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Alice's Conversations in Starbucks
I sat beside the window, second row to the last, the side where the sun was directed on and the air-conditioning was the poorest. I’d gone early to get this seat in hopes of sitting alone in peace. But my simple wish refused to be granted: in just a minute, a fat guy came tumbling onto the seat beside me. I watched him as he removed his backpack, accidentally nudging me a lot. When he’d settled down, he drew out a pair of large, thick glasses from his pocket, and grinned at me; so I looked away and out the window. Manila cityscape is the best, I thought. Of course, sarcasm ruled my thinking.
“Hey,” he said. At first I pretended that I couldn’t hear him; but he continued speaking. “Did you know you never actually ‘touch’ the ground?” He smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder—the pink one. “You levitate through electric repulsion.”
I turned to him, smiled as politely as I could without actually looking at him, and put on my jacket’s hood, hoping he would take it as a hint: I wasn’t interested in listening to some schoolmate I’d never met before blabber about gravity (if that’s what he was talking about). In fact, I wasn’t interested in being here for some stupid fieldtrip in the first place. All I wanted was to stay home. Wasn’t that the reason I was “home-schooled”? But no, my parents had to beg me nicely—“It’ll be good for you, dear, and bring you some sanity,”— that I had to force myself to go, away from the safe solitude of my room.
Yes. Here I was, about to waste twelve hours of my life, sweating in my black, cotton jacket, failing to understand why my school had these kinds of activities. For social purposes? Couldn’t they just make it into a subject instead so I could study it at home?
“Hey,” the boy started again. “Did you know all polar bears are left-handed?”
I don’t know what compelled me to give him a reaction (thinking about it now, I could’ve said a very cold “Who cares?”, or simply ignored him), but I pursed my lips—my plastered smile—then drawled, “No,” swiftly looking back the window to show him that the conversation had ended—if it even started. I heard him take out something from his bag and leaf through a book. I put on my headphones. I’d left my iPod on my Kieran Murphy playlist; “Shy” was playing. I closed my eyes and felt the bus finally beginning to move. I guess my wish was granted after all.
Somewhere along North Luzon Expressway, we stopped by this shopping mall. Mrs. Alinsangan ordered each student to exit the bus, so I followed my schoolmates to wherever they were going. When it seemed like everybody was entering Starbucks, I did, too, successfully blending in and being ignored by everyone who was thrilled about the free Wi-Fi. I briefly ordered for Caffè Vanilla Frappuccino, and looked for a seat. All the tables were occupied by some group of students, except for one by the restroom, where an old man sat. Since he looked pretty harmless, I strode towards him. I’d rather sit with a total, total stranger.
The old man gasped when he saw me sitting across him. “No room! No room!” he screamed. But there were three chairs, one of which is free (one was occupied by him, the other by a handbag containing a sleeping cat); so I ignored him. He didn’t own the place. The man immediately stopped minding me when I took my seat. I stole glances at him; he was nervously staring at his wristwatch. A bit weird, I could tell. He was in Victorian and circus clothing mixed together: he wore a purple waistcoat, a blue greatcoat, a yellow shirt with ruffled cuffs, and a green cravat—all neon. Oddly, though, he was wearing a crimson cap. He caught me looking at him, so I pretended to reach in my pocket for my iPod. Empty. Dang. I must have left it in the bus.
I directed my gaze towards the table. Man. It sure was messy. All sorts of things were cluttered on it: empty cups and plates, used straws and tissue—nothing significant except for an empty cage, where, to my surprise, a bat, as free as a bird, was plopped on its handle. So bats are allowed in Starbucks.
“That’s September Bat to you,” it said.
My heart skipped a beat upon hearing the “September Bat” talk; and admittedly, it took a few seconds for it to dawn on me that it was all a prank. I wondered if I was on TV.
“This isn’t a prank. You’re not going to be seen on the television,” the September Bat said.
I felt the right side of my face squinch up: how did it know what I was thinking of? I slapped my forehead because I was starting to consider that the September Bat might actually really be talking—to me!
I turned to the old man, and said quite desperately, “I don’t know which is more surprising: the bat talking, or reading my mind.”
“Reading your mind!” The September Bat exclaimed. It had a squeaky voice that fitted a bat perfectly. Its mouth opened at the right time and took shape for the right words. I got goose bumps. “I can’t read minds! But I can think minds!” it said.
“So youthought mine?”
I gave out a sighing chuckle. I admit: I felt a bit—mad, thinking I was talking to a bat who could think minds. It’s a trick, I repeated to myself. There are very smart people out there who loved scaring the heck out of other not-so-smart people. Too bad I was one of the latter.
“Have some coffee,” said the September Bat. “It will ease your mind.”
No: coffee makes people energetic. “I don’t see any coffee.”
“That’s because there isn’t any.”
Then it wasn’t very civil for you to offer it, I thought, promptly altering my thoughts lest the September Bat started to think my mind. (If mindreading devices have already been invented, everyone is doomed.) “Why doesn’t anyone even clean this table?”
“Why don’t cha sit with your friends and stop whining about our table?” the old man finally spoke.
“I don’t have any friends,” I said.
“Why don’t you have any?” the September Bat asked.
“That’s because she’s lazy,” the old man said.
“No, it’s because she’s boring.”
“No—I just like to keep to myself,” I told them.
“You’re pretty,” purred the cat. It was yawning and stretching its legs.
“And you're the handsomest cat I’d ever seen”—an orange one, with brown stripes—I meant it.
It purred again.
I still can’t believe it: I talked to a cat.
“I wish the Capper was handsome, too,” said the September Bat, “so I don’t have to look at his ugly face every day.
The Capper. Applause.
“You’re ugly, too!” the Capper said.
“Not as ugly as you! You’re so ugly, you’re uglier than I!”
“Well, you’re so ugly, not even the most expensive beauty can make you beautiful!”
“You can’t buy beauty!”
“Yes, but you can buy someone to tell you you’re beautiful!”
“Being told you’re beautiful doesn’t make you beautiful.”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I said. What can I say? I was amused.
“Who asked YOUR opinion?” the Capper said, even though my comment was for his side.
"Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How I wonder what you're at!" the September Bat sang.
“Yes, that’s right! Sing when you’re losing the argument!”
"Up above the world you fly, like a tea-tray in the sky—“
The cat was snoring again.
“What’s up with the pink cap?” I interfered. I looked around the place: people were completely oblivious of us.
“It’s not pink. It’s—” the Capper slid his forefinger along the edge of his cap, “—razzmatazz. And it’s not just ‘a cap’. It’s from America, previously owned by a late legend in the field of basketball!”
“Baked Tooth, the great batter!”
“You mean Babe Ruth, the baseball batter.” Would I get a prize if I talked sensibly?
“He was so great in breaking pitchers into thousands of pieces!”
The September Bat flapped its wings. “I’m thankful he never got a hold of me!”
“I don’t think his cap was pink,” I said
“Razzmatazz,” corrected the Capper.
“I don’t think it was razzmatazz.”
“Oh, have you seen a colored picture of him?”
“Would you have known whether it was Razzmatazz or not?”
“You know before those modern photo-shooters—” the September Bat said.
“Cameras,” I corrected.
“—cameras, they would print the pictures and put it in this HUMONGOUS—” here the September Bat spread out its wings, “—machine to suck out the colors, so everything would be in black and white. Sad they don’t do that anymore.”
The Capper shook his head. “Why, I wonder what happened to that marvellous machine.”
My jaw dropped, then I laughed.It was madness. “And why would they do that?”
“Because they were very diligent those days,” the September Bat said confidently.
“Now they’re lazy,” the Capper said, “like you.”
I scratched my head.
“You should get a haircut,” the September Bat said. “Your unkempt, long hair is starting to house a thousand—”
“Don’t make personal remarks. It’s rude,” I retorted.
The Capper opened his eyes very wide upon hearing this, but all he said was:
“Why am I like Razzmatazz?”
I didn’t like riddles, so I perfunctorily answered, “I don’t know. Why?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea!”
I heard my name called. I stood up, dumbfounded, and walked to the counter. On my way, I heard the fat guy say, “Hey, did you know that E=mc2 is not the whole equation?” I got my Frap, took a sip, and went back to my seat. Yes, ladies and gentlmen, I went back.
The September Bat was reciting a poem:
The young purty woman jargling down Frappolapo
From the depths of the frighty, dleezing bohoho
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked
“He put something in your drink,” the Capper said.
“How?” I laughed. So loud everyone else in the room turned silent and shifted their gaze towards our table—at me.
My stomach started to churn. I didn’t know if it was because people were staring at me, or— “What the heck did you put in my drink?!”
The September Bat took out a bottle from his cage. Looking at it anxiously, he said, “I’m not sure, but it’s not labelled poison. You’ll live.”
Suddenly, I grew bigger and bigger—it wouldn’t stop. I saw a few students take a video of me. Great. Later, I’d be on Youtube, a million hits a minute. I screamed in panic, and the next thing I knew, I was back in the bus, my cheek flat on the window. Everyone was just riding the bus. Was it all a dream? I rubbed my neck. Stiff. I took out my hanky, wetted it with water, and wiped my lips cracking in dried saliva.
The fat guy with the enormous glasses sat beside me. “Nice pink cap,” he said.
Startled, I took the cap off. I stared at it for a while. Insanity. “Hey, did you know this color is called razzmatazz?”
The boy was silent. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe he liked to be the one who knew everything.
“Hey,” he started, “did you know that magenta doesn’t exist? It’s just a pigment of your imagination!”
I smiled at the cap. Riddle solved. “No, I didn’t.”
“Of course, you didn’t. Hey—” I waited for another Did-You-Know, “—what’s your name?”
“Alice.” Maybe my parents had been right: this trip would give me a bit of sanity—a bit. “Yours?”
Greenville, North Carolina
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