(Last Sunday: After a therapy session with the renowned Dr. Kodor, Chartan takes a train to Sacramento where he meets the nurse who cared for him in San Francisco—she looks like Elisa and, in fact, shares her names. They decide to have 72-bean coffee together.)
Chartan and Elisa sat at a small round table, coffee mugs inches apart.
“I’ve never been here,” said Chartan.
Elisa smiled. “It’s my favorite coffee house when I’m in Sacramento.”
Chartan studied her face and tried to determine how it differed from the one in his dream. After all, she had been a temptress. But at the hospital her look had been one of kindness and concern.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
Chartan always spoke the truth when confronted. “I am struggling with the reality of sitting with you now and visions of you in my dream.”
“I guess I had hallucinations after I was shot. I saw a woman who looked like you. She was…”
“As beautiful as you.” Chartan gripped the mug tightly.
Elisa blushed and put a hand on his wrist. “I’m glad I came today,” she said.
“But why did you come here?”
“I went to the train station fully expecting I’d turn around and go home. Then by fate I saw you. I thought of talking to you during the ride, but decided not to.”
“You looked sleepy, so I watched you from five seats away. I hope you don’t mind.”
Chartan gave a short laugh. “I’ve never been watched before, or at least I haven’t known about it. But what if I hadn’t been at the station?”
“I might have taken the train to finish something I should have done a long time ago.”
“He’s not anymore.”
Chartan watched Elisa’s lips move, but he heard only the echo of “husband” while having this thought: The grasp of her hand at the train station hasn’t left me. Should her touch be different now that I know she is married? So much of life doesn’t make sense, especially the formula for being in love. I’ve only known her from a few days in the hospital where she was so kind– she was so unlike the Elisa in the dream. I want her to be real. I don’t want her to be married.
“Chartan, are you okay?”
He blinked a few times and said, “I was thinking about you.”
“That I have a husband I don’t love.”
“Who is your husband?”
“He is pure evil. My suffering is his joy. He won’t leave me alone, or agree to a divorce. I have only one way out.”
Chartan waited for her to finish, but Elisa stared at him briefly before reaching down below the table. He assumed she was looking for something in her large leather purse.
With eyes glaring Elisa held a pistol in front of her—it looked very much like the gun the car window bandit had shoved in his face. Chartan shivered.
“You intend to shoot him?”
“No, I intend to kill him.”
Chartan worried that he had slipped back into the dream state where the irregular behavior of women taunted him. He pressed the palm of his hand to his forehead.
“Please don’t,” he said.
“He’ll change your mind when you meet him.”
“He’ll be here in 15 minutes.”
Chartan waited for his instinctive wisdom to kick in, to deliver him from the potential horror that might occur in a few minutes—Elisa would shoot her husband at a Sacramento coffee shop. She was looking over his shoulder, he assumed, at the front entrance, some 20 feet away. His initial fear was that he’d fallen into a dream state again, indeed, the Elisa across the table now appeared to resemble the temptress in the dream, not the softer-faced nurse who had cared for him, and later, met him at the train station. Was this moment real? Did he have the free will to act, or would events unfold as they were meant to be, not as he wanted?
He had to do something other than wait for violence to take over. He stood up—that was a good first step. Elisa stared at him.
“Are you leaving?” she asked.
“I won’t have you shoot anyone. Give me the gun.” His instincts were working again. His power was returning.
Chartan held out his hand. Elisa handed him the pistol. He took it carefully, having never held a gun before. The next dilemma was to decide what to do with what he assumed was a loaded weapon. He put a napkin over it and left it on the table. Next, he went to the register to ask for a bag.
On his way back he saw Elisa reach for the napkin. A powerfully built man with a thick neck and short cropped dark hair was walking towards her. Chartan stopped. Elisa stood up, gun drawn.
Chartan jumped, digging his shoulder into the husband’s ribs, propelling him against an unoccupied table.
“Elisa, put the gun down and help,” said Chartan from the floor.
The husband looked at Chartan bug-eyed.
As Chartan pushed himself up from the floor, he saw that Elisa had the gun pressed against her hip. When he was on his feet, she pointed it at her fallen husband. Suddenly the café owner grabbed her arm from behind and wrestled the weapon from her grip.
Chartan watched the husband rise slowly.
“I don’t think I’ll need caffeine this afternoon,” he said. “What position did you play?”
Chartan smiled. “Linebacker.”
“May I buy you a drink?”
Elisa blurted, “Don’t trust him and certainly don’t have a drink with him.”
“Elisa, channel that anger for good, not hatred,” said the husband.
Two police officers entered the coffee shop. The owner explained how he had taken the gun from Elisa. A few minutes later she was handcuffed and escorted out of the coffee shop.
The husband said, “My name is Luke and I need a stiff one before I post bail for my wife.”
Chartan followed him, determined to find out more about Luke’s “pure evil.” But outside a police officer asked Luke to come with him to the station. Luke faced Chartan . “Another time, besides, my ribs need time to heal.”
A few minutes later Chartan stood alone on the sidewalk. A light breeze cooled his face. A tear slid down his cheek.
After the police cars left, Chartan brushed the tear from his cheek. A short time ago he had gazed into Elisa’s eyes, hoping she would accept him. Now, he doubted he would visit her in jail if, indeed, that is where she would be in the evening. Her husband did not make sense. He appeared affable, even in the wake of Chartan’s bone-jarring tackle. But Elisa had warned him that her husband was “pure evil,” not to be trusted. Maybe they deserved each other.
Chartan walked slowly in the direction of his apartment, some three miles away. With each stride his spirit grew stronger, a sign that delegating Elisa as an unpleasant memory was a smart path to take. He was passing the adult education center where he had taught life restoration classes when he heard his name called—it was Ms. Watkins, the center director.
“I heard you were shot in San Francisco,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“I hope so.”
“Ready to teach again? There’s a waiting list.”
Chartan’s heart raced: A waiting list?
Three weeks later Chartan stood in front of the education center. He had a new lesson plan and was anxious to instill his wisdom–that he would be paid was secondary to his urge to help. He walked to his classroom and opened the door to boisterous cheers from his fellow instructors and past students. He quivered with joy while making a mental note to add the power of “thanks from others” to his weekly lesson.
End of Chapter One
(To be continued next Sunday)