Friday, December 23, 2016

4 AM

The bar was barely lit at 4 AM. The barkeeper kept turning off lights in hopes his guests would take the hint.
He leaned on the bar, and rubbed his eyes, fighting to stay awake. Five cups of coffee and he still felt like he could fall over at any time and sleep for eight hours straight.
He stared at the clock at the wall ahead of him, and sighed.
"We stay open all night," his boss had said, "We need to provide shelter for the lonely hearts."
He moved up and looked around the bar. Five guests still remained.
Two boys he had carded when they came in, both had just turned 21 and were carrying a military ID. They were laughing and telling jokes at the other end of the bar.
There was a couple sitting at a table in the far corner, staring at what no doubt was a stale beer in their hands. They had been talking, shouting at each other all night, but now, they just sat, heads bowed, eyes on hands.
The final guest was an elderly man, huddled up in front of the fire, wearing a large dark red coat and what had once been a white scarf that hid most of his face.
The boys drank the last of their beer. They moved up and put on their coats, and stopped in their tracks when the old man by the fire talked to them briefly. They smiled and walked back to the bar. Then paid the barkeeper a little bit extra, for good luck.
Then the elderly man stood up and shuffled towards the couple. He stood still at their table, mumbled something and staggered to the door of the bathroom.
The couple stood up and walked to the bar. The man opened his wallet and laid out a couple of bills. "That should suffice."
The barkeeper looked at the money. "You only owe 24. This is 30."
"It's perfectly fine. Happy Christmas." The man smiled at the woman.
The woman smiled back and said, "He was right."
The man responded, tucking away his wallet, "Yes, he was."
The barkeeper said, "Who?"
"The old man..."
"What did he say?"
The woman shook her head. "His words were only for my husband and me. And now, we go so you can sleep. Looks like you need it. And so do we. Happy Christmas."
She hooked her arm through that of her husband and they both left, talking softly.
The barkeeper started to clean the bar, when a voice said, "They needed to hear it, you see. And so do you."
He looked up and stared in the face of the elderly man that had sat by the fire all for hours. "What did they need to hear?"
"That there is still hope, even if all seems lost. Even on a cold, late night. And you shouldn't lose hope either."
"I haven't lost hope..."
The man smiled. "Yes, you have. You lost hope when your girlfriend left to work on the other side of the world and broke up with you. She loves you still and thinks about you."
The barkeeper staggered backwards and stared at the man. "How do you know?"
The man patted his shoulder and said, "I once was just like you... Besides, anyone can see that you are broken hearted. Now, have a merry Christmas. Don't forget to lock the door behind me. It is time you sleep. You have a big day ahead of you."
"I have nothing planned. In fact, I intend to sleep in all day tomorrow."
The old man smiled and winked. He pulled his faded red coat around him, put on his white scarf, then waved and swayed on his feet as he left the bar.
The barkeeper shook his head, locked the door behind him, and then set to work to clean up.
Just when he was done, someone knocked on the door. The barkeeper walked to the door and looked through the window.
"Genevieve? My god, what... How..." He unlocked the door and pulled the girl of his dreams into his arms. "When... How?"
She smiled. "Sorry to startle you like this, Greg, but I had to come here as soon as I landed. I met this old man in the pub last night... He said I really should come home for Christmas. That nothing was as important as that... He also said that you probably missed me as much as I missed you!"
He frowned and said, "That is a coincidence... I had a talk with an old man too... He said I shouldn't lose hope."
She smiled and ruffled through his hair, "He was right. Let's go home."
He smiled, wrapped her in his arms and kissed her.

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This work by Sylvia van Bruggen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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