Flat White, Long Black

Merit in the 'The Write Track 2015' competition

It seems that no matter what day or hour it is, the old man is always sitting there with his coffee.
Every day I come to The Caff to order my long-awaited panacea, a relished time of the day where I can enjoy the ephemeral buzz of caffeine coursing through my veins. It is only at this hour, overcome by lassitude, that I manage to catch a moment of peace from my demanding profession.
Today I trudge into the café covered completely in black soot. A bad fire raged the streets of the city last night, and I am lucky my duties as a fire-fighter did not put me in hospital.
The ever ebullient cashier looks up at me and punches in my order before I've remembered what I usually order. I offer a rare smile.
‘Long night, huh?’ she sympathises.
I give a perfunctory shrug, and nod at her to keep the change.
‘You know what the hot days are like, m’lady.’
I carry my coffee carefully to the wooden tables. The rustic interior of this café has always appealed to me, the colour redolent of the long hours I spend at work. The atmosphere is warm and filled with chatter, for every table, except one, is full today.
The old man sits alone at his table. Today his white shirt contrasts strongly against the colour of his skin.
He is a laconic man of many quirks, but carries himself with an air of confidence and pride. Many don’t come near him, and I have seen disgust and bellicosity in the eyes of those who do. The enigmatic man always sits alone at his table with two cups of coffee, one a flat white, the other, a long black. Almost in protest, he only ever drinks from his flat white.
The old man takes one look at my lugubrious countenance and offers me a seat.
Maybe it is my lack of sleep, or maybe I am still suffering from hyperthermia, but today I ignore the repulsive glances from the white people around me.
We sit in silence, inhabiting disparate worlds of thought. He watches me finish my coffee, before he tentatively offers me his untouched cup of long black coffee. I don’t understand the significance of this gesture, but instead, accept the extra caffeine graciously.
For the first time, I see his toothy grin. I raise an eyebrow inquisitively, and he points excitedly at the coffee.
‘You see, flat white and short blacks are not that different. They are different in appearance, but fundamentally, they are both made from coffee beans.’
I smile despite the nefarious expressions I am receiving from everyone who had heard the old man speak.
And so we sit, side by side on our table. The black old man with his greying hair and white shirt sips from his flat white and his white friend covered from head to toe in soot, drinks silently from his long black.

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