Crush: Chapter 1

Photo: Valeri Randalainen

“Regular mocha with whipped cream”.

That sounds nice. I step forward to claim it. The person who paid for it steps forward too. But he stalls. I pick up the cup. We look at each other over the tops of our masks. He recognises me. “Oh, I ordered the same drink as well,” he says.

“It’s a common drink,” I say. He blushes. I can feel his embarrassment without that cue. I can’t stop myself from feeling it. I don’t even have to reach into his head. Some people are like that. Their emotions are rank farts I can’t help but breathe in. He doesn’t challenge me for the drink. My minor fame warps his sense of reality. “Lots of people order the same drink.” I give him a big, fat, lying grin.

“I guess so,” he says. We both squint-smile with our eyes over our masks. Both silently agreeing that I fucked him but he won’t say anything about it. He knows he will stand around for a few minutes before telling the barista that they missed his order. Then the universe will be back to normal.

Outside the generic franchise café, I pull my mask down and take a sip. Too much sugar. It tastes like I’m giving the Easter Bunny a rim job. I put the coffee into the nearest bin.

It’s a few hours until I’m supposed to be at work. COVID-19 regulations have made it impossible to kill time in the city. Everything except takeaways and supermarkets is closed. All you can do is work and buy stuff. Nowhere to sit, nowhere to have a beer. Nothing to help you forget that your life is ending right now and you have nothing to show for it except some mild fame and a cupboard of unfinished courses of different antibiotics.

A digital billboard above the train station screams, “Follow government guidance to avoid local lockdown measures.” It must’ve been ordered before the third national lockdown. Then it switches to an advert for Disney+. Mulan looks down on me with her righteous glare. Homer Simpson looks dumb and happy.

Deliver me from caring, Homer Simpson.

I pull up the face nappy and head into the nearest underground station. Under the giant image of the Righteous Mulan and Sage Simpson, a man hands me a leaflet telling me that Jesus is a prophet of Islam. “Where do you stand on Homer Simpson?” I ask him.

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