Habiba hid a giggle behind her coffee cup. The poor man sitting across from her was trying to impress her just as much as the jazz band in the corner. Breathy out of tune notes fought with each other resonating like an overly intense ping-pong game. The drummer muddled through the cadence with a perpetual smile that simply said he would rather like to eat her soul, if she would be so kind. The bassist stared out the store front window dreaming of a cello teacher with white teeth and perfectly straight brown hair. There Habiba’s date fidgeted in front of them all. A jazz singer with no words.
'Would you like to get coffee sometime?' he asked one sunny morning. Her mother would have chastised her for dating random men she met on the street, but something about him said a date couldn't hurt. There he was in an ill fitting suit, glasses two sizes too big for his face, and purple sneakers peeking out from under his pant legs like shy children hiding behind the curtains.
He shifted again and again laughing each time. Did he want to lean on his right elbow? Left? Maybe try to show off good posture? Maybe a slouch? What position showed he really wanted to impress her? Which drink said he loves music, books, art, and long conversation on a moonlit beaches? Just to be safe he ordered an espresso, cappuccino, americano, and mocha. He shifted from one drink to the next. There he was a man of jazz shifting to meet the cues of the others. A timid smile quivering across his lips only to snap away when seen.
Habiba hid a warm giggle behind her coffee cup. ‘Be careful of random men on the street,’ her mother would say. Of course be careful, they might snatch up your heart and run away never to return.
"You have beautiful eyes," he whispered.
Habiba slipped from table to table trying her best to avoid the myriad of eyes watching her pass. A yellow polka-dot in a sea of drab browns, greens, and witty T-shirts. There wasn’t anywhere to turn her gaze. Every direction faced her. Judgement, curiosity, confusion, the eyes threw them all at her. Even with her music playing she could make out the mumbles. Surely the eyes had more important things to judge. Things like rental cars, bold faced pamphlets in orange and red, or at the very least they could judge each other. The eyes wouldn’t waiver.
She silently debated is she should act out like a trained monkey in the interlude between circus shows.
"She’s the tallest woman I’ve ever seen," one hazel set of eyes whispered.
"I’m not sure that’s a woman," replied the grey blue.
Habiba marched on, the yellow polka-dot awash in drab greens, browns, and witty sayings.
She consoled herself with a smile and a laugh at the untold punchline. What would be the point of giving in anyway? It would just be the same the next day. Might as well smile. Sometimes that’s all a lady can do in the situation.
Karim stretched out on the ground, a panting sweating starfish. Fresh from his 5K training run he stopped by Habiba’s place to see if she wanted to go for coffee. He forgot two minor things though. The first that Habiba would gag the moment she happened to stand downwind of him, and the second was the moment he stopped running he would drop like a hundred pound rucksack full of day old quarter steaks thrown from a draw bridge in the middle of rush hour traffic. Needless to say he dropped fast.
"I’d love to get some coffee after you shower," Habiba mumbled from behind her scarf. She held it over her nose as if the thin fabric would some how repel Karim’s potent scent. She pushed back into the corner of her patio trying to give his scent the wide birth it so desperately needed. "You alright there? Do you need some water? A Candy bar? An ambulance?" she stretched up on her tippy-toes and looked down at her friend in the hope that a change of perspective might let her know if he was having a heart attack or if he was just really out of shape.
Karim wheezed through a smiling chuckle, “You should try this Habiba, it’s invigorating.” He coughed a couple times, tried to sit up and settled for an awkward recline. “If you ever want to try just let me know and I’ll teach ya’ how.”
"I don’t run for fun, you know that."
"Oh come on, you wouldn’t know if you never try!"
"No. I know," late night panic flashed into her head. Long strides, arms grasping air in an attempt to pull her forward faster. Streetlight after streetlight, empty black windows one after the other, and a chorus of footfalls echoing off the walls. Tears blurring her vision, fences to jump, chains to slip past, gaps to avoid. She continues until long after the echoes are only her own. "There’s nothing fun about running, Karim. Now go wash up and then you can tell me all about why I’m wrong," she smiled from behind her veil as she stretched out a helpful hand to the panting stink bomb collapsed on her patio.