“I said: wakey-wakey, pally, gimme my payment and hit the pavement.”
“Yeah, of course.” Oisín said, fumbling in his pockets for cash to pay the cab fare.
Jet lag had taken a hold of him so he double checked each note to make sure he didn’t accidentally hand over a hundred dollar bill. Twice he’d done that the first time he’d been to New York. Twice bitten, he thought, and twice… however the rest of that went. He handed over a wad of cash. Bidding the cabbie keep the change and goodbye, he stepped out into a New York day. The cabbie got out too, threw Oisín a bemused look, walked to the boot, yanked out a bag and set it on the sidewalk.
“Figured you might need your luggage too, pal, even if you don’t think so.”
“Thanks.” Oisín said, offering a sorry smile. “My head’s a little messed up from the flight.”
The cabbie waved the thought away and was gone. Oisín really was feeling disorientated. He had expected to see Sadie at the airport but when he’d turned his phone on after landing there had been a voicemail waiting instead, with instructions to hop a taxi to Union Square and meet her at Starbucks. That was all. She had sounded stressed though. She hadn’t said much besides ‘Union Square’ and ‘Starbucks,’ but there had been a worrying tone to her voice. He had tried ringing her back. It kept ringing out. He’d meant to try again from the cab but had fallen asleep.
Sadie’s probably fine, he thought, I’m worrying over nothing. It was a sunny day and here he was in New York. With a smile on his face he looked around intent on soaking in the city. The smile faltered as his eyes took in the scene around him. He’d felt the crowd as soon as he’d stepped out of the cab. There’s always a crowd in New York, that bustling sense of urgency all about. He had felt that straight off but had been too spaced out to catch the mood. He was catching it now. The streets were packed with people, their faces distraught, pained and anguished. A sense of panic was in the air. He saw an elderly couple crying in each other’s arms. A younger couple approached them, to offer comfort it seemed but then they too burst into tears. All four wept openly in the street. Oh my God, Oisín thought, something has happened. Sadie!
He rushed across the street. Starbucks, she’d said she’d be at Starbucks. There was a line at the coffee shop that stretched out around the block. His eyes skimmed along, searching her out.
Thank God. Sadie offered him a faint, sickly smile under listless eyes. Twitching arms were folded awkwardly across her chest and he thought she might be close to tears. He threw both his arms around her neck and held her tight.
“Thank God you’re okay.” He whispered.
“I am, for now.” She sniffled into the small of his neck. “But it’s the end, Oisín, it really is the end.”
“Whoa, hold up now.” An angry voice shouted out. “No queue skipping.”
“It’s okay, she’s a friend of mine.”
“Oh, she’s his friend, that’s cool everybody. Yeah, nice try, buddy, I don’t care if you’re Jay-Z and she’s Beyonce, the line starts back there.”
“Ah, don’t get all bent out of shape.” Sadie shouted back. “Nothing to worry about, he’s Irish.”
“So all they drink is tea, that’s all they care about. Believe me, this guy’ll happily blather on this tea and that tea, and the right way to stew a pot, and a whole laundry list of other crap and in the end it still tastes like boiled wee in a cup to me. So I’m telling you: this guy, you don’t have to worry about.”
“Hmm” The guy looked down to the ground then back to Sadie. “How do I know he’s Irish?”
“Sure, you only gotta listen to him; he’s got an accent as thick as tar.”
“Okay, then.” He said, locking eyes on Oisín. “Talk.”
“Eh, about what?”
“About more than two words so we can hear if you’re full of crap or not.”
“Okay, em, my name’s Oisín, I’m from Ireland and… all I’m going to drink today is a cup of tea.”
“Okay then, Irish, but if I see you sipping on anything but tea in there then we’ll be having more than just words, if you catch my drift.”
“Understood.” Oisín said, turned away and whispered to Sadie. “Jesus, that guy’s really on edge.”
“Everyone is, now that it’s actually happening. I mean we all knew this day was coming but thought we still had time, you know, that something could be done… Everybody said it’d be six months at least before anything happened. Then they dropped the bombshell last night: today would be the last day. No more coffee for me, no more coffee for anyone.”
“Christ, how can you worry about coffee at a time like this?”
“Oisín,” Sadie said, giving him a strange, sidelong look. “What is it you think is going on here?”
“I don’t bloody know, the streets are full of panicked people, you’re talking about bombs being dropped…”
“Bombs! I didn’t say anything about bombs, nobody’s dropping any bombs. It’s the goddamned FDA that’s the problem. Last night the government announced that they’re instituting a ban on coffee, effective from midnight tonight. This is it. This is the last day.”
“Coffee!” Oisín exclaimed. “This is all about coffee, hell, I thought this was something serious.”
“You listen to me Oisín Higgins,” Sadie said, jabbing a finger under his nose. “And you listen good, this here is deadly serious. A bunch of goddamned pencil-necked, paper-pushing jackasses that call themselves politicians have decided to take away my life blood, that’s about as damned serious as it gets.”
“Okay, okay, I hear you.” Oisín said quickly, holding his palms up. “Calm down.”
“Jeezum crow! When they were handing out pen pals back in the day I sure wish they would’ve paired me up with a nice Columbian instead.”
Oisín decided, wisely, to keep his gob shut. They stood on line like countless others across the fifty states, all hoping for one last cup of coffee shop joe before the end, one last sip to steel them for the dark days that lay ahead. Across the nation on this, the last day, the streets were jammed with broken people: the poor, huddled masses yearning to drink caffeine. Soon the baristas would turn in their tampers and come the stroke of midnight, a person could land behind bars if caught holding an ounce of pure Columbian brown beans. Tomorrow the sun would rise on these new United States of America, one nation indivisible, with coffee, regular or decaf, for none.