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Without Hope
Katrina Hayes ©2003

I slipped the tropical hibiscus into my hair as I pushed open the door of my apartment, reluctantly letting the chilling, humid air mix in with my expensively heated air. Such a beautiful flower, a splash of pinks and yellows, would probably be the last link to any joy remaining in my life in the dreary day ahead of me.

I faced the right, walked along the slick concrete to the main street, passing the apartments of so many other people, living lives just as dreary as mine, but they always managed to smile when they made eye contact with me. Which was hard, considering that I often was staring at the ground a few feet in front of me. Downtown Atlanta was the city that surrounded me now, and it had never been one of my favorite places. This time of year especially, because it always seemed to be raining! This day was no different. I often asked myself why I put up with such a place, but I always ended up being reminded that I had been the one who had so desperately wanted a job in magazine editing. I did still enjoy my job, but it was questionable whether the job was worth the rest of the life that came along with it. I was still here, though, after five years, so apparently the benefits of the job outweighed the problems I had with the location. Still, this conclusion that I reached didn't make me any less miserable.

I reached the coffee shop in record time, running along under my umbrella through the seething crowds of people all rushing off to some place or another, none eager to be in the downpour longer than necessary. I ordered my usual, a plain coffee with strawberry syrup. Until the order was filled, I drummed my fingers on the sticky countertop while surveying the store's decorations and occupants. Something in the shop always managed to catch my interest, no matter how many times I'd been in it before. This time, it was the handful of movie posters scattered across the walls, from movies forgotten years ago. One was for some sort of karate film, with a guy flying ninja style across the poster, seeming to be alive, kicking furiously at some unseen target. I briefly wished I could be that ninja, with enough skill to beat up everything in sight. Then again, restraint was what kept him from doing such. Perhaps I was that powerful, and I was just acting out of courtesy to those surrounding me Š momentary ego boost.

My coffee came, and I headed over to a table that looked as if it had calm surroundings, relative to the chaos of the rest of the shop at least, and sat down to enjoy the relaxation in a cup that called itself "flavored coffee." I sipped away, my thoughts wandering even as I surveyed the other coffee pilgrims sipping at their own drinks. One caught my eye, and I thought he could have also been watching the room's occupants in condescending amusement. Either that or the hibiscus in my hair had caught his attention. That wouldn't be the first time I was noticed for my eccentric choice of accessories.

Before I knew it, he was standing over my table. "Mind if I join you?" I hook my head, but turned away. I could hardly decline letting someone sit at an unoccupied chair, but that didn't mean I had to pay any attention to them. Once again, I found my self trapped out of politeness. I could see myself turning ninja right there, but only continued sipping at my bittersweet drink and staring out at the swarm around me. The last thing I needed was some person trying to intrude on my solitary way of life right now. I certainly did not need to be bound to this city through any relationships, in addition to the job. I wanted to know that I could be far away this forsaken place in a day or so if I just made up my mind to do so.

"So, how's life been treating you recently?" I refused to reply. Maybe he'd go away. "Well, I've been doing fine enough. I really love the coffee this place serves. They have some really unique drinks, don't you agree?" I sipped self-consciously at my strawberry syrup-coffee mixture. The fact that they were innovative enough to come up with something other than plain coffee and some variations of espresso, all as boring and clichˇ as the city that the shop was located in, was one of the main reasons that kept me coming back. "Well, I do. Like the syrup coffees! I mean, citrus, banana, chocolate? Those really snagged me. Especially the strawberry." I took another worrisome gulp of coffee. I really wanted him to go away. He was sitting too close. I wasn't used to people being within about four feet of me, except in crowds and such, where it was unavoidable, and everyone made it obvious they wanted to get away from me as much as I wanted to get away from them. That's what you get for wearing tropical hibiscus in your hair, or tinker bell-style wings, or fuzzy dice around your neck, and walking among so many blandly outfitted drones, indistinguishable from one another. "Hmm. Well, the strawberry's good, maybe you should try it sometime. Although you probably go for their more exotic drinks. You seem very exotic, I don't think you belong here, do you? No one dresses like that around here, not for the past couple decades, at least. And you don't seem to want to be here." Don't respond, I told myself. He was just trying to crack me. It was taking more energy than I expected to ignore him. I ended up pretending to stare in fascination at another of the shop's decorations, a stone statue of a lion that would have fit better in China a couple centuries ago than in modern-day Atlanta. He followed my gaze. "As out of place as that lion. Why are you here?" Don't let him crack you, I kept repeating to myself.

"Where do you work? I'm a dentist at the clinic over there." Well, he'd hit his mark. I saw him gesture down the street out of the corner of my vision. A sigh escaped my lips; he didn't seem like he would be leaving any time soon, and it wasn't getting any easier to ignore him. I decided I could amuse him with some small talk. Which would hopefully scare him away.

"I work in this joke of a city, where else?"

"Well, it's not the greatest place on earth, but it's not that bad, is it?" He wouldn't shut up, would he? He probably thought I was just another pessimistic young adult or dedicated career woman, who there was still hope for.

Well, there always was hope, he was right on that one. But sometimes that hope involved changing something, and I was going to have to change my surroundings before there was hope for me.