A detailed chronicle of the brief moments before a life-altering event...
The raucous din of the lunch-hour rush overshadowed his thoughts momentarily. Sitting in the far corner of the café, he sipped gingerly at the rapidly cooling latté that rested delicately between his palms, aware that the steamed milk in his cup hadn’t quite reached the proper temperature before it was served. The saucer sat unused on the table-top below, shadows of the room playing upon its porcelain surface.
He glanced surreptitiously across the room, and out of the recently-cleaned windows facing the street. Sheer walls of grey concrete surrounded the café like an open coffin, waiting patiently for the service to end and the lid to quietly shut out both life and light for eternity. The smells of the outside world permeated the small room, nearly inevitable in a city of such magnitude.
The other patrons in the busy café sat in different states of repose, some casually reading the daily newspapers, while others had noses buried in books. One woman chatted up the swarthy barista, flirting unabashedly as her drink was concocted. He had overheard the order — something overly complex, utterly devoid of coffee, and likely very expensive. He idly wondered how much the drinks actually cost to make; the profit margins were probably quite ridiculous. Maybe running a specialty coffee shop in a city full of massive, franchised chains wasn’t such bad business, after all.
A careening pigeon drunkenly grazed the window, rattling the glass and shocking the closest patron out of her rêverie. Pen dropping gently to the table in front of her, she glanced out the window, wondering what had caused the noise. Casually, she picked up the pen and repositioned her newspaper in front of her, brow furrowed, determined to finish her Sudoku puzzle in peace.
Another fellow spoke on a mobile phone while sitting with his back to the wall in a booth. His work boots were up on the naugahyde fabric that covered the café’s benches. Dusty overalls and a hard-hat positioned strategically on the bench beside him marked his career choice clearly. His loud, uncultured baritone rang out over the chatter in the room, peaking above the white noise as he spoke to a supervisor, asking for an extra shift over the coming weekend. A moment later, the construction worker slammed his phone shut angrily, obviously dissatisfied with the answer he’d received. He returned to his deli sandwich, oblivious to anyone around him.
The observer continued his silent vigil a few minutes longer, until the heat had dissipated completely from his coffee. He placed it carefully on the saucer, careful not to rattle it or in any way disturb the serene nature of the table setting in front of him. His fedora perched jauntily on the hook of the coat-rack beside him, almost taunting him to put it on and walk out of this little place. His regard swept back to the saucer as he willed himself to focus on the task at hand.
With one hand, he pulled out a metallic, flip-top lighter from his jacket pocket. Gazing at it, he pulled out a bit of tweed that was stuck in the hinge and flipped it open. His other hand produced a single Gauloise Blonde that he then carefully lit. Taking a drag, he inhaled deeply, holding the pleasing smoke as long as possible before releasing it through his nostrils, filtering gently through his mustache and forming a small grey cloud over the coffee cup. The seconds crept by as he enjoyed the cigarette, considering what was to come. As it burnt down towards his stained fingertips, he butted it out carefully on the saucer before him, and swept the ashes onto the floor below.
He proceeded to flip the lighter over. Adjusting his glasses, he placed a thumbnail along the bottom edge of the casing, and lifted it clear in a single, fluid motion. A false bottom revealed itself, along with a small plastic switch. A tangle of wiring surrounded it, packed densely into the lighter’s body.
His thoughts crystallized, his will steeled. Time stood still as he pressed the button.
In that split second, the landscape outside of the café shimmered and vanished, the concrete jungle surrounding it disappearing into a haze of dust. The resulting noise was so loud he almost didn’t hear it. His face warmed as arterial spray from the woman seated at the window blew over him like mist, and shards of glass flew by him, embedding themselves in both plaster and flesh all around.
Darkness came to him then, blissfully.