A Beignet, A Robbery, and Writer's Block
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Signs of dusk trickled through the unveiled window, illuminating the woman that sat nearby, casting a golden hue to her brown skin. The clock ticked on the nearby wall. The faint sound filled her ears before it was drowned out by the flow of thoughts that riddled her mind with each tweet she scrolled through.
She sat lazily across the couch with the makings of a scowl creeping to her features. A heavy sigh sounded through her when her eyes tore away from the phone screen. The faint sounds of the clock were heard again and this time, she looked to the nearby window to gaze at the sky and the warm sunlight being emitted by the setting sun.
The words, another day, tumbled from her mind. The end of the school year several weeks ago freed her time considerably. The days meshed together and suddenly, it became unknown to her what day of the week it was. It no longer mattered. For all she knew, every day was Saturday. Each time she was met with the setting sun signaled the end of another day unfulfilled.
Her legs went over the side of the couch and her feet came into contact with the carpeted floor. She rose from her sitting position and maneuvered around the couch to find her laptop opened and on the kitchen table several feet away.
A groan rippled through her at the mostly blank Word screen. Last time she sat in front of it, she intended on writing something, anything, and opted on writing her name - Michelle - in the otherwise very blank document. It reminded her of the effort she's put into writing since the start of her summer break from work --- none.
The task was daunting and often consisted of a cycle. Nothing turned into a few words, few words into paragraphs, and then deleted to start anew. But on occasion, what filled its place was better.
The simple act of creating and being in control was what Michelle enjoyed most. She loved to write despite it bearing the frustrations that came with it. Right now, she faced the problem of having zero inspiration and ideas to match that.
It wasn't going to be found here, Michelle determined.
With newfound purpose, she turned on her heels to collect her phone from the couch and her keys on the stand beside the window. The apartment door was pulled open with a slight creak and stepping over the threshold, Michelle was greeted by the hot, humid air of her city in summer. She was in her vehicle, riding down the road in a matter of moments while listening to the playlist on her phone.
A pleased sigh left her as she relaxed into the driver's seat with the sounds of the song she opted to play reverberating throughout the car. Michelle focused on driving but also on how the songs she played made her feel in hopes of inspiration forming from the emotions she felt or the story from the ballads that played.
With the soothing love song, she tried to remember what it felt like to be infatuated with someone and the excitement that came with the beginning stages of dating someone new.
Initial ideas of a possible plot flowed in her mind while the drive continued. Soon dusk turned to night and headlights illuminated the road ahead. She turned the corner into a neighborhood she'd never ridden down before and took in the sights of the homes on either side of the road while slowing the vehicle. Michelle ensured the road was clear before casting a quick glance down to change the song.
The silence disappeared to be replaced by the sounds of a man shouting for attention, and banging coming from the hood of her car. Michelle gasped in surprise and looked to find a hooded figure waving frantically before her. A foot pressed onto the brakes, her car came to a halt, and she gaped at the hooded man. Any further sounds that followed were drowned out by the rapid beating of her heart until she refocused on the situation at hand.
She rolled her window down to call out, "are you okay?"
"Please," his voice trailed off as he turned to cast a quick glance behind him. Michelle followed his gaze to find a small group of men sprinting in their direction. "Please, they're trying to rob me!" He cried.
Her heart leapt at his words and for a split second, she wondered if this was some sort of ploy to rob her. Her hand felt for the pepper spray in the compartment in her door and at the same time, she unlocked her doors before shouting, "get in!"
In an instant, he was sprinting around her vehicle to the passenger side door and sat against the leather seat. The vehicle was whirled around to head in the opposite direction of their pursuers. Her attention was fixed on the road but she concentrated on the movements and sounds of the stranger beside her. He panted, pulling his hood down to reveal a head of curls and threw his head back to rest against the seat while he tried to calm himself.
"Are you okay?" Michelle inquired again. Her shoulders sagged with a silent sigh of relief with the threat now gone.
"I- thank you for stopping. Seriously, you saved my life," his voice cracked. He sobbed quietly and pressed a hand to cover his eyes.
Michelle was unsure about what to do and how to console the stranger riding in her car. She only thought to offer him silence to gather his bearings and thoughts. They rode in silence for some time before she had the idea of taking him to a nearby coffee shop. He hadn't moved from his position the entire ride there. He removed his hand to glance at their surroundings when she turned the engine off.
”Where are we?"
"I figured you could use a pick me up. We're at Du Monde's."
Ceiling lights illuminated the outside patio with a roof that extended from the main building to protect from the weather. In large letters was Cafe Du Monde Original French Market Coffee Stand. Fortunately for them, she thought, peak time came and went and only a few patrons sat within.
Michelle unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door to exit her vehicle. She glanced across the roof of her car to find the stranger moving to shut his door closed and together, they walked the short distance to the double doors. He held the door open for her and for the first time since their encounter, she looked upon the man beyond the glass and wooden door frame. They lingered there the brief moment it took her to cross into the air-conditioned cafe.
She first gazed upon his face at the smooth sun-kissed skin there then to the brown, puffy eyes that stared back at her. He was tall, lean and towered a few inches over her. Tonight's events were clearly written on his face but Michelle offered him a, "thank you," with a smile for holding the door open. He nodded in return.
He followed behind her as she chose a table within the cafe by a window. She glanced into the night with the lights illuminating the street beyond while taking a seat across from the unknown man. Questions riddled her mind but the worry of being too forceful prevented her from asking them.
She was torn between finding a detailed explanation that led to him beating on the hood of her car to helping him take his mind off what happened even if it was just for a moment. Her gaze landed on him to find his attention on that of the menu on the table. Her eyebrow perked up. "Have you been here before?" She wondered.
He cleared his throat. "No, never have, but I've heard great things."
"Well, the beignets are to die for," a small laugh rippled through her and she was slightly elated to find his face softened.
"Welcome to Cafe Du Monde, what can I get you this evening?"
Both their attention shifted to that of the woman now standing beside their table, a friendly smile to her face with the name Nora on her nametag.
Michelle had her order memorized. She got the same thing every time. "I'll have iced coffee and an order of beignets."
"And you sir?"
He fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. "I'm fine for now, thank you."
"Okay, I'll get that right out for you." The waitress turned on her heels and Michelle cast a questioning glance at the man across from her that went unnoticed. He leaned forward in his seat with a sigh and intertwined his hands against the table. She then noticed the sweatshirt with earphones dangling against his chest.
"I'm James, by the way," he told her. "I figure you have a right to know after I jumped out in front of your car, right?." His tone was light.
"If it makes you feel any better, I probably would have done the same. I'm Michelle."
"I'm sorry for intruding on your night like this," he told her, frowning.
Her hand rose to wave off his apology. "No, no it's fine. This I'm sure is nothing compared to what you had to face."
James was silent for a moment before saying, "I- I can't believe that happened. Never feared for my life like that." He scoffed and shook his head. Michelle's heart fell at the fresh tears that lined his eyes. James cleared his throat again and wiped them quickly before they could fall. "All I could think about was my mom and how heartbroken she would have been."
Michelle watched with the inability to form any words to say to him. Silence fell between them until the waitress returned with her order. "Enjoy!" She chirped before striding off once again.
Leaning into the table, Michelle pushed the plate of beignets toward James. He cast a questioning glance towards the plate and looked at her.
"Try it," she encouraged. Three fresh beignets laid against the plate, coated with powdered sugar. The smell blanketed the air around them and although she yearned for one, she wanted James to get his first taste.
He didn't object and instead, gripped one of the pastries to bring to his mouth.
"Well?" Michelle waited expectantly for a reaction as he chewed. James wet his lips and grinned whilst chewing what remained in his mouth.
"Damn," he said with a chuckle.
Michelle was pleased to view the smile that spread to his face. He took another bite and she nodded in victory, taking one for herself.
They ate in silence. Michelle took several sips from her iced coffee and gleamed at the paired taste. She finished hers and looked to find James peering down at the last one. She pushed the plate towards him for the second time. He began to object and Michelle simply pushed it further on his side of the table. "Please, you're practically drooling."
"I am n-" his words fell as he took a hand to wipe his mouth. This made Michelle chortle and throw her head back.
"I was joking," she told him, snickering.
"So was I." His expression said otherwise. They both cackled again.
While he finished the last beignet, she finished the last of her coffee. Any sign of the airy laughter between them was now gone with the empty plate and cup before them. Their waitress returned to clear the items off, both of them muttering a thank you when she turned to stride away.
Michelle looked at James once again. "Will you file a police report?"
He let out a breath of air and leaned back against his chair. "No harm in trying if it means the possibility of no one else becoming a victim, I suppose."
She nodded her head in agreement. "I'm sorry this happened to you. Were you going out for a walk and they just came up to you?"
"I went out for a jog like I usually do but I took a different path tonight," he started, fidgeting with a napkin now in his hand, "when I got tired, it turned to a brisk walk. These guys were talking but when they saw me coming they started walking towards me. I felt uncomfortable so I crossed the street. I turned my head to find they did too but I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt so I crossed again. They followed.
They called out and cornered me, first asking me if I had anything on me, " he ripped the napkin into pieces, "I knew I was at a disadvantage being one guy against five so I took out whatever money I had. Then one of them asked me for my wallet, and all I could think about was all the stuff in it I had to replace so I hesitated, "
James balled all the pieces of the now torn napkin and continued, "They all started shouting at the same time, it was like an auditory overload. I saw one of the guys lift up his shirt to pull out a knife and at that moment I thought I was going to die. I almost gave up the wallet but when I saw headlights, I didn't think twice. I ran towards the car and here we are."
"Here we are," she repeated in a whispered voice. She let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. "That's really terrible, I'm sorry."
"I jog in the late evening often and after this, I don't know if I can brave it again."
Michelle recalled his earlier statement. "You said it was a different path you took tonight, right? Maybe you should avoid going back there. Give yourself time, of course. Don't adjust your whole routine for a couple of nobodies," she offered.
He considered her words just as the waitress returned with a check in hand and sat it in the middle of the table. She strode off again and the two occupying the table both reached for it at the same time but Michelle took it into her hands.
"Don't think I didn't notice that fake reach," she laughed.
"Call it a reflex."
Her gaze lingered on the chuckling man across from her. She couldn't help but feel fulfilled by bringing a smile to the once fearful, teary-eyed man. He'd had a horrible night, to say the least, but she hoped to be something positive to come out of this night. Opening the rubber pamphlet in hand, Michelle pulled the bills she had in a pocket behind her phone to place what she owed and then some for a tip. She shut it closed and glanced up to find James' attention on her.
"You know, I wouldn't have minded paying for you." she finally mentioned. It'd bothered her since his declaration when their waitress first greeted them. His was taken, she thought, and it wouldn't have bothered her to provide him a plate of his own. But Michelle didn't force it.
He smiled a genuine smile. "You've been a great help tonight as it is. Thank you, again."
She nodded in reply and stood from her seat. They exited the cafe and waved behind them following the several shouts of "have a goodnight" from the staff behind them. Michelle used the remote to unlock her car and turned to James. "Do you want to put your address into my phone?" She considered her words and added, "to take you home, I mean."
He chuckled while muttering, "sure."
She unlocked her phone, opened the maps app, and placed it into the palm of his extended hand. Michelle fidgeted where she stood in wait, recalling the events that lead to their meeting. A night meant for inspiration took a different turn than expected and she hadn't minded with his taking a dark turn of its own.
He returned her phone with the navigation ready and they went into the vehicle. Michelle backed out of the spot and drove slow and steady onto the main road.
They sat in silence with the navigator sputtering directions along the way. She opted to kill some of the silence by playing music and shuffled her playlist. The music began to play softly from the stereos. In her peripheral, she could see James bobbing his head to the music.
"Oh, so you have taste? That's a relief."
He laughed and she decided it was a pleasant sound. "Of course. Anyone who doesn't like J.Cole is a liar."
She snickered at that. The rest of the car ride was filled with little chit chat about their favorite artists with some debate and scoffs in surprise. The conversation grew quiet when she rolled into a parking lot leading to his home. With her car now in park, Michelle turned to James who'd already been looking at her with a look of gratitude.
"Don't," she breathed out with a smile.
"Don't what?" He wondered.
"Don't thank me again."
"Okay," James paused and sucked in his teeth, "then I won't." With a smile, he cast one last glance before opening the passenger door to step out. "Have a goodnight."
The door remained open long enough for her to mutter, "you too." She watched him stride away before she reversed the vehicle and began on her route back home. Her mind continued to replay tonight's events even as she re-entered her home. The darkroom was illuminated ever so slightly by her laptop that remained in the state she left it in.
Michelle flipped a light switch and sat across from it to glare at the Michelle typed in the word document before hitting backspace to remove it. She pondered, wondering what she'd write about then realized there was no need to think any further. It was obvious, almost laid out before her.
So, she typed away.