Polaroid

An unwanted interruption disrupts Paul’s meal.

Paul pulled his yellow rain jacket tight as the heavy deluge poured down onto the narrow street. He tucked himself close under the eave of the outdoor café, hunched over the counter, and kept himself warm over a bowl of savoury pork noodles.

“This seat taken?” someone asked, but Paul pretended not to hear him through his earbuds.

The person sat down beside him anyway, their body bumping into him as he settled.

A tap on his shoulder.

Begrudgingly, he turned to find a man in his forties sitting beside him in a business suit. A Polaroid camera sat on the counter before him.

“Could you hand me a menu?”

Paul grabbed one from the rack beside him and passed it over. He pulled his hood down forward, hoping the man would leave him alone. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

“Do you know what’s good here?”

Paul considered leaving, but the rain was coming down harder, the gutters struggling to rush the water away.

The man persisted. “What would you suggest? What did you order?”

Reluctantly, Paul poked at the noodle and pork bowl, and the man waved the cook over and pointed out his selection.

“Thanks.” Again, the man tapped him on the shoulder. “I said thanks.”

Paul pulled out an earbud. “Sorry, man. I just want to listen to my music, eat my food, and be left alone.”

“Sure, sure. But can I bother you with one last thing?” The man’s voice was smooth like a salesman.

“Fine. What?”

The man pulled a dark blue envelope from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and laid it before Paul.

“What’s that?”

“It’s yours.”

Of course, it was. This guy was just another huckster trying to peddle something. He pushed it back towards the man. “Not interested.”

“Oh, you misunderstood me. I’m not selling it. I’m giving it to you.”

Paul smirked. “Yeah? What is it?”

The man in the suit shrugged. “Something for you.”

Paul looked at the envelope and then studied the man. His suit didn’t fit him quite right. A little too loose around the waist and a little too snug on the shoulders. Something about the man’s proportions seemed wrong.

“Is it money? Drugs? Are you trying to frame me?”

“Nothing of the sort. It’s a gift.”

“Man, I don’t have time for your weirdness.” He moved to put his earbud back in, but the man blocked his hand.

“Hey—“

“You only have to take it. That’s all I ask.”

Paul squinted, annoyed, his eyes shifting between the man and the envelope, “I only have to take it? You don’t even care if I open it?”

The man nodded.

Paul shrugged and slid it in front of himself. “Now, can I go back to my music?”

“Indeed,” the man said.

Paul slipped his earbud back in and pulled the strings of his hood taut. He was being a dick, but he wanted to be left alone.

But maybe he didn’t need to be this much of a dick.

He turned to say, “Thank you…,“ but the man was no longer beside him. Paul leaned back to glance down the rain-soaked narrow street, but there was no trace of him.

He frowned and tore open the paper seal, and cautiously tipped the envelope over.

A tattered 3×5 photo fell out.

It was an image of the café—this café—taken from across the street, but it was in utter destruction. A delivery van had skipped the curb and slammed into the building. The counter was split and splintered, and the cook stood in the rainy street on a call.

But what caught Paul’s eye was the body under the front tire of the van. It was someone wearing a yellow raincoat.

His raincoat.

Paul struggled to breathe, his hands clammy, his lips trembling. This had happened—not yet, not now—but soon. He scrambled to grab his belongings, to get up, to run away—

It was too late.

The deafening sound of an engine was upon him, followed by the sliding squelch of air brakes. The last thing Paul saw was the man in the suit, standing across the street, and raising his camera.