A little old grandpa from Romania cursed me. Best thing that’s ever happened to me.
His name, as I later learned, was Miloslav, and he was behind me in line at the Starbucks when we had our little run-in. Well, to be perfectly honest, when I ran into him and spilled my coffee right down his back.
It was September three years ago and on that particular day the first chill descended upon the city and plunged the temperatures. Snow wasn’t out of the question.
Miloslav, being about one hundred and fifty years old, or at least acting like it, didn’t respond well to the sudden fluctuations. Even worse to the downpour of hot coffee I accidentally subjected him to.
He began shouting in a language I didn’t understand, his limbs started flailing about, and he tapped me a few times with a gnarled but smoothed-down tree branch that he used as a cane. I was too shocked to do much more than stand there and try to apologize, all to no avail.
Miloslav’s grandson, a cute boy in his 20s named Stanislav, tried to calm his grandfather, also without much success. As the tirade went on, the look on Stan’s face went from surprise to embarrassment to outright fright, and Stan’s so-far fruitless tactics went from pacification to moving his irate grandfather toward the exit and away from me. Stan placed himself between myself and Miloslav, but the damage was done.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Miloslav had cursed me. In his defense, he was already having a bad day, the weather was wreaking havoc on his joints, and the hot coffee on his back tipped the balance. He’s really a very nice person, as I would eventually learn.
It was a surreal scene and I don’t quite remember what happened next, but I made it out of the Starbucks without my coffee or dignity and resolved to do better in the future. Or at the very least to check behind me when in a crowded spot. The incident with the strange old man and his cute grandson faded from memory quickly after I got to work and faced a day of meetings. Hooray for Tuesdays, know what I mean?
Everything was going relatively well, but the shortage of caffeine in my system eventually caught up with me and I had to sneak out for an espresso booster during lunch. I went to the small coffee shop in the lobby of the building next door to ours. It was a literal hole in the wall, the barista had to lean out to catch the orders and explain to the tourists the way to the market. It wasn’t a big-name shop, so the lines were mercifully short most days.
As I was about half a block from the shop, however, a large group of teens – at least a dozen – got in line right in front of me. C’est la vie, karma catches up, etc., the usual litany of soothing pacifications passed through my head and I resolved to take my punishment.
Tried to avoid snooping, but it was inevitable: the teenagers were ordering blended drinks, soy-this, half-that, caramel and chocolate shavings, whatever the little coffeeshop offered and several things they’d never even heard of. In short, they were putting in obnoxious orders that would take about an hour for the poor barista to assemble.
I glanced at my phone and wondered how much more of this I needed to endure before the universe and I were square, karma-wise.
Gave it another ten minutes, then walked two blocks to a Starbucks.
There was something off about this one, though. A hell of a lot of SPD bikes stood outside the store. I opened the door and faced a line of patrolmen that stretched from the counter to the entrance, looping as it did around the condiment bar and several tables.
Despondent and under-caffeinated I slunk back to the office and faced the dreaded Coffeemaker of Sadness, as we came to call it.
The coffee was lukewarm and too bitter, even if you’d just washed out the carafe and brewed a brand new batch. It was the coffee of tedious all-hands meetings and late-night deadline marathons. When you drank it, you conceded your failures as a human being and suffered the consequences.
I hated it, but choked it down, and consoled myself with promises of a real cuppa joe in the near future.
The next day I made the journey to the ill-fated Starbucks where the old man cursed me out, only to find that I’d been preceded there by a team of runners from John Muir High School in Virginia. They wore matching neon-pink shirts and lined up dutifully to get their morning fix. Gah!
This was the pattern for the next week. I would consistently, like clockwork, show up to my favorite caffeine purveyors scant seconds after a large group queued up.
It did not matter where or when. For some inexplicable reason there was always a line, sometimes stretching out the door, even at 2 in the morning. That was an after-work book club composed of third-shift stockers, fishmongers, astronomers, and other night-dwellers.
I got to know the Coffeemaker Of Sadness, COS, quite well that week. I also read a hell of a lot while waiting in line. Hey, gotta get my fix somehow.
One day I was walking to Starbucks, a book in hand as I prepared for another half-hour wait, when I noticed two things. First, there were two fire-trucks in the parking lot of the store. And two, there was the cute guy who tried to calm the old man who yelled at me, and he was also walking toward the coffee shop. He recognized me instantly. Could my luck get any worse?
He looked at the fire-trucks, toward the coffeeshop, then toward me. Then repeated that three-point stare a few more times. When we were both close enough to the front door, he stuck out his hand.
“Stanislav. Stan, for short.”
“Nicole,” I responded and tentatively shook his hand. His grip was sure, but not overbearing, and he held my hand for an almost-uncomfortable length of time.
“Have you, uh, been having… issues? With coffee?” He shook his head in the direction of the Starbucks. I glanced in and observed the queue of blue uniforms.
“You could say that,” I nodded. He still hadn’t let got of my hand. I’m not sure I wanted him to.
“Can I buy you a coffee?”, he asked.
“Umm,” I started to reply, then looked back into the shop and shrugged. “Sure.” The wait would give us a chance to talk. I didn’t mind that at all.
The cute guy held open the front door and I walked in. As I did, an echo, a duplicate sound, came from half a dozen radios, and the two truck-loads of firemen quickly left the shop. Their sirens whooped outside as red and blue lights washed over my companion’s face. I looked at him and wondered, Who is he?
He titled his head to the side and leaned in the direction of the barista. We ordered two mochas. This was the first time in a week that I was able to place an order within seconds of walking into a shop.
It seemed surreal. What was going on?
I waited, this wasn’t the right time. Not yet.
“Was that your grandfather? The man I saw you with last time?” Nevermind, I decided, and jumped right into it.
“Uhh, yeah. Milos,” the guy responded. “My dad’s father.”
“What the hell did he do to me?”
“Well,” the guy said, and stretched out the moment.
We got our drinks then, and for a moment we focused on the coffee.
I took a long satisfactory drink. The best coffee I’d had all week, and I didn’t need to wait an hour for it.
I walked over to an empty table by the window, away from the other patrons, and sat down. Stan sat opposite me.
I took another drink of my coffee, but stared at him the entire time.
“He cursed you. That you would always arrive just after a big rush. Something like that, at least.”
“A curse? Are you serious?” He just looked at me and waited, then gave a shrug and his eyes moved around the shop, then came back to my drink. “Yeah, I take your point.”
“I’m sorry, he was upset, and I… didn’t know what to do.”
A thousand thoughts swam through my head. “Keep a dangerous individual like that, even if it’s your grandpa, away from crowded places,” and other similar ideas.
But that’s not what I said.
I asked Stanislav about himself. We talked for almost an hour when I finally remembered that I was late for work. Whoops.
Before I ran out, I gave Stan my number. He said he’d call. I was happy to hear that.
We started texting and calling each-other. I continued to wait in coffee-shops, but now when I did, Stan was always a text away. We met up frequently. He got the coffee. I had to assure him that I wasn’t just seeing him for the quicker coffee service. He accepted it, eventually.
I visited a different coffee shop in town for lunch. The rumor about me spread quickly, and suddenly I was being offered free drinks and scones, just for showing up at the shop, intent on paying every time, and consistently drawing a crowd. Miloslav’s curse was providing great business to these shops.
Stanislav keeps offering to have a word with the old man, but I like my curse. I like what I’ve been able to do with it for the local businesses. And I like that it brought Stan and I together. Wouldn’t have it any other way.