“My mother will start to worry
– Beautiful, what’s your hurry?
Father will be pacing the floor
– Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry
– Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Maybe just a half a drink more
– Put some records on while I pour….”
The faint sound of Christmas carols fill the air with a cheerful buzz, accompanied by a whiff of cinnamon. She absent-mindedly looks for her coat and keys, and puts it on. She takes out her phone and sends a quick text.
“A few more minutes. Need coffee.”
She puts on the only pair of rain boots she can see, and grabs her umbrella as she tumbles out of her apartment. She should have worn her own rain boots, because his are too big for her.
It’s Christmas Eve and everyone is out doing a bit of last minute shopping. She wonders if she has anyone else to shop for. She bought only one gift. Should she have bought a gift for anybody else? How long has it been since she bought a gift for her parents? She cannot even remember the last time she talked to them for more than a few minutes. But she does remember the last time her father bought her a gift. It was a bar of chocolate that was as silky smooth as her hair when her mother would brush it on cold winter mornings. They were quite well off, and she could and would have anything she wanted. Yet, a simple gesture of love was the one gift she remembered the most fondly. The chocolate had tiny caramel chunks that tasted like buttery sin heaven. The day her father gave it to her, she almost cried. They had just fought. Again. The small offering of peace restored her faith in family. She broke off a sizeable piece and offered the rest to her parents. She felt happy and content. It was one of the last and only happy memories she had with her family.
Her house always had the lingering scent of coffee, especially when her father was home. As things started to turn sour, that omnipresent scent became oppressive. Screaming, fighting and shattered objects became a frequent occurrence. She sometimes wondered if her neighbours had gotten used to the war-torn family that lived next door.
When she was sixteen, she declared that they weren’t a family any more, merely three people living in the same house. When she turned eighteen, she packed her bags and left, vowing never to set foot in her family house again.
Her anger intensified over the years, but also drove her passion to succeed in her life. For one of the last things her father told her was that she would never be successful at anything, certainly if she took up art as her choice of profession. Today, she co-owns her own graphic design house.
She tried to emotionally and psychologically distance herself from her parents as well. Her biggest fear was that she would turn out exactly like her mother, or act like her father. She didn’t want to become the people she couldn’t stand. However, despite her best efforts, she retained her mother’s penchant for baking and her father’s love for coffee.
Oh, how she loved coffee. It would not only wake her up, it would also remind her to be alert, a quality she always associated with her father. Only when her father was in the house would the strong, almost suffocating emanation of coffee pervade through the air.
She trudges along in the muddy snow, steaming coffee in hand. Reaching her destination, she winds up the familiar set of staircases leading to his apartment. The door is ajar. He’s expecting her. It’s so warm inside that she takes off all her clothes, one by one, until she is wearing only the thin dress she layered under all the coats. Sipping her coffee, she sits down on his lap.
He is facing the window on a settee with a cigarette in hand. The fumes of the cigarette and the steam of the coffee mingle, finding the same way out of the apartment though a tiny opening in the window.
“Did your mum call today?” She asks.
Taking a puff, he says, “Yes she did.”
“Did you answer?”
“No but she left a recording. The usual. ‘Merry Christmas and today is the anniversary of your father’s passing. I hope you pray for him.’ She knows that I don’t pray. I don’t know why she insists I do it every year.”
Taking another sip of her coffee she mumbles, “She’s your mother. She cares about you.”
Another puff, and he replies, “I could say the same about your family.”
Irritated, she gets up and throws away the empty cup of coffee. In the kitchen she takes out bags of flour and sugar.
“You should really stop smoking. Your father died of lung cancer. I’m not asking you to care about your family, I’m asking you to care about yourself.”
He gets up and follows her to the kitchen.
“You love coffee, I love cigarettes. We both know why. Some parts of our family life will never fully escape us, will they?” He says as he leans on the counter while she makes a cake batter, her mother’s recipe.
“Yes. But I’m your family now. And I want you to stop smoking.” She demands.
“Yeah, I’ll stop. I’ve been meaning to, anyway. Dad is gone. It’s not the same any more.” He says as he rolls his hands around her waist.
“If only your mother knew how you honoured your father.”
Turning her around to face him, he whispers, “Maybe bad relationships lead to bad habits. Mine is to honour the man I tried to get away from all my life by adopting the same habit as him. Yours is to make the same Christmas cake your mother used to make each year, all the while speaking not more than three words a year to either of your parents.”
She smoothens out the crinkle in his shirt and replies as gently as she can, “Yes, but my habit will not kill me. I want to spend my life with you, trying to forgive and forget our pasts. I do not want you to be my past.”
“I know. I decided before you came in that this is my last one. It’s been 5 years since the old man flew away. I don’t want to join him any time soon. This is the last. I promise.” he utters as he throws the cigarette into the trash. The empty cigarette butt falls into the empty coffee cup.
He breathes in. And out.
“Thank you.” She says before their lips meet and the taste of coffee and cigarettes dissolve into each other.