The First Drop Cafe - Iced Water
The First Drop CafÃ© is my kind of place â€“ without question!Â And that wasn't a hastily formed view!Â There was just something about this particular coffee emporium that made it a coffee lover's heaven on earth.Â It was a combination of welcoming ambiance, friendly service, superb caffeine fix and good value for money.Â And always filled with like-minded people.
But this evening it seemed too much of a good thing.Â The place was so full and humming that I decided not to bother, and to find an emptier though lesser place.Â Such was not meant to be, for an elderly man caught my eye and waved for me to come over.Â He was seated alone in a small alcove overlooking a courtyard garden â€“ the perfect secluded place, sheltered from the busyness of the cafÃ©.Â Although he obviously mistook me for someone he was expecting, I walked over anyway, it being the height of ill manners to ignore such an invitation â€“ even if almost certainly made in error.Â Besides, there was the off chance that he was being gracious and offering to share his table.Â You just never know your luck.
"I'm God," he said, and nodded at the vacant chair oppositeÂ him.Â "Won't you sit down?"
"I'm Saint Nicholas," I replied, not to be totally outdone.Â "And thank you very much," I added in a saintly way, sitting down.Â "But I fear you've mistaken me for someone else."
"Fear not!" he said with a smile.Â He gazed at me with twinkling eyes.Â "God making a mistake?Â Surely not?Â Isn't that a contradiction in terms?"
I grinned in a non-mocking, saintly sort of way.Â "You didn't get it exactly right with the Ten Commandments," I said, tongue firmly in cheek â€“ or foot in mouth, depending upon your point of view.
"Oh, pray tell how I got it wrong?"
Just then the waitress caught my eye.Â I waved for her, and she came over.
"A skinny flat white for me," I said, and then looked at God.Â "What would you like?Â It's my treat â€“ the very least I can do."
"Iced water, my child," he said to the waitress.Â "If in a very tall glass, I'll double my blessing to you."
"I'd rather have a healthy tip," she said cheekily, and flounced off to fill our order.
God sighed, his eyes following her.Â "People really should be careful in what they ask for," heÂ observed softly.Â He looked me in the eye.Â "Now tell me, what's this about the Ten Commandments and a mistake?"
"You overlooked including a few more."
"Well, how about number eleven: 'There's no certainty but death and taxes'?"
"My son, that's not a commandment â€“ merely a statement.Â For it to be a commandment it'd have to say; 'Thou shall die and pay taxes'.Â Or, better: 'Pay taxes and die'."
"Hmmm," I murmured, in a somewhat miffed and non-saintly way.
I'd have to lift my game to better the old man.Â He was probably an eccentric university professor indulging in cognitive Olympics â€“ an amusing sport to while away the time.
"Okay, number eleven can be worded as you said.Â But in regards to the first ten, the next one would have to be: 'Don't get caught'."
He chuckled.Â "The impossibility of that is staring you in the face.Â Surely, it's self-evident?"
I shook my head stubbornly.Â "You're not getting out of it that easily.Â Please explain."
"There are Ten Commandments.Â When you break any or all of them you must be caught. Â You catch yourself!Â Then you convict and punish yourself.Â If you reflect on your experience of life, you know it to be so.Â The sayings: 'What goes round comes around,' and 'What you give you receive,' are true.Â You already know it to be so."
"I guess," I conceded grudgingly, though far from finished.Â "But why then have the Ten Commandments?"
The old man chuckled.Â "Stop trying to be a theologian.Â It's not your thing!Â But to answer your question.Â The term Ten Commandments is a misnomer.Â It's far more accurate to call them the ten suggestions, or even better, the ten injunctions of wisdom.Â For their intent is to save you from yourself, as well as saving others from you.Â No more, no less!"
I gazed silently at the old man.Â Obviously, he was some sort of religious nut.Â Possibly a defrocked priest who'd tried the patience of the bishop once too often.Â Or, even more likely, a theologian excommunicated by an exasperated Pope.
The waitress spectacularly broke my train of thought.Â As she approached us with a tray bearing a large tumbler of iced water and my cup of skinny flat white, she wasn't quite paying attention to where she was going.Â She tripped over the outstretched leg of the guy sprawling in his chair at the adjoining table.Â It was a minor miracle that she somehow deposited the tray onto our table as she fell to the floor.Â Being a saint, I helped her to her feet; but even so, I noted that there wasn't as much as a single spilled drop of water or coffee.
"I'm so sorry," said the clumsy oaf at the next table.Â "Are you all right?"
She nodded.Â "I was lucky," she said in a shaken voice.Â "I could have broken my leg.Â Or my neck, for that matter!"
"My child," God said quietly, "You are twice blessed."
The clumsy oaf at the next table stood up.Â Embarrassed, he paid for his barely touched mug of hot chocolate with a $50 note and told her to keep the change.Â Then he hurried out of The First Drop CafÃ©.
"You know," mused St Nicholas, glancing at the waitress retreating to the safety waiting behind the front counter, "WeÂ should also have given the poor thing a tip."
God smiled.Â "She only asked for one.Â And as it was, she got another â€“ albeit in different form."Â He studied the saint before him and nodded in approval.Â "Your heart is in the right place.Â You're well named.Â But why not stick to giving from the heart and leaving theology to me?"
St Nicholas smiled ruefully.Â "But then, how would I know how to avoid breaking the Ten Commandments?"
God's eyes were twinkling.Â "All you need do is keep an open mind and follow your heart.Â Then you won't hurt yourself, and the Commandments can look after themselves.Â They don't need your input.Â Truly!Â I assure you!"
St Nicholas, in a stroke of pure genius, decided that the bishop should take the old man to a dress shop and buy him a new frock.Â And the Pope should immediately cease being an ex-anything, and begin communicating from the heart.
"Just so!" said God, gazing through the window and into the courtyard.
St Nicholas looked through the window to see a not-so-young couple sneaking a kiss.Â For all the world it should have passed unseen, for they were sitting in the shadow cast by the grapevine overhead.
"Ah," murmured God.Â "Truly, it be the fruit of the vine."
St Nicholas glanced at the tumbler of iced water on their table.Â He idly wondered whether God was imbibing in something a whole lot stronger.
God noticed and casually fished an ice block out of the glass.Â He held it up to the blessed saint, who raised an inquiring eyebrow.
"Behold!" said God.Â "Here is something opaque and solid.Â Yet we know it to be clear and fluid.Â Can it be both?Â Do our eyes deceive us?Â Nay!Â Despite the appearance, we know the content of the form is live-giving water.Â And so it is of all that lives â€“ the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and all that walks or slithers upon the ground.Â See past the form and you will see that I am the content.Â Everywhere, you will see me."
Before the saint could even begin to struggle with a reply, a loud and angry voice drew his attention to the front counter.Â There an exasperated woman was berating the waitress about the length of time she'd been waiting for a table.
With a smile on his lips, St Nicholas was about to declare that there stood the first female Pope.Â But to his astonishment, the chair opposite was vacant.Â A quick scan of The First Drop CafÃ© confirmed that God had vanished.Â The saint sighed, got up and walked up to the agitated woman.
"God works in mysterious ways," he said to the startled lady.Â "But now there's a free table for two.Â I think it's meant for you.Â Who knows, an elderly gentleman might even join you."
I smiled at the abashed waitress and handed her a $20 note.Â "Keep the change," I said, and walked out into the night.
For much more - the jackpot, even - see also Prose: Humour & Surreal - Table of Contents (for hyperlinks to all my collected humorous and/ or surreal prose tales)