Night People

You buy three novels for a pound apiece from a charity shop and decide to read it at the all-night café, a place that owls like you frequent. All congregating in the hopes of finding a companion, only for the long night ahead. You take a seat on an empty couch near the wall as your silk coat slips under your thigh.

You are only halfway through the first page when a man shows up and asks if he can sit beside you. You take a long look. Dishevelled grey hair, beard a spread of snowflakes. His clothes are two sizes too big for him, a dull grey hoodie and sweatpants. His feet tightly wrapped in a pair of worn-out sneakers. You nod and he sits down with a cup in his hand. You go back to your book, all the while waiting for him to make a move. In the whole of next hour he doesn’t do much except crossing his legs in intervals, sipping on his tea and looking at nothing in particular.

You get restless and tired so you lean on his shoulder. He doesn’t flinch. You tell him about your birth name and how your father who gave you the name, left when you were five, because he found true love with another man. When the man smiles you notice a net of wrinkles around his eyes like an all-knowing saint. He mentions that he likes spending his long nights at the bar because he enjoys reading people when they’re drunk. Gets them talking, he says. It’s like a superpower, to be able to listen. Everyone loves that shit. The night-people, he says, have peculiar experiences, extraordinary tales and hilarious adventures that the day-people won’t ever know.

You agree so you tell him about the night you found solace in two old women who sang karaoke in a bar. How the highs and lows of their voices made you hate the original song, how their hips swayed in their leather skirts and how you couldn’t take your eyes off of them. You tell him then about the man who promised you a job telling tourists about local wine. How it seemed like a good idea at the time, but how he turned out to be a psychopath and about the elaborate escape plan you had to make to get away from him.

You tell him more about the boy you loved. The man listens intently like you are just one of those night-people with intriguing stories. You revel in that image of yourself. You go to lengths to describe the affair. How you gave your mother’s wedding ring to your lover and how big of a fool you were to not take it back when he was being sent back to the country he came from. The man says it is a matter of mystical fate. You nod and ask the man if he wants to sleep with you. He shakes his head.

You lift your head from his shoulder and rest it on the armrest on the other side. You pull your feet up and they brush the man’s thighs. You see him, still sitting there, looking at you like he knows you. You wonder if this is what your father would look like.

The first faint light of dawn seeps in through the window. You wake up from your nap and through your barely open eyelids, you watch the man stand up, adjust his hoodie and walk towards the door. The day-people have started coming in.

Inspired by a flash fiction piece in KM Elkes’ All That Is Between Us, Night People tries to capture the poignancy of the characters in the world that Elkes has created in You Wonder How They Sleep. The plot of the story remains unchanged but the perspective shifts from that of Elkes’ primary character to secondary.

Cover image: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942


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