This story centers on three hopeful young people. Each of them is expecting a life-changing email that day. None of them know how small the world is, and it is within their power to manifest each other’s dreams…or break them.
“Rendez-Vous” café is a cozy place where people come to avoid one another, and the world leisurely revolves in a bubble of green tea– a drinkable meditation. Only the Now exists at “Rendez-Vous”; the past discarded at the threshold like a pair of muddy shoes; the future – looming as a bill for a comfortable time.
One bleak winter day, an errant group of 20-somethings overturned the porcelain calm and charged the atmosphere with nervous electricity. They came first to the café but were doomed to leave it last. They’d led a silent dialogue before a magnetism of looks drew them together, urging to confess the secret of a disappointing life.
They introduced themselves abruptly:
They demanded no true names, going by the essence of their natures. They each were expecting an email which would reaffirm their trust in humanity or derail it.
The Cynic was an aspiring writer turned misanthrope. He faintly hoped for a response from the publishing industry. His 10-year labor would either gain a green light or smash him with failure, to which he had already resigned…He harbored a deep inner world which he struggled to conceal. The compass to that inner world was broken, pointing to myriad life-paths which he feared to embark upon, foreseeing only pain ahead. He alleged to be at odds with his family, co-workers and God. Seemingly cold and derisive, he often submerged into silence, waiting for somebody to pull him out and restore his faith in people. Many had drowned in the muck of his gloomy contradictions.
In contrast, The Rebel was a hot-tempered girl who had recently fled home, determined to stay independent with the offer of a job. Today she was anticipating a reply from a potential employer, the only one who had expressed interest – out of the hundreds she’d approached. She viewed reality as a cage: her ambitions confined for an indefinite term. She furiously slammed against the bars of a constraining social system and refused to back down – a self-proclaimed battler in the era of corruption, moral flabbiness and vice.
She disapproved of The Idealist – a young woman who saw no shame in loving a married man twice her age. Jeff was intending to take her to Paris on the upcoming weekend. Tickets were already purchased, but he left her bed last night with a startling declaration, “If I don’t write to you tomorrow, consider “us” over.”
Apparently, all three young people were in the same predicament – a wait for a life-changing email. They resolved to ease their anxiety in talks about “everything.”
The Cynic observed, “They say small minds discuss people; mediocre minds – events, and great minds – ideas. I say, ingenious minds discuss all three, interconnectedly.” He clearly ascribed himself to the latter.
“Whatever is inside you, no matter if it’s sh*t or God, will seek an outlet,” The Rebel agreed.
“Let’s speak nothing but the truth – we might never meet again,” The Idealist said – an advocate of heartfelt connections in a superficial world.
They promised to have no reservations – no prejudice brewing in their evening tea.
The Cynic was first to recount his story. His speech was lethargic and provokingly indifferent to what others thought of him:
“Everybody clings to someone for survival or success. But I cling to no one. I have nothing in common with humanity, except that we breathe the same dirty air and tread the same blood-smeared earth. I expect nothing good from anyone. No strike can hurt me. No word can burn me. I statistically have another 20 000 days to live, and I’ve patiently accepted that none of them shall go my way. But I won’t forsake my goal: to have no one impose their feelings on me, or to infect me with their notions of success, happiness and normalcy.”
The Cynic was a high-school dropout, his chasm with education prompted by a feud with his English teacher. “Not succinct or crisp enough,” she would issue the same, ruthless critique over his homework, “Mark my word, in college they’ll fail you.” The teacher threatened to flunk the student in advance for “his own good.” The Cynic learned his lesson and submitted a succinct, “F*ck you!” on his final exam paper. He then left school and “normal” society which, according to him, was too shallow to detect his true, fathomless potential.
He didn’t want to waste his time on reconciling with the world.
“What is your novel about?” The Rebel asked about the 800-page manuscript dusting somewhere in the slush-pile. She could relate to The Cynic for speaking so openly.
“Life, death, and everything in between,” The Cynic summed up.
“Why isn’t it published yet?” The Rebel pressed on.
“It’s not enough to have good writing; it must also be bad enough to be sold.”
The Idealist wondered, “What if you had the greatest ideas, but the rest of the world would never see them as great?”
“I would shout to the world that I do not believe it,” The Cynic drank from a hot cup, with no regard to the steam.
He then checked his email, finding it empty.
“Publishing is a cut throat business,” The Idealist plunged a knife into a red-velvet cake.
“How do you know?” The Cynic raised his skeptical brow.
The Idealist sighed, “Every business is cut throat” and tried to look regretful as she took a sweet bite.
The Rebel was next to share her story: “The morning my sister got into Yale, I packed my bags and left home. I had packed those bags weeks in advance, knowing that she would surpass me. It’s an all-time competition, and I’ve never come in first. I’m ready to run anywhere, to hear no questions – and no blame – why I couldn’t be a clone of my efficient, perfect sister…In truth, if I don’t get a job pronto, you will be looking at the ghost of a great person – of one that I could have been.”
“Ditto,” The Cynic stretched in his chair as after a lifelong nap, “I watch the clouds from my couch – a misty silhouette of the great man I could become if I cared to stand up from it.”
The Rebel frowned, scorning The Cynic’s apathy. To her, willpower took precedence over matter, over mind and emotion. It was the universal engine bringing all in conjoined motion.
She said, “The road to success is the same as the road to failure. The difference is in how you travel. If you look fearlessly ahead, you’ll be victorious. If you look back in regret – you will encounter nothing but pain and disappointment…Misunderstood people find no compassion in me, as I belong to them. In showing compassion I will fall into self-pity. I strive to destroy that feeling. I respect those who fight misfortune, dauntlessly, until the end.”
The Cynic watched her intently. Where he slammed the door on society, the Rebel aimed to shake its foundation.
“What do you fear most?” The Idealist asked.
“Losing control,” The Rebel instantly replied, “Especially when flying an airplane. What if the pilot falls asleep and the plane starts falling down at a supersonic speed?”
“You don’t fly often,” The Cynic guessed.
“No. I’m broke,” The Rebel gloomily confirmed.
“You probably don’t fall in love often either,” The Idealist presumed.
The Rebel confessed with a dark look, “I would never love someone unless I can set them on fire.”
The Idealist approved, seeing no updates from her lover…
The Rebel ranted on many things – injustices and limitations. She called herself “the ultimate minority”: she alone against the world.
At 6.00 pm, she said: “When watching movies, do you stick around for the credits? Don’t you feel bad for the hundreds of people who had worked on the movie when they scroll the names so fast that you can’t even read them? Their contribution goes unnoticed!”…
At 6.10, she petitioned, “We constantly speak of self-growth. But self-growth is impossible without appreciation. There should be no secluded self-growth. All talents must find a connection to the best resources and people who will foster and advance them. If we compare a person’s talent to a plant, then most who speak of growth spit into the flower-pot and call it watering, instead of nurturing another’s potential to bloom. There is scores of untapped talent, worthwhile thoughts, and authentic emotion thrown into the garbage bin.”
No one had seen The Rebel’s potential: the best of her youth was being wasted, always hitting a brick wall, a closed door, an empty email.
At 6.30, she proclaimed, “We are playing a blame game of genders, races, and backgrounds, but there are only shifts of power. A universal, mobile force – by turns dark and radiant – which chooses a moment in history to erupt and divide, or to unite and transcend…Whoever gains that power absorbs the element of greatness – a gift to humanity or a scourge. It depends on what they choose –absolution or revenge. Sometimes the power concentrates in one person, the epicentre of change, but sometimes in a whole people, as during the Renaissance. Now, we must be those passionate, determined people, if we are to make the best of our lives and of our time!”
She then checked her email again, only finding a message from the perfect older sister:
“I’m worried. Where are you?”
Tossing the cellphone aside, The Rebel claimed, “Life is too short to listen to others how we should live it.”
“Let other people climb the stairs to success. You will take the escalator,” The Cynic taunted.
“I refuse to wait in line for a slap on the face,” The Rebel retorted.
“My line has been six months long,” The Cynic smirked.
“You’ve sent the manuscript to only one publisher?” The Rebel guessed.
The Cynic splashed her with an icy look.
The Rebel was unfazed, insisting, “People who look for success in one venture gamble on the goodwill of one person. They’re searching for a sunken treasure in a puddle, when there is an ocean of opportunities.”
“An ocean so obscure from the blood of competition that the treasure is invisible,” The Cynic rolled his eyes.
“Better than thrashing in a puddle,” The Rebel spoke from experience, having sent her resume to hundreds of places, unsuccessfully, but still…
She went out for a smoke in the dense, winter twilights.
The Idealist took a pill to numb her nerves.
The Cynic winced, “How can you take these pills – an edible poison?”
“Don’t you ever get anxious?” The Idealist was surprised.
“I am calmer than a grave of my own failed aspirations,” not a muscle moved on The Cynic face.
“You probably don’t have a soul.”
“A soul?” The Cynic echoed, “Why would I need a soul, one more organ, albeit a metaphysical one for whose ache there is no cure? I already have a bad liver and a faulty cardiogram.”
Suddenly, The Idealist’s blue eyes dimmed as she asked, “Do you fear death?”
“I am impartial. When death arrives, you are already gone. It’s the worst guest in the world, while life is the most uncouth. Life seldom brings gifts and wipes its feet on your conscience.”
The Idealist sighed, “I’m unsure if I hurt more because I am alive, or because I am not alive enough.”
When The Rebel returned, The Idealist revealed, “I have a blood disorder. If I suffer miscarriage, it might lead to fatal bleeding. Now, I’m in love with a man whose wife can give him children. Jeff is making a decision today: me or her.”
She showed them a picture of Jeff, a stunner indeed.
The Rebel’s cold coffee seemed to burn her tongue. She barely restrained an exclamation as she recognised the man. She found adultery outraging but resolved, “Let me learn more.”
The Idealist emphasized with a blush, “Our love is a poem with the rhyme of two hearts.”
The Cynic scoffed at the naivety.
The Idealist took a deep breath and continued, “Thousands of people keep flashing away before my eyes, and only one moved in slow motion in the racing, mottled mass. I thought it was love. Now, he is also flashing away – out of me, my apartment, and my life. I started doubting myself. Was I doing something wrong? Then, he called me her name in bed. That’s when I learned that he is married. He swears he’s getting divorced soon. He called me the angel who’s relieved his suffering.”
“By making you suffer as well,” The Rebel passed her verdict on the liaison.
“Haven’t you tried other men?” The Cynic asked intrusively.
The Idealist was offended, “His love is my oxygen. I can’t breathe without Jeff. Same as you without your books…”
“No one cares about my books,” The Cynic jeered, “Nor does he care about you.”
For several moments none of them spoke, checking their emails to no avail.
What would happen to them should they receive no answer? It appeared to the young people that humanity assembled at the little coffee table, to both sympathize and judge them, and to force them to confront all that had gone wrong in life.
The Idealist broke down crying, “I know that I belong with him. I grew up without true friends. Only he can understand me, and accept me as I am. We have so much in common, looking in the same direction…”
The Rebel interrupted, “Looking in the same direction isn’t travelling the same path.”
“I tried to think positive, to change my attitude, use the Law of Attraction, but nothing helped,” The Idealist explained, trying to determine where she had done wrong.
“Change your attitude?” The Cynic was amused, “What if you’re getting burnt alive? How can you sing instead of screaming?”
“Our screams are always music for someone,” The Rebel reminded.
“I’m scared of the future without him. I don’t know how to move on,” The Idealist confessed.
“A fear of the future is the fear of the past repeating itself,” The Cynic noted, “You’re decorating the bullsh*t with sequins and garlands instead of letting it go. Allow yourself to be free from anything that stifles you.”
He then unwillingly admitted, “I wouldn’t say no to a lobotomy: to pour out the slush from my brain along with my mistrust of people.”
The Rebel was next to acknowledge, “I wake up in the morning, spurting with energy. Then I procrastinate, turn restless. I’m a bee trapped in a jar, buzzing with promises of winning it all. I sting myself with rage and envy when I see others succeed. I have a friend who’d made a fortune by 30. She owns a Rolls-Royce and a million dollar home. She is married to a guy who could have modelled for Gucci… Each time we meet Anna offers me an envelope with a kind, condescending smile, so I can pay my own rent. I’d sooner kill myself than take it. In short, I don’t expect to ever be happy.”
“I had a formula of happiness once,” The Cynic lazily recalled, “Be patient enough to wait for the best, and be active enough to manifest it. Now, I live like an old man: drowsing until 2 pm, grouching about everything, and feeling the best in life is behind me. Geez, look at what I’m doing– killing time with fellow rejects, who can’t further my career and with whom I’m unlikely to sleep either before 2 pm or after.”
“Never!” The Rebel was indignant.
“How ungodly of you!” The Idealist exclaimed.
The Cynic waved his hand as if chasing away a fly, “Leave God out of this, please.”
“Don’t get me started on God,” The Rebel scowled, “There’s enough authority pressing on me from above. Furthermore, when I was little I often heard my mother speaking in an empty room. It sounded like gibberish. I presumed she was sick in the head. I didn’t know about God other than he lived “way up,” a floor higher than my neighbors… Later, she explained what a prayer was, and I skeptically asked, “Can’t you see that you’re alone?” She didn’t notice that I was neglected and more invisible than God. I soon understood that nothing happens if you pray in an empty room. Things happen when you meet people, connect and fight your way on top. Having another person hear you will sooner manifest your goals than having God hear the same.”
The Cynic nodded and said, “I used to ask my grandfather, “Why do people speak to God, but he doesn’t speak to them?” Gramps shrugged “I don’t know,” and flopped back in front of the TV – his version of God. But I figured out the reason when Grandma barged in through the door and started complaining. Gramps ignored her. God must be doing the same: each time people address him they are complaining of the world which hasn’t been created perfect. God is annoyed by these complaints; or eternally tired of them.”
“So you do believe in God!” The Idealist clapped her hands in short-lived triumph.
“When has God believed in me?” the young man burst out laughing – a sharp laugh, scraping the rubble of their common ambitions.
The Idealist stared at him and couldn’t resist laughing too. The Rebel joined in the laughter, and the dainty proclain cups appeared to ring – filled with pain and defiance. The rejects joined their hands, forming a connection which none of them would forget.
At 10 p.m. there were only three of them lingering at “Rendez-Vous” and raising a toast of fizzling mineral water, mixed with a tingle of Vodka Smirnoff.
The Cynic proclaimed, “Dear fellow mortals, there is no greater honor than to be scattered into dust with you!”
The Rebel was next, “Dear losers! Thanks for being everything and nothing to someone; for your invisible struggle and contribution to the world!”
The Idealist promised, “This night is the most upsetting and happiest I can remember. There is one word: UNITY, which is the password to my heart. Nothing else holds any value. Thank you for opening my heart, and entrusting me with yours for these few, beautiful, weird hours.”
The company ordered a cheesecake with a candle on top. They blew out the flame, like the final spark of hope.
“Happy Birthday, Failure!” they congratulated each other with their spectacular rejections.
Leaving the café, The Rebel gazed at heaven, covered by a film of smoke and unreachable desires. She checked her email. There was another message from the perfect older sister (“Where are you? Mom, dad, and I are worried sick. We haven’t heard from you for days…), and an email from Anna (“Can we meet tomorrow? I need advice about Jeff…”).
“Jeff has hurt me so much!” The Idealist cried, and The Cynic took her hand in his own.
A blush tinged her pale face, and she suddenly felt warm.
The young people were headed for the subway. Despite the bitterly cold night they found it difficult to part, deciding to walk to the next station.
A strange bond held them together. Having revealed their fears to each other, they couldn’t define whether the impulse to confide was essential and life-changing, or negligent and harmful to their self-esteem. They had never felt so free in someone’s company, or so unexpectedly vulnerable.
“Let’s keep in touch,” The Cynic mumbled when they reached the next station. He preferred to flee and forget. But The Rebel demanded a trading of emails. Thus, the contacts were exchanged.
The Rebel humorlessly said, “May the entire world be silent, but it’s a promise we won’t break.”
She shook The Cynic’s hand, hugged the Idealist, and resolutely walked away.
As she left, The Idealist checked her empty email again.
The Cynic was about to bid goodbye, when the Idealist smashed her lips against his – afraid to be forsaken by another man tonight. He kissed her back, and they went to her place to make a mess of bedsheets.
Meanwhile, The Rebel got home in agitation. The walls of her flat were covered with posters of great fighters for freedom over millennia – cockroaches swarming under them.
The Rebel’s act of freedom was a message to her sister:
“There’s something I’ve noticed about myself. True despair laughs. It doesn’t weep, it doesn’t shout. Tonight, I’ve laughed like never before.”
She laughed even harder when the sister was trying to reach her all night, not knowing where the Rebel rented the flat and suspecting the worst.
The Rebel did respond, however, to her millionaire friend, telling Anna she’d come by and help her settle things with Jeff. She schemed to ruin her friend’s life and The Idealist’s as well. She would feel good by lying to Anna that everything was truly great. Anna sensed her husband’s betrayal, but The Rebel would assure her that these fears were amiss, “You know Jeff is a workaholic. He’s doing long hours so that nothing spoils your trip.”
The Rebel was excited, plotting, “Let everyone think you’re happy and thriving, when I know the truth!”
She hated Anna, who running a high-profile business never offered her a job. The Idealist’s confession was her trump card. She was infected with envy herself. Moreover, she was being righteous: let adulterers be punished!
This weekend, Anna and Jeff would be off to Paris where they would throw plates at each other in a five-star hotel. The ticket meant for the Idealist would take them all to hell.
Failing to be happy, The Rebel rioted against the happiness of others.
The following day, her celebration among dust and cockroaches was interrupted by a long-expected email. It was a caustic rejection, stressing on her lack of discretion and competence during the interview: she “had no people skills, no moral integrity,” and the HR suggested she take anger management.
“Wtf?!” The Rebel was furious, “Where did they take this from? This isn’t fair! This isn’t me! I’m in control of my emotions and I’m always empathetic!”
She nearly smashed her laptop (the only valuable item in the rundown flat) after looking up the company’s HR staff. The Cynic’s aloof smile was mocking from the screen…
Such was the only job The Cynic managed to retain – at his parents’ firm. He dutifully slacked at work, splashed beer over the keyboard, and exchanged insults with his bosses, knowing that he could afford it. But today, he’d made an effort in rejecting the applicants with overdue enthusiasm. One applicant in particular, whose faults he couldn’t overlook as she was conscious of his own.
Worn out by the task, he took a nap in his armchair, and awoke to see an email from the publisher’s assistant. Distracted by love in the past months, The Idealist returned to the slush-pile, impatient to review The Cynic’s work.
The prologue read:
Each of us is a leaf – shed by the Universal Tree – and swept around by fortune’s wind. Some leaves are dark and some are red, some are yellow, some are white…But the roots are the same. We are in the epoch of global connections; of discovering the roots which bond us as “humanity.” Our time is NOW.
She deemed it “flat and unemotional, lacking in passion and depth” – just like the night they’d spent together – although tears welled in her eyes.
“Not crisp or succinct enough,” were the only personal comments in the formal rejection.
It shot down The Cynic’s career … not that he had one.
Who cares about words of hope they’d exchanged at the café? Here, at the publishing house, she was overwhelmed by words. Words were blabber in the long run. As for actions – she only wanted revenge. They cut one another’s wings, and had fallen themselves. They could have fixed each other’s lives, but instead scrambled them in chaos.
Soon, the Idealist discovered herself pregnant. So did Anna, freshly divorced. She used all of her power to sink The Rebel’s reputation, so that traitor would be welcome nowhere. The Idealist aborted the baby, fearing a miscarriage that could lead to her death. She didn’t care to know the father: both had abandoned her. So did life. Unforeseen complications of abortion proved irreversible.
The Rebel shot herself at church, at her sister’s wedding. She showed up at the event (after two months of absence), and walked down the aisle in her sister’s footsteps, which she could never outrace to success or happiness. She aimed the gun at the horrified sister, ignoring her mother’s prayer and the screams of the guests – in favor of her own inner scream. She then pulled the trigger at herself in one insanely reckless motion, splattering red drops on the bride’s dress…
The Idealist and The Rebel were laid to rest on different sides of the same graveyard. The Rebel’s family seldom visited her grave, permanently scarred by her protest against life. Her mother no longer believed in God.
Sometimes a man could be seen at those graves laughing at his “silent friends”, who could not betray his secrets, judge or contradict him.
He felt no remorse for rejecting The Rebel: her suicidal tendencies made her unfit for the job. He never learned that The Idealist was pregnant with his child. She’d never written to him, and he didn’t contact her following their night together. Nor did he believe in misread signs. According to him, the girls were crushed by reality. He even spared a sigh for them.