What little she knew of Mr Koreana

October 11, 2015

He trades coffee…buys low and sells high. Mostly out of Amsterdam That was what he told her. It wasn’t the way he told her that gave the girl the impression he was holding back. Rather it was just the way he told her…I trade coffee. He didn’t carry a name card, said he didn’t need one as he has only two customers, one whose based in Cairo who calls him at three in the afternoon everyday and the other, a commodities clearing house based in Switzerland.

That’s how it is when a man with a past speaks about the present – it’s as if one part of him is right there, yet another is somewhere else in the darkened interiors of the past and it all comes up usually in the form of….I trade coffee and very little else…no follow up on what’s the difference between Arabica or Robusta…or even why coffee beans seem oval shaped on the months between November and March….just I trade coffee.

That could be why she decided to visit him at work the following day at Chevron house. You see Miss D…D for Different from all other girls knows….Mr Koreana is a man with a past.

It wasn’t slyness that one associates with a used car salesman when he kicks the tires of a car and exclaims, ‘it’s a bargain!’ that you’re considering putting a down payment on that gave Mr Koreana away. Or even the way he shied away from the subject….if anything it was the clarity of his reply, ‘I trade coffee.’ That marked him out singularly as a man who did perhaps really trade coffee for a living but that was really only a punctuation mark…there was something more besides the whole idea of a man who sits there before a computer screen punching buttons the whole day…it was perhaps his ambivalence in that trailed off at the end as if trading coffee was some transit point – like one of those forgettable airports one has to be in only to catch a connecting flight. Or a desolate platform where everyone stands there looking at their watches because they need to be elsewhere besides there…..that’s how it is when a man with past says, ‘I trade coffee.’

It’s not a statement of what he does to pay the bills. Rather it’s a just a point in time…like maybe how a bird decides to perch on the ledge of some building as it looks out furtively into the steely skies before taking off again.

That’s how it is when a man with a dark past says, ‘I trade coffee.’

The lobby looked old and austered. Not old like run down Formica tacky old. But old in the way timber can only acquire a polished sheen with the chastening passage of time…like a lobby of an old hotel. Even the receptionist was old – in her dark blue somber suit when she intoned, ‘he will see you now.’ with that all too familiar look of suspicion that says, ‘what’s your business here…we don’t ever get types like you!’

Mr Koreana did not get up from his seat to greet the girl as she enter his office. He should have. Most men would. Especially someone who really trades in coffee….perhaps he knew why she had come here…seen it all in his minds eye of how it could really only end up this way, like a moth drawn to solitary tongue of a candle light as each circle draws it closer to the very source of all it’s fears and fascination…each circle drawing tighter and closer till the final moment when the moth charges into the all consuming flames…that was at least how a man with a past would see things…events and even the explain why the girl who he met just the night before was now standing before him.

‘Yes he definitely trades coffee,’ that at least was the expression the girl wore when she took a sweep of the room for the first time – she noticed the silver stationary set with it’s crystal ink holders and wondered perhaps whether the man who sat across her much preferred stationary than e-mail. Or could it that’s just the way his clients preferred it. There was no computer, no screen…just a heavy oak table with some papers nearly arranged in one corner, a tabula data sheet file opened slightly curled at one corner, highly ornate eighteen century stationary set and a old brass table lamp with an old world incandescent light bulb where one can even make out the warm wan of the bright filament…and of course Mr Koreana himself who wore the expression of a man who knew exactly why this girl was here…had to be here…couldn’t have turned any other way except this way that he had envisioned thru out the whole morning and now she was before him.

Mr Koreana…a man who may have perhaps so many things to say just to fill the blankness of silence like a splash of paint on canvas – but for all that should have been expressed but wasn’t all he could manage was,

‘As you can see…I trade in coffee.’ To which the girl smiled supremely. Had she not been a girl different from all other girls – she might have blurted out something like, ‘I was just passing thru…so I decided to pay you a visit.’ Or maybe just try to make conversation…but all that seemed unnecessary…which is a very clinical word, but apt nonetheless as a necessity is born from will and there no impulse that really brought her there that day except perhaps maybe how Mr Koreana expressed himself to her the evening before…he trade in coffee.

That’s really the politics of how two people really engage in a conversation when they met each for the very first time in the transit zone – no one really knows enough about the other except maybe they have only one thing in common…to be somewhere else after this moment. Beyond that, it’s all up in the air – but this was no ordinary run mill transit point that these two strangers had stumbled on….if anything it was a temple of sorts where one sought solace from the idea of simply watching two separate lives that suddenly crisscross.

What might happen thereafter hardly matters at all – that at least is how a man with a past sees the world, prosaically in a way a man reads about himself without the slightest curiosity as so much of who he is resides in his past. That’s how someone in transit sees himself in this world – he’s there, but not there at the same time because there are so many others lives that he has once lived that makes it’s presence always felt. Enough to remind him – that this is perhaps all he can have…or deserves to have…and since he’s there…he might as well just let it all happen without every trying to change a thing.

It’s not ambivalence or defeatism or for that matter anything else that compels a man with a past to resign himself so completely in such a way – such a man doesn’t seek redemption by turning a new leaf in life in the way ex convicts make a resolution that they still don’t know they can hardly keep – to go straight this time on a cold September morning when they have served their time – for the man who has no other choice but to live with past there is no such thing as a cheap ‘get out of jail’ card. All he can perhaps do is take comfort from the reassuring sound of the words, ‘I trade coffee.’

It’s not a proud testament of how he earns his keep in this world. Or even how he wants others to regard him. Rather like the parlance that only belongs in the transit world, that ‘in between’ space that only comes into existence when one is there, but not really there….I trade coffee just means…see you again to a stranger who you know, you will never ever see again only because it’s so improbable that it can only be equalled by the same improbabilities that brought both of you together.

That’s what I trade in coffee really means to the man who says it who belongs to a very dark past.

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