Short Story by Eric Musa Piliang (The Jakarta Post, March 26, 2018)
She has been coming here every single day for as long as I can remember. Each time we would get excited at the prospect of getting our turn to please her.
“Sumatra, please,” she would say once she reached the counter. At other times, she would just say “the usual”.
The man behind the counter would turn to our jar, remove a few of us from the bottom cap, and before we knew it, our friends would be grounded, mixed with hot water and served in a paper cup.
She would sniff at the steam slipping out of the closed cup and her face would lighten up. Good to know that we have that impact on her. She would then leave, holding the warm cup in both hands.
We would celebrate the departure of our friends. It has become something of a routine every morning. Something we look forward to every day.
The woman with the red lips — as red as we once were — was about the only customer who came for us during the day. Some days, one or two other customers would place a similar order, but she has been the most consistent customer. She has not missed a single day. She is everyone’s favorite as far as our jar is concerned. Everyone wants to end their existence with her, our biggest supporter.
Our jar is rarely refilled while others next to us are constantly topped up. One jar gets refilled twice a day. Those poor beans have a shorter existence, they don’t get to see life in a cafe as much as we do.
We have come to learn that we’re not as popular. We count our blessings.
Still, we were horrified when the people behind the counter were arguing, one recent night before closing, about whether or not they should stop selling Sumatra.
“Nooo. Sumatra is exclusive. We have to keep one or two like this for the real coffee connoiseurs, ” said the person who regularly serves Red Lips.
I can see from the way he serves and talks to her, and the way he defended Sumatra, that he likes her too. That explains the way he looks at her. So we’re not her only fans.
“It’s not because you like the sexy woman who orders from you every day, is it? She sure is pretty,” Eliminator said cynically.
“No. There are a few others who buy Sumatra every day, I assure you,” he said, not too convincingly.
“Yeah, right,” Eliminator chuckled.
“Hey, we are making more money from premium beans,” Defender said, now with more conviction.
Not sure if they are; and we don’t care so much about sexy and pretty — butwe’ll take exclusive, connoiseurs and premium. That’s us. Thanks, Defender.
Coffee is not a beauty contest and our end should never be determined by whether we are popular or not.
We have come a long way, literally and figuratively, and we’ve gone through several transformations and we deserve a more dignified end. For those inside this jar, this means ending with Red Lips.
The people we have been dealing with are different as we went from one existence to another and we sure have traveled a long distance. We notice that most of the people in this cafe have fair complexions, while those dealing with us in our earliest existence were much darker.
My earliest memory of my existence was growing on a tree, or more like bushes. I recall a shirtless farmer who would come to check on us every day, waiting for us to become ripe. He would then handpick those of us who have turned from green to red, or reddish.
One day, my turn came. Shirtless picked me and a few other cherries off the same branch, and a few others off the same tree. We were put in a gunny sack with others from other trees.
At Shirtless’ home, I remember we were left to dry under the sun on the patio for God knows how many days. Our skin peeled off and we were dehydrated. I recall being sorted, and some of us were removed because “they were not good enough”, or so we heard.
I made it here, so I must be good. We never learned about the fate of those removed.
And then the endless journey began, from one strange place to another. We never really got to see much, as we were always inside a sack. But I remember our sack being thrown about from one place to another. That last journey seemed particularly long.
So, it was nice to breathe in the open once again. But this place we are now seems a lot colder. I remember being weighted and sorted again, this time into smaller groups, and then packaged.
We went through one more process before we got to where we are today: We were roasted so black that we started to give off some aroma. And then, we headed for the jar. They call us Sumatra, to differentiate us from other beans with their own names and smell.
So, here we are now, waiting for our turn to end our existence. There is one more transformation we have to go through, being grounded, before we are served with hot water.
Today is going to be my turn for sure. I will be among the beans that will be picked for the next Sumatra order. I have been counting down the days, waiting with anticipation for Red Lips to come.
Sure enough, here she comes.
Wait, she’s got a friend with her.
“So, what’s your pleasure? Let me buy this one,” the friend asks Red Lips.
They seem a little too intimate. Boyfriend, perhaps?
“I always take Sumatra. My favorite,” says Red Lips.
“I’ll go for Colombia. Sumatra? I’ve never heard of it before. Is it good?”
Uggh! What kind of question is that? Haven’t you heard? Exclusive, connoisseurs, premium. You tell him, Defender.
“It’s more earthy, full-bodied, thick and spicy,” Red Lips says, talking us up. Attagirl.
Then comes the unexpected bombshell.
“You should try it,” Red Lips tells Boyfriend.
But before he could react, Defender interrupts their conversation.
“Next! What will you have?” Defender asks the Boyfriend, but the corners of his eyes are clearly looking at Red Lips.
Yes, man, you’ve got competition.
“One Colombia for me, and one Sumatra for the lady,” Boyfriend says. Phew, that was close.
“Wait, I think I’ll have the same as the one she always orders,” Boyfriend says.
What? No, no. I feel like screaming. Stick to Colombia. Boyfriend can’t hear me, but instead I hear chuckles from the other beans in the jar.
“Two Sumatras coming right up,” Defender says, his eyes fully gazing at Red Lips. She smiles.
I can just hear the laughter from behind me as I make my exit.
Eric Musang Piliang is an Indonesian writer, editor and coffee connoisseur.
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