“Greetings friend! How are you today?”

The innkeeper amicably inquired as the tavern’s old door made its distinctive croak of a customer entering. The doors were pushed aside by a heavily cloaked, weary-looking individual, wearing a black trenchcoat and black work pants.

The stranger made no indication of talk as they limped their way over to an empty seat near the counter as if they were afflicted by a slight injury to their right leg. It was noon, a time when many of the tavern’s frequent patrons were drunkenly sleeping, or lazily ambling in their homes. On this quiet Sunday afternoon, sunlight streamed through the cracks within the inn’s dilapidated walls, and through the stubby front entrance.

The innkeepers paused his scrubbing against worn ale glass and raised an eyebrow, keeping his eye on the new addition to his tavern. The stranger slumped onto a worn, tan-coloured stool and leaned against the polished mahogany counter.

“Tea for two.” The stranger grunted through a thick accent, which the barkeeper was familiar with, but couldn’t quite put his finger on, revealing his deep gravelly voice.

“Sorry, did you say tea? We don’t typically do that here, but I may have the thing for you… and me, if you meant tea for two?”

“Yes.”

The innkeeper went over to one of his many cabinets and pulled out two packets of tea, old enough that the packaging had started to yellow with age. He brought out two medium-sized porcelain cups and set them on the counter. A sweet clinking sang from the collision of the cups and the polished ageing wood.

“So, where are you from?” the innkeeper questioned as he grabbed a hot kettle from his room.

The innkeeper slowly poured the boiling water into both cups, the tea leaves floating upwards, like buoys in a stormy ocean. The hot water made a whoosh and muffled gurgling sound as it collided with the cup’s wall and itself, turning over and over until finally settling at rest. On top floated 3 small white petaled flowers, supposedly rumoured to have various health benefits.

“Small place, overseas from here,” the man grunted in a curt tone. He slowly sipped his hot water.

The two were silent for a while, exchanging glances and trading sips of hot water that scalded the back of their throats.

Eventually, the stranger asked, “Nice weather out there, how’s the place running?”

The innkeeper paused, sunken in thought, then responded,

“Not bad, business has been keeping me afloat, but only afloat.” The innkeeper let out a hearty laugh, one that you would expect of a man with such boldness.

The two chuckled and conversed over trial matters, bringing up the topic of the local town and the stranger’s outfit. Eventually, the conversation slowed to a stop as if a train driver was slowly easing the brakes. The stranger looked down into his cup and eyed the 3 flowers now situated at the bottom, like forgotten treasures that had fallen to a land of desertification.

The stranger got up in a slow motion, and reached into his deep pockets, pulling out two unfamiliar coins.

“For you,” the stranger said, as he turned around and left as swiftly as he had arrived.

The innkeeper picked up the coins and noticed the two numbers, a four and a two, engraved in a majestic, beautiful way.


Photo: Hasan Albari on Pexels.com