I just opened up Revolution. It was the first week of the New Year. I plastered the large picture window with signs announcing the grand opening, promoting near Harlem Renaissance era prices of .10 for a cup of coffee and .25 espressos and lattes. My sister Alexis passed out complimentary mini cups of dark hot chocolate with puffy organic mini marshmallows while my best friend Peaches handed out glossy fliers to passersby. Peering out the window from the inside, I smiled at the ever fabulous Ms. Peaches, wrapped in a fluffy fake fur and matching hat looking every bit like the opera diva she trained to become. I insisted she didn’t have to sing for the crowds in her beautiful soprano – “don’t you know, we’re talking about a Revolution….” Not sounding like Tracy Chapman in the least but trust, Peaches wasn’t trying to. But I loved her enthusiasm. In fact, her voice had that high pitched sophistication that was not easily ignored called attention to her and to Revolution. It had to be at least 40 degrees outside and Ms. Peaches, who doesn’t like being cold or uncomfortable went above and beyond the call of duty to drum up business. Her fresh manicure, (can’t pass out fliers with unkempt hands she reasoned) fresh make-up and a few breath mints during breaks showed just how serious she was about the task at hand. But my sister Alexis was a stark contrast. Improperly dressed for the wintry temperature, A was rocking a trendy, lightweight but strictly inadequate, waist length parka with a mink trimmed collar, a tight pair of low rise True Religion straight legs and purple Uggs. Huge, bling-ish shades wrapped around her naturally pretty face as her long, dark brown hair blew in the wind making her look like an urban sorcerer. She fought to stabilize herself, struggling to balance the tray she gripped tightly between her finger-less gloved hands. I had to beg her not to have an American Spirit as an added appendage while handing out the hot drinks. And her way of preparing for our street level marketing blitz was running her fingers through her hair and tweaking a couple of lines in the café restroom. Don’t get me wrong. I love my sister. But to put it nicely, she is a bit of a hot mess. No, let me re-phrase that. She is in transition.
Inside, Revolution is humming. Jonah Robinson, this young, skinny, gender neutral, race neutral kid I hired as head barrister, is bobbing his head full of wild, unruly, tight curls to the beat of the piped in Jay-Z beat morphed into a soft jazz tune (Jonah calls it digitized elevator music). Expertly, he pours a pair of lattes in front of a happy customer who is impressed with his skills.
“Jonah. You are working the espresso machine! And the line is really moving. I’m feeling that.” I really was because he was the only person I interviewed who could make a latte and cappuccino better than I could. He placed the drinks in a cup holder, giving the customer a very professional send-off. A dollar tip slid into the tip cup as proof of her appreciation.
“You don’t know? I’ll have this thing paid for by the end of the week.” Jonah smiled holding up the dollar tip in one hand caressing a part of the espresso machine with the other.
The line snaked around the inside of the café, back toward the bookstore section in the back. This was where the display showcase, some might even call it a shrine to Christian Prakesh lived. People didn’t know what to make of it. Many only stared at it curiously because admittedly it stuck out within the midst of the bookstore interior rather ambiguously. To me, it was the perfect opportunity to establish an important introduction between my personal guru and the public at large. This was something I never really felt self conscious about but I knew as innocently as I felt about it, in time, I would experience a complete and utter loss of innocence over it. More on that later. Denise, another barrister, is pouring cups of regular coffee assembly line fashion. She collects dimes and quarters as customers pluck cups, many not stopping to add milk or sugar because of the crush of the crowds. Some rush out, many linger, taking in the surroundings.
While people wait on the long line inside, I hand out complimentary samples of sliced croissants and freshly baked carrot, raisin honey bran muffins from a wicker tray. The crowd is happy, almost festive. So am I.
Later that evening at closing, I’m busy counting cash from the cash register.
“Not bad for a grand opening, huh?” I was not disappointed about the day’s receipts.
“Not bad? What’s the translation of three hundred cups of coffee at ten cents a cup versus three hundred lattes at three bucks each?” Jonah quizzes as he briskly pushes a broom around the inside of the store.
“Hmmh. That translates to potential profit, baby.” Peaches answered, sitting at a table near the counter, sinking deeper into her fake fur while sipping a mug of spiked hot chocolate.
“Profit? Please. I know you’re not even trying to think about turning a profit. What the focus needs to be on is all that damn debt Taye’s accumulating before she can even think about anything close to a damn profit.” Alexis, looking her usual, painfully youthful but disheveled self, making her exit remark with a wrinkled cigarette hanging from her lips. As she walks, she stumbles in her Uggs before righting herself moving outside the café to smoke. In the process of her exit, she lets in an attractive young woman. We barely notice.
“Taye, your sister is such a lovely little optimist.” Peaches whispered into her hot chocolate.
“Oh like you didn’t know.” I answered back, losing count of the singles in my hand, grimacing before sucking in air between my teeth and clinched jaws, accepting the fact that I would have to begin counting the fat stack of bills all over again.
Jonah approaches the attractive young woman that Alexis let in.
“Hey, I’m sorry we’re closed.” Jonah was gentle and conciliatory.
“Jonah, we can stay open to serve one more. What can we get for you?” I asked, still focusing on counting cash, only far more discreetly this time. I hardly notice the young woman smiling warmly at me as she approaches the counter. She has a messenger bag strapped to her torso and she’s carrying a couple of books underneath her arm.
“I really appreciate it. A soy latte decaf please, if it’s not too much trouble.” Her voice resonates with ease. It isn’t high pitch, nor is it low. But it’s mature. It’s soothing. I imagined it was a good voice for books on tape. It made me look up at her.
“No problem. Coming right up.” I stopped counting money, moving toward the espresso machine. Her face was as pleasant as her voice. Pleasant not in any derogatory way but only in the nicest of ways. My grandma would always call big girls or homely girls, pleasant looking. In the corner of my eye I could see Jonah and Peaches quietly sizing up the last customer of the day while I prepared her drink order.
The attractive young woman starts looking around the café discreetly.
“This is cool. We definitely needed a café around here.” She sounded genuinely content about my existence. Well, the existence of Revolution. But I remained quiet.
“You live in the neighborhood?” Jonah had begun to prove himself to be boundary free. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it just yet.
“Yes. I do. And my French press has seen better days.” For some reason, I felt her eyes narrow on me when she said it. Speaking directly to me.
“Cool.” Jonah replied in that who knew black folks knew anything about coffee, voice.
I hand the cup to the attractive young woman. Caressing the paper cup with both hands she takes a sip, squeezing her eyes together as she swallows. She was so demonstrative. Probably an actress.
“Mmmmm. Nice. What do I owe you?” Again, she is staring right at me. Which I mean, is okay, only Jonah is the one standing at the register. I just made the latte.
“Our opening special today was .25 lattes but this one’s on the house.” I managed a grin. That was about all I was capable of after opening day.
“Really? That’s really nice. Thanks. Welcome to the neighborhood Attractive woman starts walking backwards toward the door, raising her cup in appreciation before taking another sip.”
“Thank you,” she smiled.
As attractive young woman leaves, Jonah follows close behind letting Alexis back inside after her cigarette break before locking the door behind her.
“And do come again.” Jonah lingers by the window, watching attractive woman walk away.
“I’ve seen many of Harlem’s finest come in here today, Taye but none of them as hot as her.” As if Jonah cared. There was not a woman in the universe, no matter how beautiful she is, that Jonah would ever be interested in.
“Honestly I wasn’t paying attention.” I had to say that. Being single sucked not because you weren’t partnered up with anyone but because people were always trying to fix you up with someone you had absolutely no interest in. Happens all the time.
“Girlfriend was too busy counting all that money to notice.” Peaches backed me up as she got up to give Jonah her hot chocolate cup and saucer.
“Won’t make a dent in all those outstanding bills piling up like crazy.” Alexis could be so damn cranky.
“Taye, you can’t say she wasn’t pretty. In fact, I think she was flirting with you. Wasn’t she PEACHES?” Jonah pushed. But Peaches wasn’t biting, her head bounced around like a bobble head not entirely sure.
“Jonah, not only was she not my type, but really, I’m too busy focusing on running this business right now. Having a love life isn’t high on my list of priorities so while I welcome the business, I’m not trying to fraternize with the customers. You might try that philosophy yourself.” Although I didn’t mind fraternizing with my staff, I wanted them to be as professional as possible. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Okay, now I know you are not trying to convince Jonah that he should keep it in his pants. He couldn’t do that the minute he got his first erection what, over 20 years ago?” Peaches and Jonah are first cousins. And she didn’t have to beg me to hire her cousin who just so happened to have had two years experience at the big American coffee conglomerate. So for many reasons hiring him was a no brainer.
“You never lie.” Jonah agreed.
“But the problem is, Jonah and I have the same taste in men. Except I prefer mine straight.” With a hard roll of her eyes, Peaches snapped her neck before taking a sip of her chocolate.
“You can keep the straight ones, girl. I’ll take the rest.” Jonah smiled, clutching a pair of invisible pearls around his neck.
“And as for you, Taye, while on the topic of keeping things in one’s pants, have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately? How do I say this without sounding…… I’m terrible at censoring myself. Listen, can I suggest a stroke of lip glass. Maybe a nice conditioner for that gorgeous, thick head of hair of yours. It’s the little things that go a long way. Like a cute blouse? Some sexy leggings? A pair of high heel boots would look so damn hot behind that counter. Because honestly, I am not feeling this all work, no play vibe you’re rocking. You’re ambitious, motivated and I think that’s great, better yet – it’s fabulous. But you gotta remember to have some fun too, baby. You can work hard, but you’re entitled to play hard too. Kills me how people work so hard and don’t know how to enjoy the fruits of their hard labor.”
“Preach, cuz. I second that emotion.” Jonah added.