voice rose to a shout. Her eyes pierced the old man, studying his withered face for signs of evil. But he was probably a homeless lunatic, too rotten for any real harm.
Mon Dieu! Leave, now!” Madame tightened her grip on the tray; her nails were painted a lustrous pink.
“Myself.” The old man roughly reached over to claim one cup of espresso. He held the drink in the air, saluting the woman, then glugged it throatily. “You’ve made my life more bearable now. A goddamned good coffee! How do, Madame?”
“You’ve made my life more bearable now. A goddamned good coffee! How do, Madame?”
Appalled, Madame recoiled at the sight of the homeless old man. She quirked her eyes down at his bare feet; her luscious lips dried into dull maroon.
“Who are you?” she said with disgust, dropping her well-bred coquettish demeanor.
“Any street has enough space for a coward, a fool, a woman, and a scuzzy bum.”
“Your kind,” Madame said warily, “lives in other places, but Janjero is a well-respected—”
“But I belong here. This street is my past. Just hanging around for a while. My home, my tomb.” The hobo set the cup down delicately, exactly in the center of the saucer.
“Over my dead body you do!” Madame’s voice rose to a shout. Her eyes pierced the old man, studying his withered face for signs of evil. But he was probably a homeless lunatic, too rotten for any real harm.
Mon Dieu! Leave, now!” Madame tightened her grip on the tray; her nails were painted a lustrous pink.
“Myself.” The old man roughly reached over to claim one cup of espresso. He held the drink in the air, saluting the woman, then glugged it throatily. “You’ve made my life more bearable now. A goddamned good coffee! How do, Madame?”
18
17
He turned to the half-lit wall, playing with his gnarled fingers and the cup, as if performing a shadow play. The shadows undraped themselves and stretched out against the chipped blue tiles, long and thin, jumping as the man moved, forming odd shapes.
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Have you ever looked at your own shadow? What does it hide or reveal about you?
The old man made a mocking little bow. “Nice company for the all-good Hell, too, right?”
“A grand man he was, the king, with the heart of a grumpy fool. As you see, rules for happiness are set in life; too late if you are already dead.” The old man sent Madame a wide, rotten-toothed grin and added soothingly, “And now he is dead,
Viola Narang
Énouement
“Mon Dieu!” Madame squeaked, almost jumping out of her stilettos. She looked tremulously at the arched church tower. “That’s a wicked thing!”
anyone can reign over his realm. Care to volunteer?”
“You are short on humor, Madame,” the old man jeered, his eyes innocently wide. “I didn’t invent death, so I won’t apologize for it. This craze for happiness though—”
“Bullshit.” Mico spluttered the word that had been on everyone’s mind. “How could your king of Hell die? Aren’t we all immortal in the end?”
“Here, when the king of Hell died, all his court and subjects danced for endless nights. They carried his dead body in a palanquin, beating drums, singing and drinking.” The man mimicked dancing figures, wiggling his fingers and the coffee cup left and right.
“What blasphemy! Janjero is a well-respected place!” Madame’s powdered cheeks ruffled, gray wrinkles hinting at her real age. “I’m calling the police! Nasty world wars sweep so much dust under our doors. Not you, dear Yan, not you, of course. I mean this riffraff. Oh, the poverty, the stench! So sickening!”
Unbothered by her rage, the old man continued spinning his crazy stories. “King or pauper alike, the same fate awaits everyone. We all move toward one goal, trudging through the gulf between the past and future, heading for death. You too, ma femme.” The man squinted at the tray in Madame’s hands. “But a handful of happiness gives some sort of a reprieve. Le bonheur! A simple solution to whatever is wrong with your life. Here and now.”
A peculiar heavy silence hung across Janjero. Yan blinked dumbly, unable to take his eyes off the old man. Janjero? Happiness? Hell?
He turned to the half-lit wall, playing with his gnarled fingers and the cup, as if performing a shadow play. The shadows undraped themselves and stretched out against the chipped blue tiles, long and thin, jumping as the man moved, forming odd shapes.
Take a break. Sip some coffee. Have you ever looked at your own shadow? What does it hide or reveal about you?
The old man made a mocking little bow. “Nice company for the all-good Hell, too, right?”
“A grand man he was, the king, with the heart of a grumpy fool. As you see, rules for happiness are set in life; too late if you are already dead.” The old man sent Madame a wide, rotten-toothed grin and added soothingly, “And now he is dead, anyone can reign over his realm. Care to volunteer?”
“Mon Dieu!” Madame squeaked, almost jumping out of her stilettos. She looked tremulously at the arched church tower. “That’s a wicked thing!”
“You are short on humor, Madame,” the old man jeered, his eyes innocently wide. “I didn’t invent death, so I won’t apologize for it. This craze for happiness though—”
“Bullshit.” Mico spluttered the word that had been on everyone’s mind. “How could your king of Hell die? Aren’t we all immortal in the end?”
“Here, when the king of Hell died, all his court and subjects danced for endless nights. They carried his dead body in a palanquin, beating drums, singing and drinking.” The man mimicked dancing figures, wiggling his fingers and the coffee cup left and right.
“What blasphemy! Janjero is a well-respected place!” Madame’s powdered cheeks ruffled, gray wrinkles hinting at her real age. “I’m calling the police! Nasty world wars sweep so much dust under our doors. Not you, dear Yan, not you, of course. I mean this riffraff. Oh, the poverty, the stench! So sickening!”
Unbothered by her rage, the old man continued spinning his crazy stories. “King or pauper alike, the same fate awaits everyone. We all move toward one goal, trudging through the gulf between the past and future, heading for death. You too, ma femme.” The man squinted at the tray in Madame’s hands. “But a handful of happiness gives some sort of a reprieve. Le bonheur! A simple solution to whatever is wrong with your life. Here and now.”
A peculiar heavy silence hung across Janjero. Yan blinked dumbly, unable to take his eyes off the old man. Janjero? Happiness? Hell?
20
19
He held her terrified eyes. “Die?”
"Time is not a panacea fea all ouh woes," he said thickly between chews.
After a beat, the man continued. “The king of Hell was conked on his mule-brained head. A knife? I don’t know. A stone? A gun? Does it even matter? Death of the body is bitter, but death of the soul is worse. His soul died, lost its meaning... Tut! Madame! Mais tu rêves, you keep dreaming. Don’t rub your happiness off on this old street!”
His unhinged face brightened, as if life had creaked back into his body along with coffee and golden-baked dough.
Viola Narang
Énouement
Madame flinched. His mock nonchalance or her own naive fear of the unknown were making her nauseous. Or maybe it was just his stench. Mon Dieu! She would never… She would always… Well, if she ever died…
“Aren’t you dead inside already?” The old man hoovered up another croissant. “Livin’ like there’s no tomoough?” He chewed the pastry slowly, surveying her wrinkles with a strange smile. “You’ll be fifty one day, maybe, if lucky, even sixty. Don’t hurt yourself, living a life without your dear le bonheur.
“I left happiness to God too. I didn’t know back then that the choice of happiness was a portal to my life, a myriad of routes to pasts, futures, heavens, even hells. I didn't know that it was there with me all the time.”
“Unhurt souls don't exist,” Mico snapped. “Leave happiness to God.”
“Happiness to God,” the old man reiterated. His eyes wandered around the street, absorbing its corners, tiles. It was hard to imagine what life he’d lived that turned him into this homeless loony, freeing his mind to blather odd prophecies and teach the slovenly, heedless youth.
The man winked at the woman, pointing with the coffee cup at her obviously uncomfortable shoes. She bristled, catching herself caressing her hair coquettishly. Good God! A washed-up sort of man and she, a sensible woman! What would the people of Janjero think?
“I’m deadly serious—mon Dieu I am serious! Stay the hell away from my street or I swear on my life I… I—” Madame snatched the empty coffee cup from the man’s hands; color rose in her cheeks, a blotch of ugly red.
He held her terrified eyes. “Die?”
"Time is not a panacea fea all ouh woes," he said thickly between chews.
After a beat, the man continued. “The king of Hell was conked on his mule-brained head. A knife? I don’t know. A stone? A gun? Does it even matter? Death of the body is bitter, but death of the soul is worse. His soul died, lost its meaning... Tut! Madame! Mais tu rêves, you keep dreaming. Don’t rub your happiness off on this old street!”
His unhinged face brightened, as if life had creaked back into his body along with coffee and golden-baked dough.
Madame flinched. His mock nonchalance or her own naive fear of the unknown were making her nauseous. Or maybe it was just his stench. Mon Dieu! She would never… She would always… Well, if she ever died…
“Aren’t you dead inside already?” The old man hoovered up another croissant. “Livin’ like there’s no tomoough?” He chewed the pastry slowly, surveying her wrinkles with a strange smile. “You’ll be fifty one day, maybe, if lucky, even sixty. Don’t hurt yourself, living a life without your dear le bonheur.
“I left happiness to God too. I didn’t know back then that the choice of happiness was a portal to my life, a myriad of routes to pasts, futures, heavens, even hells. I didn't know that it was there with me all the time.”
“Unhurt souls don't exist,” Mico snapped. “Leave happiness to God.”
“Happiness to God,” the old man reiterated. His eyes wandered around the street, absorbing its corners, tiles. It was hard to imagine what life he’d lived that turned him into this homeless loony, freeing his mind to blather odd prophecies and teach the slovenly, heedless youth.
The man winked at the woman, pointing with the coffee cup at her obviously uncomfortable shoes. She bristled, catching herself caressing her hair coquettishly. Good God! A washed-up sort of man and she, a sensible woman! What would the people of Janjero think?
“I’m deadly serious—mon Dieu I am serious! Stay the hell away from my street or I swear on my life I… I—” Madame snatched the empty coffee cup from the man’s hands; color rose in her cheeks, a blotch of ugly red.
22
21
Yan raised his eyebrows. Blown chances, fears of change—was that why Mico
For the first time, Madame seemed to find herself without words. “Um.” A shallow breath followed. She fiddled with one of her earrings and slurred vaguely, “I was happy when I married that frivolous wanker. I was young back then. I was promised a future of love.” She chewed her lip. A lonely tear slid down her face. “But he deserted me.”
The man grinned to himself, looking back on his life from afar, and gabbled on. “Oh, I was happy when I kissed my not-yet-shrewish wife. Her lips trembled, my lips trembled. I was happy when I sailed over the seas for the first time—the waves murmured; the quiet water never smelled of doom. Oh, I was also happy when I saw the first smile on my child’s face, those tiny hills of cheeks, those tiny arcs of brows. Or that night in the desert, the moon, the dazzling dunes!” The man shuddered, returning to reality. “Serves me well for coming back here. To find a past that I did not know I could possibly have. A past of happiness.”
Viola Narang
Énouement
Suddenly it all became clear. She was not a happy woman, as Yan had always thought. Her naked need for worth, woven into her mannerisms, flashy jewels, lips, this desperate color of red, was only a shield against the gaping wound time had left in her heart. Her once-sweet age had turned sour.
“I was happy,” Mico spluttered suddenly. “When I was offered a chance to go to America, work there, live there. But I never—caralho!—whatever.” Surprised to hear his voice crack, he hastily shoved his own sadness down into a cough.
The man grinned to himself, looking back on his life from afar, and gabbled on.
Yan raised his eyebrows. Blown chances, fears of change—was that why Mico behaved this way? One unhappy bully battling with his own bullied dreams.
For the first time, Madame seemed to find herself without words. “Um.” A shallow breath followed. She fiddled with one of her earrings and slurred vaguely, “I was happy when I married that frivolous wanker. I was young back then. I was promised a future of love.” She chewed her lip. A lonely tear slid down her face. “But he deserted me.”
The man grinned to himself, looking back on his life from afar, and gabbled on. “Oh, I was happy when I kissed my not-yet-shrewish wife. Her lips trembled, my lips trembled. I was happy when I sailed over the seas for the first time—the waves murmured; the quiet water never smelled of doom. Oh, I was also happy when I saw the first smile on my child’s face, those tiny hills of cheeks, those tiny arcs of brows. Or that night in the desert, the moon, the dazzling dunes!” The man shuddered, returning to reality. “Serves me well for coming back here. To find a past that I did not know I could possibly have. A past of happiness.”
Suddenly it all became clear. She was not a happy woman, as Yan had always thought. Her naked need for worth, woven into her mannerisms, flashy jewels, lips, this desperate color of red, was only a shield against the gaping wound time had left in her heart. Her once-sweet age had turned sour.
“I was happy,” Mico spluttered suddenly. “When I was offered a chance to go to America, work there, live there. But I never—caralho!—whatever.” Surprised to hear his voice crack, he hastily shoved his own sadness down into a cough.
The man grinned to himself, looking back on his life from afar, and gabbled on.
24
23
“I’m Frank, by the way.” The man held out his hand in farewell to Yan.
“Death hands us this gift,” he said soothingly. “A gift of choice. And life carves out so many streets to happiness.”
The old man cradled his rumpled pack of cigarettes and gave one to Mico with a grimace that conveyed “it will be better tomorrow, right?”
behaved this way? One unhappy bully battling with his own bullied dreams.
Viola Narang
Énouement
The man swept another cup of coffee from the tray to his mouth. A disgusted expression crossed his face, and he spat the dark liquid out on the pavement. “The dregs of my life. Cold and bitter. Eh, the bliss didn’t last long.”
The old man set the cup back on the tray, then kissed the absent-minded Madame on her cheek.
“Happiness is nothing but a choice. If you want to make it right for all eternity, live.”
Frank turned round and lumbered heavily back toward the arched tower, whistling a rueful tune. “Happiness, where are you? Seriously, where are you?”
Yan watched the old man disappear in the glowing light, feeling nothing but a kind of peace. A movie of his past played in his head in reverse. To his surprise, the most unbearable moments now felt nostalgic, bright, and partly healed.
Maybe only now, as he arrived in the future he’d longed for, he’d found the past that he never knew he’d had.
He hadn’t failed. His life was fine. Not sorted yet, but it would be.
Death is not darkness but light. The strange new thought beckoned as Yan shielded his eyes from the setting sun.
“What’s with Hell then, if your king is dead?” Mico called to the disappearing man. “Mayhem?”
“I’m Frank, by the way.” The man held out his hand in farewell to Yan.
“Death hands us this gift,” he said soothingly. “A gift of choice. And life carves out so many streets to happiness.”
The old man cradled his rumpled pack of cigarettes and gave one to Mico with a grimace that conveyed “it will be better tomorrow, right?”
The man swept another cup of coffee from the tray to his mouth. A disgusted expression crossed his face, and he spat the dark liquid out on the pavement. “The dregs of my life. Cold and bitter. Eh, the bliss didn’t last long.”
The old man set the cup back on the tray, then kissed the absent-minded Madame on her cheek.
“Happiness is nothing but a choice. If you want to make it right for all eternity, live.”
Frank turned round and lumbered heavily back toward the arched tower, whistling a rueful tune. “Happiness, where are you? Seriously, where are you?”
Yan watched the old man disappear in the glowing light, feeling nothing but a kind of peace. A movie of his past played in his head in reverse. To his surprise, the most unbearable moments now felt nostalgic, bright, and partly healed.
Maybe only now, as he arrived in the future he’d longed for, he’d found the past that he never knew he’d had.
He hadn’t failed. His life was fine. Not sorted yet, but it would be.
Death is not darkness but light. The strange new thought beckoned as Yan shielded his eyes from the setting sun.
“What’s with Hell then, if your king is dead?” Mico called to the disappearing man. “Mayhem?”
26
25
Viola Narang
Énouement
“Mayhem? No! Death is the democracy of the wise and the fool. They will choose someone again, another unhappy coward. Not a big deal!” The old man’s raspy voice answered from afar before vanishing forever.
“That man is a joke.” Mico shrugged. “Too poor and old to think happiness alone shapes our life.”
He lifted the cigarette stub from his lips, edging toward the bucket.
“The hell with you, Bloommygrant.” Mico waved, noticing Yan’s knuckles turning white as he clenched his fists. Right, the florist no longer had the resilience for teasing; all the excuses for bullying simply seeped away. Mico turned round and threw the stub on the pavement, a strange turn of fate.
“Life can’t be so hard on such a good-looking boy,” Madame chirruped coyly as her shiny eyes traveled to the arched church tower, then back to Yan. She patted him, as if trying to convey the message that after all what had happened she could relate to him. She was also human.
Madame settled the tray against her waist, looked down at her own shadow, and sighed. “At least my shadow doesn’t age, but the shoes, dear God—my feet smart so badly!” She took them off with two sudden jerks and strutted barefoot back into the cafe as gleefully as she could ever be.
The day drew on. The clunk as Mico opened a can of beer echoed off the blue-
Life on Janjero went back on track, its timeless cycle, nights trading places with days, life with death, and past with future.