This post is a continuation of Jacob’s previous upload, which can be found by clicking this hyperlink.
Ilona was a receptive and dependable learner. She listened to the instructions offered by The Waiter and carried out her responsibilities dutifully and without hesitation. Her efforts were tireless, and she seldom requested a break. Her constant working habits permitted The Waiter to focus on connecting with café visitors while she organized articles behind the bar, polished surfaces, and disposed of any clutter. Individuals cycled throughout the café endlessly and the implications of eternity frequently intervened in conversations between the two workers.
She possessed a curious soul, contrary to her desire for a lack of expectations. This duality plagued her. Her search for answers would always lead to another assumption of what is to come. Ilona would mutter under her breath as she wiped down empty glasses, pondering who created such a setting for vexed souls to search for answers about their former lives. Particularly, she wondered how she fit into the schematics of it all.
How could she? It wasn’t as if she was told about some higher purpose that she possessed. No, instead, she was put to work by a café waiter who helps guide people in the correct direction. So, in the end, maybe this was her proper course—this was where she was meant to be all along.
Every once in a while, words of affirmation would expel from The Waiter’s mouth and shower her in praise. These words reinforced her sense of self and inspired her to keep going, despite any internalized pressures of insignificance. She relied on those brief moments of respite when the two could reflect on the café, their relationships, and what was needed from one another.
Often, laughter would fill the air behind the bar. Ilona would reach out to The Waiter for guidance, leaning on his expertise, and his instruction was concise, yet supportive, allowing her the space to learn from her own experience. Jokes and light-hearted quips always punctuated the end of his guidance. She found him to be sidesplittingly humorous, especially when she begged him to share his own lessons from learning on the job.
“Well, I initially struggled to broach conversations with individuals. So, I started saying ‘will you be dying in tonight?’ and people really seemed to like that one. It interrupted all feelings of anxiety for them. The laughter that would follow gave each of us the confidence to continue talking casually.”
Ilona, too, giggled at the anecdote while she disposed of a wadded-up, dirty rag. “I might have to borrow that one from you at some point,” she said.
The Waiter’s head rocked back and forth on his neck. “There’s no need for that. You are perfect as you are, right now.” There was a brief pause. Then, “You do great work and shouldn’t have to worry yourself with the troubled state of others who come to this place.”
She looked toward the dining room and her eyes jumped from one individual to the next. Then, she smiled at his enlightening advice. “How long did you need to train before you were ready to work with the guests?”
Jutted out from him, his finger was pointed at the bridge of her sharp nose. “I am still unprepared. After all of this endless time, very little has changed other than the shapes of the visitors. I will spare you from worrying about such a task. You will appreciate me for it.”
Ilona offered him a grin and twirled the pink ribbon between her fingers. The two then returned to their respective tasks, although their minds remained on one another. She stole glances at him behind soiled dishes. When an individual would find a place at the bar, Ilona studied the interactions between The Waiter and the visitor. She idolized the work, nearly obsessively. She relied on his advice and spiritual musings. She needed him.
The population of the café proceeded to materialize suddenly, then instinctively exit through the silver doors. Ilona’s curiosity of what happens outside the café had been exposed on several occasions, but each time was met with reassurance from The Waiter. She was exactly where she needed to be. The fear and the torment and the cries that wait beyond those doors should never belong to her. Although she needed his reminders, her satisfaction was evident. She did appreciate him for it.
In the midst of slow periods of traffic, Ilona would eagerly question The Waiter about his spiritual philosophies. She became engrossed in learning as much as she could about her mentor, clamoring for more details and privately hoping that no one would come up to the bar. Her infatuation with his beliefs would lead to extensive conversations about purpose, belonging, and self-actualization. She utilized every instant of seclusion from the café crowd as an invitation to share a meaningful, irreplaceable moment with him.
“Have you ever thought that your soul is intrinsically connected to this bar?” She asked The Waiter.
“Everyone becomes attached to the things they work with so closely.”
Ilona nodded, but she wasn’t satisfied with the answer. “Yes; however, this bar could not have functioned without you in it. In fact, I’m not certain how it functioned without me in it. There seems to be the exact amount of work needed here for two people, yet you’ve managed it independently forever.”
An eyebrow on The Waiter’s face twitched. “I used to manage it fine, but an eternity weighs on oneself. Those who are successful are not afraid to reach out to others for help. Just as you always do with me. That is how I know you will always excel in this café.”
She nodded again, pleased with his approval of her. With every exchange between the two, a note of praise was offered to Ilona for reassurance. She did not need to dwell on philosophical concerns as long as her thoughts lie before her on the bar.
“I once heard about this out-of-body experience theory,” Ilona resumed. “While on Earth, in a corporeal body, it is possible for someone to project their soul outside of the skeleton and muscles and flesh that contain it. It’s no different than someone driving a sedan. The body is a vehicle and the soul is the driver. If a driver were to never leave the inside of the sedan, remain invisible to the public, and only communicated through the tools that the car offers, they would likely be referred to as a sedan for their existence. However, if the driver can actualize itself and recognize that it is trapped inside a sedan, it should, with training, be able to exit. The soul, too, should be able to exit the human body.”
“Fascinating.” The eyes of The Waiter fell on a rag resting in the sink.
“The opposite is happening here,” she said. “This café bar feels like an extension of your soul that you are inside.” She paused for a moment and analyzed The Waiter’s reactions. Though his face remained still. “You’ve trapped yourself here. You’re unwilling to leave. You’re convinced this place is full of dust and dirt and grime, but I can’t see a thing.”
That’s not true. Ilona’s eyes have not yet adapted to the lighting exposure in the café. It hides the filth—it keeps it buried under a blanket of blinding whiteness. It will take her time, but she will see it, too.
He looked her up and down and chewed on the inside of his cheek. He said, “It will take some time before you become fully equipped to see what I see. Do not worry, you are learning faster than I did. That is how I know that you have found your place here.” He gazed at her, hoping to draw her attention to his eyes. Her focus remained on the countertop.
“I know what you’re doing.”
The Waiter stood, stoic and resolute. “I am merely guiding you.”
Ilona shook her head. “You are guiding me into this trap—and it’s so intricate you’ve managed to convince yourself it doesn’t exist.”
The Waiter crossed his arms and closed his eyes. Relationships cannot be perfect. Conflict and confrontation are an indication that a healthy bond has been established between two individuals. He and Ilona need only to address the source of tension and resolve it. Then, they would be empowered to work together ever more closely.
“You are mad because I have not offered you ample time to talk with—”
“Stop telling me what I am and am not. Your affirmations are dehumanizing and only service your intentions to contain me in your own insecurities. You’re deflecting again.”
No. The Waiter snapped his attention all about the room, searching for any indication that someone heard her accusation. No. Nothing but the fine layer of dust that had accumulated on the counter could have borne witness to her falsity. No.
Each stood opposite of the other. For a while, neither intentionally permitted a word to form between them. Then, suddenly, The Waiter said, “Can you get me a glass?”
“No,” Ilona returned.
“There are none left. After I cleaned each one, I quietly broke and concealed them in all of your dirty rags.”
“Why would you do such a thing?”
“Because these people don’t need them. You only offer them something to drink to get them to stay longer. You need them far more than they need you. Because you’re too afraid to leave.” Ilona eyed The Waiter, whose attention could not be removed from the trashcan just behind her. “I know that you’re just like the rest of us. You simply found a hole and filled it.”
Without warning, The Waiter vaulted himself over to the silver container, falling to his knees, and tossed it sideways in a frenzy. Tainted rags and shards of glass that glimmered under the light splayed out in all directions. Quickly and methodically, he began to gather the shards and placed them to the side. As the collection grew, he organized the broken pieces into the shape of a singular glass. Every jagged remnant was perched haphazardly upon the last until he had constructed a porous cylinder from the floor.
“Quick, I need glue,” he commanded.
Ilona stepped outside the bar and gradually crept into the dining room. “There’s no need for glue here.”
At last, The Waiter looked up at her, only to see that she had begun advancing toward the silver doors of the café. “I need it. There’s a need. It must be here.”
She continued her careful retreat. “You don’t. Not anymore. You can leave, too.”
The Waiter grabbed onto the countertop and hoisted himself back to his feet. She was getting too close to those doors. She would not leave. He waited for her. He needed her. With tremendous force, The Waiter extended his arms against the counter, hurdled over top of it, and landed on the other side once again. It was still foreign, existing beyond the bar.
Ilona took note of him, turned toward the doors, and lunged forward. Her hand yanked on the handle, but not before The Waiter could slam it shut once more. She stared up at him with beads of water collecting in the corner of her eyes.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” The Waiter scolded. “You’re not going to find anything out there that you want.”
She closed her eyes and trapped the flow of water within them. Her mouth opened slightly, and a shaking breath collapsed out of her. “Tell me, Waiter, why haven’t I heard any cries since I’ve been here?”
“You’re not yet—”
Ilona motioned for him to stop talking with a wave of her hand. “That’s all right. I don’t need to know. I hope that you’ll find your way out of this place. Just like the rest of us.” She turned to face the door and leaned her forehead against it. There would be a smudge leftover. It would need to be cleaned. In one swift motion, Ilona revealed a shard of glass in her right hand and thrust it into The Waiter’s arm. It slipped into his body without resistance and remained here. He stood unfazed.
“There is no pain here,” he said.
“For me, ‘here’ has been nothing but pain.”
Ilona pushed against his chest, and he stumbled back briefly. In that moment, she threw open the door and slipped out into the light. The Waiter planted his foot before it could shut and watched as Ilona disappeared from view. She only looked ahead, paying no attention to the café doors, and made no sound. The next instant, there was no trace of her that remained.
The Waiter removed his foot and allowed the silver door to shut. The once-bustling room was suddenly infected by an impossible silence as all eyes rested upon him. He stared at the door and surveyed its pristine appearance. No tarnishes, no imperfections, no smudges. There was nothing for him to clean.
He studied the shard of glass protruding from his arm and gently removed it. Spotless. Unaffected by the audience that had gathered around him, The Waiter briskly returned to his position behind the bar. He looked to the floor and noticed the remaining shards of glass. Almost instinctively, his legs brought him back to the ground and his arms collected as many as they could.
Then, a new, untouched rag from his pocket was severed into delicate, precise strips using a broken shard. The fragments were constructed upon the counter once more into the shape of a drinking glass, wrapped in strips of fabric, then loosely tied to maintain form. The faucet was turned on, and the glass filled.
An individual approached a barstool and hoisted themself onto it. Their eyes met with The Waiter’s for a moment, then peered listlessly at something just out of sight. The reassembled glass was slid gently to the visitor. They smiled.
“Welcome to the Midway Café, will you be dying in tonight?”
Oh, My Word! This short story was broken up into two parts. Jacob hopes you were able to read and enjoy both parts of the story!
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