On my way home, there’s this café.
At first, I didn’t really notice it. It was painted a weird off-white, with a black, wooden sign that said “Café Eris” in a scrawled font that looked suspiciously like it was hand-carved. The large window on the left was blocked by atrocious plaid curtains, red and green. And don’t get me started on the name. What does Café Eris even mean?
I mean, I suppose it’s noticeable in it’s own way...that is, not in a good way. But for me it was all too familiar. Just a tacky little shop you could find anywhere back home, run by nice people with bad taste. I thought the big city would have better standards.
I suppose I’m not one to talk though, because my standards are lower than I thought. After all, I ended up working in said café. Let me explain.
I was walking home from the bus stop one day, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something.
A dainty girl around my age, wearing a laced dress, was sitting inside the café. Despite the clouded glass, it was clear to me that she was exceptionally pretty. As she ran her fingers through her long dark hair, our eyes met. She gave me a gentle smile.
It felt like time stopped.
Then I realized I was staring. Well, that’s kind of embarrassing. I quickly shifted my gaze, pretending to look at the sign on the door.
It was a little piece of printer paper with a tiny font, barely readable. It said, “Hiring”. I had seen it before, but paid it no attention. I glanced back at the girl who was still smiling.
Actually, now that I really thought about it, a job was exactly what I needed right now. I went to art school after all. Living off of nearly expired salad boxes and some promise of future employment was running its course on me. This place was just 5 minutes away from where I was staying. And the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen goes there.
Maybe I would give Café Eris a chance after all.
The next day, I walked in to get a feel of the place. I looked around to see if I could steal a glance of the girl I’d seen through the front glass yesterday, but I guess she wasn’t around. There weren’t many other customers in the café. Figures. I scanned the room to find a total of three customers, all sitting at different tables, quite far away from each other.
One was a woman in a trench coat, surrounded by mugs. It seems she was on her fourth cup of coffee. A few tables behind her was a guy around my age with messy hair wearing headphones and pajamas. The clicking sound of his laptop keyboard filled the café. It seemed he didn’t order anything, and he also seemed a little...out of it, if you know what I mean. He looked oddly familiar. Finally, near the opposite wall, almost unnoticeable, was a girl with an unfinished muffin and a stack of papers.
Opposite to the entrance was the counter, and behind it I noticed there was now a short, bald man in an apron that said, “KISS THE CHEF.” I was mildly horrified, but still determined to get a job.
“Tristan! You’re here. Ready for the interview?” he smiled.
I froze on the spot. My hand twitched.
“Tristan?” he asked.
I had never told him my name...and how did he know I’m here for an interview??? I wondered what kind of face I was making right now. Likely some mix of confusion, disgust and terror.
Whatever it was, he seemed to have smelled my fear, and found it amusing. He laughed and gestured for me to follow him into the back room.
I hesitated, but then followed him. Nonetheless, my intuition told me I did not want to be alone with this man.
He led me into a small dark room with a plastic foldable table and chairs. I sat down opposite him, and he took out a few papers. He turned on a small table lamp, shining it directly in my face. What is this? An interrogation?
“So, we got your resume,” he said distractedly, looking through the papers, “and I like what I see so far.”
I did not send him my resume.
He continued, “Your past job experience doesn’t really line up with our work here, but for some, this is their first job, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. What really matters is your character.”
He paused and gave me a meaningful look. I cluelessly stared back.
“Since this job is customer service and all!” he piped up. “Anyway, I’m just going to ask you a few questions to see if you’ll be a good fit for the work we do here, that sound good?”
So far, this was like a normal interview, but that didn’t make it any less unnerving. The smile had not once left his face. Before I could answer, he started talking again. Does this man even breathe?
“So, tell me a little about yourself.”
Did he really need to ask me that though? He already knew my name. Who knows what else he already figured out.
“Well, my name is Tristan Smith, and I’m a first year university student studying design at Norm Alperson University. I think I-”
“WOW, you’re a design student, eh? A plain guy like you?!” He interrupted, giving a boisterous laugh, “You should give us some pointers on how to spruce up the place.”
“Yeah, sure...anyways...what I was about to say was, I think I’d definitely be an asset to your staff because I’m responsible and a quick learner. My volunteer experience is also…”
I trailed off. He looked like he wasn't listening.
“That’s great. Now let me ask you something,” he changed the subject.
Um, isn't that what he’s been doing this whole time? This is an interview… Right?
Suddenly, his smile grew to something more unsettling. This ugly, middle-aged man reminded me of a bird of prey...like...like...an eagle! Yes, a bald eagle. The beak-like smile, the intense stare, and of course, the baldness 一 it triggered my fight or flight response. I braced myself for what he was about to ask me next.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
What does that have to do with the job though???
“No, I don’t believe in ghosts,” I answered firmly.
At this point I was sure this guy was just messing with me. The questions just kept getting weirder and weirder.
“How do you feel about ASDF Airlines? Do you listen to kpop? What’s your favourite group? What's the scientific name for the knee? Are you sensitive to loud noises? Do you have any trauma I should know about?”
He kept asking without even giving me a chance to answer. I tried to keep up.
“Um, I’ve never taken that airline, and, um...yeah, I know some kpop stuff, like uh...SBT... or no, I think it was TSB… I don't know much about knees and I don’t think I'm sensitive to loud noises. And, trauma? I- I guess not? Um, are these questions necessary???”
There was a long pause.
“It’s actually STB, Tristan.” He smiled, looking a little disappointed.
“Oh...uh...sorry?” I fumbled. Then I paused. “Wait, what’s your name???”
“Oh, right,” he grinned. “The name’s Ryan, Ryan Scanta. But you can call me Boss.”
“I’ll pass,” I replied flatly.
He chuckled. “Alrighty, last question, and the most important…
...Do you believe in fate?”
I went silent. He was acting strangely serious.
Now it was my turn to piss him off by acting like a complete loon.
I picked at my nails. “What exactly do you mean by fate?”
“Well,” Scanta began, speaking carefully, “the idea that everyone has a predestined path, and the outcome cannot be changed no matter what decisions are made.
“Hmm...I don’t know...seems a little abstract. Can you give me the dictionary definition?” I spat on the vinyl floor. Except not really. I just made the sound.
Unfazed, Scanta took out his phone. “Hey Biri, what is the definition of fate?”
“which word? eff, ayy, tee, eee? or, eff, eee, tee, eee?”
“Fate, Biri, Eff ayy tee eee.”
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Did you mean, a fate is eerie?”
“No, eff, ayy...teeeee…..eeeee.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand. Could you repeat that?”
At this point I just felt sorry for him.
“You know what, it’s okay, forget it. Fate, right? Let’s just go with no. What’s the point in anything happening if everything is already decided?”
He put down his phone. “You’re right,” he chuckled, “What’s the point?” He looked a little sad for a moment.
Or maybe I imagined it. His disturbing little smile returned, and it seemed he had come to a decision. “You start tomorrow at 9 AM.”
He stood up and pushed in his chair.
“I hope you enjoy your job here, it truly is a timeless café.”
“You’ll be paid 80% more than minimum wage.”
Needless to say, I arrived at the café the next morning, 5 minutes early.
And that, was the biggest mistake of my life.