Rain and Coffee is a short story written by Mehreen Ahmed and shared with The Ugly Writers under the theme Quell for the month of January
Rain and Coffee
As lightning crackled, Claudia drew the curtains apart. She stood before the long French windows of her penthouse apartment and looked down at a wet alley. The cobblestones of the boulevard shone in the falling rain of dismal clouds. It hadn’t rained for days. She yawned and then she stretched. Across the boulevard, a boulangerie just opened for the day. She saw a young Baker bringing out a basket of fresh croissants. He displayed them in a glassed cove. They were enticing, particularly today, the morning’s gloom added an extra pizzazz to the atmosphere.
This place lent Claudia a bird’s-eye view to the entire alley. A young Baker came out of the cafe. At a pull of a wiry string hanging by the side of a wall, he flicked open the cafe’s maroon awning with a white wavy line down the edge. It jutted over the pavement; water droplets dribbled out of the awning’s open corners. Standing by the tall window, Claudia watched without any misgivings, the morning’s fate unfolding.
A flower shop stood next door. Wet flowers drooped in the heavy battering of the rain. Flowers rooted to their pots’ black soils. A cluster of pots under the shop’s white awning. A young flower girl rushed outside to take the pots indoors. She carried them, one pot at a time. She flitted in and out in a long, pink skirt and a mauve blouse. When she came back to collect more pots, her foot stumbled in her skirt’s hem; she slipped and fell down on her ankle on the wet cobbles. This caught the young Baker’s attention. He ran over to assist the girl and found out that she had a sprained ankle.
Claudia watched in earnest. The Baker picked her up and brought her over into his boulangerie. He brought her a glass of water and some pills, which she took. Then he made her the finest cup of coffee, Claudia imagined, and one for himself as well. They sat down under the soaking awning to have their coffee. It was like a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. Claudia fast-paced the events into quick rag-doll movements; Charlie wooing his girlfriend, standing up and then sitting down closely next to her; his arms angled around her neck. She didn’t seem to mind. Then he brought his head down to her lips. She pouted her lips towards his. They kissed. Claudia watched this exciting moment of joy. They kissed and then they laughed. There was not a care in the world. The rain had not abated. Water gushed down the storm water drain in the rivulet.
Then this otherness retracted. This dark side slowly creeped into Claudia’s mind. Miss Havisham in her bleak house, who had everything but starved of companionship of the one true love. She owned everything, except her life. A life which passed her by, lost in the snitches of time. Claudia realised desperately that the Baker and the Florist must decide to be together. Life’s full meaning must be harnessed in this togetherness. She must tell them Miss Havisham’s tale. That they must not allow themselves to suffer the pain of a relationship break down, should they choose to decide otherwise. This sweet, sweet tale of love in the Parisian rain must not end in tangled masses of crisscrossed cobwebs.
She trod across her apartment floor, away from the windows towards an umbrella stand set along a brick wall. She picked up a transparent umbrella and set off. She ran down several flights of stairs, and out in the open on the pavement across the alley. She stood here under her umbrella and heard the soft swishes of the wind blow. She saw the rain’s tiny drizzles on her umbrella’s downturned dome. There they were, lying idle in each other’s gentle embrace; they wooed and they cooed and they whispered delightful sweet nothings without a miss. The rain must go on. It was the rain that held the enigma of the moment. She must make the rain remain longer somehow. She stood there, yes Claudia, stood like the great giant Thor, her umbrella, her hammer in the Nordic god’s immortal grips.
Something happened. Her thoughts collapsed like the switching off of a hologram projector. Claudia stepped out of character. No, it was she, who wanted to be the girl in the Baker’s arms. But not in the present, at a different time. She fell through a slit. She was with him, the Baker in Louis’ castle in Versailles. She wanted him all to herself—wait. There was a revolution. The Baker was taken prisoner from their cottage. He never returned.
But he did return to the Florist. He fell through another time slit and here he was in the morning’s rain. So did she. Oh! Where was the story going? The Baker and the Florist rose from the seats hand in hand. She looked up, her face in the rain. She laughed. He gazed at her beauty. Her laughter rang down the tapered alley leading the way to the couple’s opaque destiny. The flowers smiled in the pots, dressed to dance in threaded petals of pink, and blue frocks. A picturesque array, while the rains showered glimpses of cosmic insights. Had there been no rain, then the girl would not have fallen, and coffee would not have followed. The Baker and the Florist would not have met. Events would not have transpired the way they did.
Claudia with her umbrella, Miss Havisham’s memories from her dark days, the ghosts, a teasing thin wall of separation between her reality and this. The couple walked on. She watched them promenade and yearned for what was lost. On a timeline’s linear path, many nonlinear moments played out. The rain tapped away on the cobbles, the boulangerie, and the flower shop, a whiff in the wind of dust and sand. Music of a silent heart, a violin stringed to che sera sera whatever will be will be; Claudia’s apparition was frozen in time; this long, indelible shadow of the bleak house birdlime.
Then the mountains spoke. Voiced it in chorus, on the ancient land of Turag. A world where trees walked, winds cried, rivers sang and the mountains talked. This place, not for humans to reside anymore, but for natural lives and artificial intelligence. Turag, yes, this place, because humans have long been obliterated, like dinosaurs before them. Since then robots have replaced them. The organic world even as we speak ceased to exist, as autumnal dirge swept through the pine forests of dead wood.
They all witnessed it, the sky, the oceans and the mountains. But their voices couldn’t be heard. In the days of humans, everyone thought they were mute, who neither heard, nor spoke. But humans were wrong. They communicated and witnessed every human history. Humans didn’t see that they saw. Just as well, they saw the end of the world. They saw it all coming. There was too much clunky background noise. Humans were really a noisy lot.
Turag, once a lush plateau. Birds frolicked in the rain. Wheat and rice grass grew, and wavered under an autumn sky. Children played around, while mothers bar-b-qued corn over open fire-pits. Smoke nearly choked the neighbouring mountains of the plateau. But the mountains never complained. They smiled and took it all in their stride. They waited patiently for a miracle to happen.
In the meantime, billions of years of civilization passed. Generations toppled one another. Kings died to make way for the new. Power corrupted Kings. Mighty Kings they might have been, who won battles, killed people on the mountain steppes. The green fields turned scarlet, replacing the many resplendent shades. But wins and expansions were all that mattered to the Kings, one more despotic than the other, often sacrificed the innocent for self-aggrandisement, cared not much at all for justice, whether or not justice was mete out. Then a time came, when nature revolted. Fields stopped producing bumper crops. Rains decided not to dole out bountiful properties of the rainbow. Leaves shrivelled up. Darkness blighted the sun. Blood-moon lit the world. Machines were empowered. This new age of machines initiated a different kind of rage. An annihilation of the humans underway, to take possession of the land. They didn’t need nature to feed them, neither did they care to find beauty in it. Humans, long gone.
“Could men not have predicted this?” asked the blood-moon to the mountains.
“They could very well have, because they were the ones to make these machines. But men ignored it in a haste to chase success,” the mountains answered. The veiled sun conceded.
The mountains said. “Enter our caves and view the paintings there; stories of life foreshadowed on the dim walls. But men paid no heed. Too much background noise; they came from war drums, drunken cheers of vacuous victories, and wonton amusements. Noises which shrouded men’s judgement for everything that came to pass. Fools, they were fools! Those men, whose wisdom failed them. Only the stars knew how reckless they were. The massive destruction of innocent lives. Timeless settlements and resettlements, of nearly broken bones and spirits of men, women and children. They looked like scattered peas to the gods above. Still men endeavoured to build communities and strange dwellings to shield themselves from showers, storms, and blustery winds. They chose to ignore the transience of life. They stopped to think that the life-giving, precious air, their lifeline, was sourced from an outer world; that they had no control over. The last breath taken, very well could be on those battlefields. Relentless battles, as if there were no tomorrows. Mortals inhaled this infinite air to harness what little strengths they could, and stored them within their caged shells. A mortal existence, without any rhyme or reason. The immortals while they remained, so tied humans to the timeline, and made them mortals. Ah! But humans didn’t think that far ahead. Too limited for predictions. That their passions exultant, looped them up into this paradox. That this paradox would also lead to the destruction of the human race. By far, their intelligence caused this downfall,”said blood-moon.“Did they have a choice?
“Well, you and I seemed to have outlived humans.
While they had this conversation, a dust storm picked up on the far side of the plateau. A russet gust of winds rolled in and darkened the mountains, clogged up its crevices and valleys. It covered the blood-moon too, rendering a sad world to further gloom. This wasn’t the end surely? The mountains thought. They had difficulty breathing; the air had ceased. The trees stopped walking to get their bearings back; the rivers stopped singing. They broke out into hiccups and coughs. These tumults in the surroundings shook the peace. No human hand at play, to create this havoc. The machines ran amok, and kept losing their vital parts. There was no one to fix them. Machines could doctor one another, but they didn’t get that opportunity. Because, even they couldn’t predict this. A human failing of flawed design, to be certain.
An impending disaster loomed. Another kind of warfare started within nature itself. The winds clashed with the rising tide. Mountains stood guard, to stop the storm from going any further. But the lightning then befell the mountain tips. Series of volcanic eruptions, and melted glaciers paved the way to pandemonium. The overflowed lava wedded the falling lightning, and danced in spiralled tango. Complete chaos beset the land of Turag. In the wake of a present danger, the blood-moon shot out of sight. The storms, the lightning, left history in awe. Then a heat wave surged. Turag was hot again. Turag hotting up! The lava ran in a rivulet towards the swelling seas. The oceans submerged the mountains. The plateau of Turag, now under water, saw another breathing world beneath the oceans. Once again there was life. Mermaids swam unhindered. A clear sun ruled and gave humans a second chance.