I walk briskly down the street, the rising sun’s heat already turned the air hot and sticky. The city sleeps after a long night and the only people awake are me and the city workers who spray down the buildings every morning. I pass by the park with massive, cement arches honoring musicians with bronze statues inside the gates; homeless people cluster around the entrance to the park waiting for it to open. I turn left and cross into the historic French Quarter. The vendors and magicians are setting up their booths lining the streets and sidewalks. I make it to the cafe where I work, grabbing a white apron and my tray I sweep my frizzy hair out of my eyes and pull it into a tight ponytail. I chat with another worker who just started,
“Hi honey, how are you today?”
“I’m a little tired. I didn’t get off my shift last night until 8 and then I had to help clean up.”
She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth as the wrinkles around her eyes turn downwards. She grabs my hands into her own, spotted with age.
“Be sure to rest honey, you don’t want to turn into an old lady like me.”
I laugh and reply, “You barely look a day over twenty.”
Her smile radiates like the sun, but her attention is drawn away from me when the first customer walks into the cafe. We glance at each other, there is always the few customers who are early risers. “I can seat you over here.” I lead him to the table in the corner where the sun reflects off his all orange clothing and onto the white table. He gives me his order in very good english with a heavy accent, “I’ll take two cups of coffee, one with cream. I’ll also have a order of beignets.”
Smiling, I jot down his order and return to the kitchen.
“He orders the same thing everyday.” I say to the kitchen worker.
“The man in orange again?”
“Yup, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a different color.”
The coffee cups clink against the saucers as I place his order in his slightly shaking hands. “Here you go, sir.”
“Thank you so much my dear.”
I hesitate before turning away, “Why do you always wear orange? I’ve never seen you in a different color.”
“Happiness is orange, didn’t you know?”
I giggle, “I had no idea, is it your favorite color?”
“It’s my wife’s favorite color.”
“You have a wife? I see you everyday, how come I’ve never met her?” I smile at the man.
His voice catches as he says, “She died about 10 years back, I come here to have a little memory of her everyday.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Nevermind that my dear, it’s been quite a while since she’s left.”
I slide into the chair across from him as the steam curls up from the cups of coffee.
“Is that why you come here everyday?”
“No, the last time i saw my daughter was in this cafe. Her mother died and I haven’t heard from her since.”
I nod my head, give my condolences, and head back to the kitchen with pity in my heart for the man in orange.
I journey home and pass by fountains and a gleaming statue in a park, ladies twirl in their cherry red dresses with their fans covering their faces and hair piled high on their head. The jazz singers on the corner sing a harmony as tourists crowd around them. I notice flashing lights a couple blocks down, but every week or so some tourist gets in an accident or there is a fight that breaks out between two red faced men. I make it back to my house as the sun starts setting on the Mississippi River, kicking my shoes off I fall onto the couch and into a deep slumber.
I jog down the street at sunrise, the men are hosing off the buildings who have suffered at the hands of people in the dark. I nod at the people sleeping in doorways of shops and in bushes that surround gleaming statues. I make it to work and start shooing pigeons out from underneath the covering of the cafe. My friend gives me a smile, “Hi honey, I already have someone sitting at the back table for you.”
I grab my apron and tie it tightly around my waist, turning the corner I am surprised to see a lady sitting at the man in orange’s table with her head in her hands.
“Hello miss, what can I get started for you today?”
Her bloodshot eyes turn to me and ask, “There was a man who came to this cafe everyday; did you know him?”
“The man in orange?”
She takes a deep breath and tears roll out of her eyes like the first drops of rain before a storm. “That man is -- was my father. He died last night walking home from this cafe. He was waiting for me. I promised I would visit him and meet him here, but I never showed up.”
The woman’s body shakes with silent sobs as she chokes on her words. I think back to the flashing lights last night. I reach out towards her hand and say,
“I’ll be right back.”
I carry out two cups of dark roast coffee and an order of beignets from the kitchen, “This is what he always got.”
Her eyes widen at the sight of two cups of coffee and slumps back in her chair.
“He never stopped waiting for me.”
I smile weakly and sit across from her as her tears pour into the two cups of coffee.
“He would’ve waited here forever for you, my dear.”
A stranger in orange passes by the cafe window, sun bouncing off his shirt into my eyes. He disappears into the swarm of people on the streets, but now every man I see is the man in orange.