Leaving the house is a nightmare for me so I only do it out of necessity. This morning I’m meeting America at this cafe but he’s late and I’m early. Well, it won’t hurt to order a drink while I wait. Maybe if I have enough caffeine I will astral project, escaping both this world and my social anxiety.
I’m normally a morning person unless the morning involves incompetent baristas.
I ask Italy for an Americano because I like the taste of watered down espresso, but he catches Spain walk in just as he’s about to pull the shots. He turns all of his attention to her, saying something about her hair as she shakes her umbrella dry in the doorway. I stare at my abandoned cup and my heart sinks into my stomach.
Italy, how could you do this to me?
They kiss hello, a shameless European custom that I turn away from. But when I glance around the room, it dawns on me that Spain and Italy are the least of my worries and that my world is a very dangerous place; I am surrounded by loud, eccentric Europeans who are all enjoying themselves.
I hear Austria fuss at Liechtenstein because he’s putting too much sugar in whatever he’s drinking. From somewhere else Finland recites a song that sounds like it was thrown into a blender before it left her throat. Beside me, Russia has kept her sunglasses on indoors and pours half a jar of honey into her drink. She turns to me like she wants to say something, but then just laughs to herself and turns away.
That wasn’t a happy laugh.
Finally, Italy finishes my drink and the day is saved. He tries to drag me into his conversation with Spain but I just nod at everything he says and slowly walk away. I sit at a booth and relax by browsing comics on my phone. It eases the paralyzing fear that at any second someone might try to talk to me.
Before long, the grumbling in my stomach gets hard to ignore. I think about ordering food without America, but decide that would be rude, borderline unforgivable. So now I’m trapped; hungry, afraid, alone in hostile territory.
Why do you have to be late, America? Why are you putting me through this hell?
Suddenly a shiver crawls up my spine. The hairs on the back of my neck rise. My blood turns to ice. No, it’s not the Europeans this time. I feel … hunted. Watched. I wrestle with my options. If I look around, I may lock eyes with the culprit, and while this possibility fills me with dread, if I catch them, they may stop staring altogether. I bite the bullet.
Swallowing the last of the coffee down hard, I crane my neck. A gasp shoots from my throat.
North Korea is glaring at me from across the room–glaring so fierce that I experience genuine terror. Has he always had this power? The power to break someone with only his dark little eyes? China finally notices what’s happening and scolds him a little. North Korea mutters something back but looks away. I whip around faster than I ever have, our stare is broken and I am free to breathe again. Then I catch someone out of the corner of my eye.
It’s Taiwan. Outside, she ducks under the awning to hide from the rain, and after a moment inches up her qipao to straighten her stocking. Against my better judgment, I let my gaze linger to admire her sense of style. We all will be consumed by American culture in the end, but I think it’s nice that she holds onto tradition.
Bells toll in the distance and I stop thinking about fashion and hegemony. I know the sound of church bells ringing is supposed to be beautiful, but it makes me feel hollow. I could never put my finger on it … and I don’t even have time to ponder because America walks in.
“Hey.” He’s nonchalant as he approaches me. “Sorry about that. Woke up with sleep paralysis. There was a demon on top of me that looked like Germany.” He rummages through his pocket and pulls out a roll of what looks like Mentos. “Want some heartburn candy? I’ve only been up for thirty minutes and I’ve already had half a pack.”
It’s been 70 years and I still don’t understand how his brain works. These days, less so than ever before. But I do know that when he sits across from me, the room gets a little less noisy.
I wanted to write something based on the song Tom’s Diner because, well, it seemed like it’d be fun.