Fast Fiction: The Adventures of Chartan: Coffee Bean Fame

(If you are new to Chartan, please read last Sunday’s installment: Java and a Gun.)

Traffic was light and that made Chartan grip the steering wheel tighter. Any joy over the lack of cars is a sign that I am thinking as a chauffeur not as a master of the mind.

“Chartan?”

Her voice caressed his throat.

“Yes?” He saw in the rear view mirror that Minerva had a cell phone pressed to her ear.

“A TV station wants to interview you about your heroic act. I told them we were driving to Sacramento—the person says it can be done there. Shall we?”

I am now part of how she sees the world. “Certainly.”

Forty minutes later Chartan was directed to stand by the limo and look directly into the camera.

The reporter spoke: “Earlier today San Francisco police arrested a suspect in a string of brazen car robberies. Dubbed the ‘car window bandit’, the alleged thief is thought to be responsible for more than 20 daytime crimes where he would knock on car windows with a pistol and then proceed to take cash and jewelry. But today he ran into a hot cup of coffee thrown by this brave man.”

When the news report ran that night, viewers saw the calm, dark-haired chauffeur with “Chartan Chartan” superimposed on the screen.

“It was a 72-bean French roast.”

The quote went viral in the news world. But Chartan avoided the press; instead, he sat on a floor, replaying Minerva’s last words: “I’d be pleased if you would come to my house tomorrow at 6 p.m. for dinner as Chartan, not my chauffeur.”

***

Chartan paced about the small apartment. In three hours he was due at her house and he had yet to achieve that calm state essential to harnessing his metaphysical powers. He had been ‘unnerved’ by a woman much older and wealthier than he. Did he want to be a mentor, lover or friend?

Chartan donned running shorts and a Grateful Dead t-shirt, then sprinted to the city center where vagrants were pinned to dirty brick walls as if they were models for Claes Oldenberg. A few cursed him. Chartan assumed it was his jet black hair, pale skin and lanky body that drew unfavorable comments from the down and out. As he ran back to his apartment, he pledged to return to the bus station alleyway the next day to help some of these sad figures find hope.

The run, a shower and thoughts of helping the less fortunate put Chartan in a high state of readiness. All that remained was to ring Minerva’s door bell.

He took the bus to her mansion. His heart pounded when a beautiful, young woman with blonde hair opened the door.

“Mr. Chartan?”

“Yes.”

“Please come in. Ms. Woods is waiting for you.”

He followed her until he was greeted by a voice from above. “Chartan, I see you have met my assistant, Elisa.” Minerva was standing at the top of the stairs dressed in a bright red dress that spoke of riches.

Chartan fought to regain control.

Continued Next Sunday…

***

Fast Fiction: Loneliness

Benjy thought everything he did should be important, that every moment had significance. About the clearest thought he had recently was that he was lost, adrift. He had no dreams, no desires no reason to believe tomorrow would be different.

                For the present he was sitting on a park bench in a very nice neighborhood, waiting for someone to tell him to leave. He might welcome that direction because at the very least it would be something to do. Several hours passed with people going by him without making eye contact. Maybe, he wasn’t on a park bench. He closed his eyes momentarily, reopened them and gently rubbed the bench seat. It was wooden, somewhat rough.

                “Excuse me.” A young woman wearing a white bonnet stood in front of him. “Do you know how far it is to the library?”

                Her question was one he could answer in detail. He knew the library well—it was his church, a place he could be in without fear that someone, like this woman, would talk to him. Her eyes were kind and she waited for a response with a kind smile.

                “I am going there, it’s not that far.” He stood up, raised his arm, palm up in a gesture to follow. She did.

                The woman walked side by side with Benjy. They left the park without speaking. Benjy hadn’t talked to anyone in several months. The last person was a bus driver who nodded at him when he boarded and Benjy surprised himself by saying, “How’s it going?” He remembered the driver muttering, “It’s Thursday,” before closing the door.

                “What day is it?” asked Benjy, turning to the woman.

                “Why it’s Thursday,” she replied.

                He decided not to tell her the last time he spoke to someone it was a Thursday, instead, he said, ”Thanks.”

                “Do you go to the library often?” she asked. They were nearing the end of the first block with the library about to come into view.

                “I do.  I like to read and to think there.”

                “So do I.”

                Suddenly, Benjy was overcome with the joy of sharing a few words with a stranger. Her third  question was almost too good to be true: “What do you like to read?”

                He briefly told her about a handful of books he had read during the present month and he might have added more detail, but they were now in front of the library.

                “This is it,” he said, acknowledging they might go inside and never speak to each other again. But the last ten minutes had been important—a stranger had thrown him a lifeline. He looked at her with a smile, believing she did not see a man drowning in loneliness. 

                “I’m Emma.” She briefly squeezed his hand. “Let’s go in.”

                                                                                —-

(A new Harvard study finds that 36% of Americans are experiencing “serious loneliness.”

Looking in the Mirror…

How often do you look at yourself in a mirror? This is one of those questions that is grist for the internet. Some studies say women look at themselves more than men while other sources claim men actually view themselves more than women. Whatever.

I am forced to look at myself when I shave, usually a daily undertaking. When I was a teenager last century, I constantly checked the mirror for acne. Now that I am old and without acne, I don’t look except when shaving and brushing my teeth. I have a lot of hair which I rarely brush–this is a sign of senior independence, also known as the mad scientist look.

During the pandemic I have looked less at myself while spending more time in the kitchen cooking, a nonsequitur statement that is so very true.

What Happened?

I took this shot of a Big Sur beach wedding a few years ago. I was struck by the orderliness of the scene–everyone in her or his place–in a natural surrounding of random almost chaotic beauty. Don’t know what happened to the newlyweds. Do know that planet Earth is in trouble with extreme weather acting as a drumbeat of environmental doom. You know the story. Climate change has evolved faster than most anyone imagined. What happened?

The Adventures of Chartan: Java and a Gun

A struggling life coach moonlights as a limo driver to make ends meet.

Chapter One: Java and a Gun

The lights in the room went out, leaving five people seated in darkness. A murmur of concern arose until a feint overhead light came on, revealing a dark-haired man in the center of the room. His lips were noticeably red.

“You can see my face,” said the man, “but not the person next to you.—that doesn’t matter. Simply concentrate on me. I am Chartan.”

The room was filled with the sounds of shoe scraping, bodies shifting, and heavy breathing.

“You are anxious—darkness does that to people,” said Chartan. “Now, each of you has two things in common. You’ve paid $100 to be here and you have thought about ending your life.”

“Excuse me,” said a voice to the far right.

“Yes,” said Chartan.

“I think I’m in the wrong room.”

“How so?”

“I don’t want to kill myself and I paid $15 for the psycho drama class.”

Chartan went red in the face. “Room 215.”

“Can you turn on the lights so I can get out of here?

Chartan pulled out a pocket flashlight and said, “Follow me.”

When he returned to his seat, a voice on the far left said, “I want my money back.”

“Me too,” said another voice.

A few minutes later Chartan sat alone in the room, his forehead wet with perspiration. The room cost $40 and he let everyone leave without paying.

“Is this the Life Restoration class? “asked a small voice from the doorway.

“Yes, I’ve been waiting for you, please enter.”

I only have $50, is that okay?”

“Let the healing process begin.”

                                                            ***

                         Chartan’s ego took a monthly beating when his apartment rent was due. He was typically $100 to $200 short despite his earnings as a life coach at the River City Adult Education Center. His fallback position was to chauffer for Sloan’s, a limo service catering to the wealthy. Although Chartan was the limo owner’s favorite, he only took jobs when he needed rent money.

Minerva Woods was the wealthiest widow in the county. She was 55 and guarded about her fortune, assuming men wanted her money, not her. But she disliked how wealth had turned her into a cold person.

Once every two weeks, a Sloan’s limo took Minerva 90 miles to a renowned therapist in San Francisco.

The first time Chartan drove Ms. Woods, he announced in the doorway of her mansion, “I am Chartan.” He knew she saw his chauffer’s license posted in the back with his name in large letters: Chartan Chartan—his last name was the same as the first. Still, when she spoke to him, she called him “driver.”

 I am not a driver—I am Chartan and I have the power to show you a new life was one of the many thoughts he had on Interstate 80 West.

“Driver, there is a Starbuck’s at the next exit. Please stop.”

“Certainly. And my name is Chartan!”

“Do you know the alphabet game, Chartan, my dear driver?”

Chartan never said, “I don’t know.”

“Ms. Woods, would you honor me by going first?”

Chartan admired her broad smile in the rear view mirror.

                                                ***

                        Chartan sat in the parked limo at the crest of Russian Hill in a space reserved for clients of the famed psychiatrist, Dr. Ivan Kodor. He knew the doctor’s work but scoffed at his theories. He took a thermos from the glove compartment and poured dark coffee.

Ms. Woods had been in Kodor’s office for nearly an hour at a cost, he guessed, of $1,000. Chartan knew he could provide her the same guidance as the renowned therapist at half the cost. But then he froze the thought. Money wasn’t the issue even though a lack of it forced him to do paid chores for others. No, Kodor could charge all he wanted, Chartan was only interested in the patient’s soul.

His focus was broken by a knock on the driver’s window. He faced the barrel of .45.The gunman screamed, but Chartan couldn’t understand him, so he closed his eyes briefly and drew in a deep breath before rolling down the window.

“Coffee?” He held the cup so it rested against the tip of the gun barrel.

More expletives came from the gunman who put his face in the window just in time to be splashed with hot java. Chartan swung the door open and toppled the assailant. Ten minutes later police had the gunman in handcuffs.

Chartan was standing by the limo, talking with an officer, when Ms. Woods approached.

“Chartan, are you okay?”

She called him by my name! He smiled at her and she returned the look. Yes, he would help her more than Kodor.

                                    (to be continued next Sunday)

%d bloggers like this: