Georgia A O’Keefe had been a waitress at a tiny Corner Cafe for a full year now, and she loved her morning shifts. She always had. She was a morning kind of person. Since she was a kid really. She used to get up before her parents and sit around reading a book or watching TV, and sometimes, daydreaming about Milo, a boy in her class she fancied. Nowadays, Georgia still loved waking up early, but it was mostly so she could enjoy the quiet, calm city before the bustle had a chance to ruin it.
It was a winter morning. Snow foot deep in places, but the plough had ensured the roads were cleared this morning and Georgia grabbed her usual hot mug, filled with her own cocoa concoction, donned her wooly jacket that drowned her nearly, tied a knitted scarf around her neck her mum had made for her 13th birthday and stepped out into the morning just like she did every other day.
‘Morning Mrs Willard!’ She yelled across the yard as she found her neighbor grabbing the morning paper.
‘Morning, Georgie! How are you this morning, love?’ Mrs Willard’s smile revealed she’d forgotten to put her dentures this morning.
‘I’m fine, thank the Lord.’ Georgia closed the tiny garden gate behind her and started her 15 minutes walk to work. ‘Want me to bring you any bread rolls or milk this afternoon?’ It was one of Georgia’s routine, to replenish her elderly neighbors fridge with stock items in winter. In her philosophy, there was no need for elderly folks to be out and about in dangerous conditions if it could be avoided. Besides, Georgia worked in a cafe. Heck, she was now a quarter owner of The Corner Cafe, and by all means she could offer to bring bread rolls for her neighbors than to let them go to waste. She hated wasting perfectly good food; something passed down from her mum no doubt. Wasting food is one of the biggest sins, Georgie! Her mother used to say.
‘I have yet to finish the last ones you got me!’ Mrs Willard waved and Georgia waved back, sipped her perfect hot cocoa and trampled the snow triumphantly towards work.
‘Good morning, Mr Richards!’ Georgia piped as soon as she saw that like most days, the old man was already there before her. Mr Richards was a true regular according to her. He came by the cafe every single day, rain, hail or shine. He only lived a block away, in one of the only original homes left on any street so close to the city. He had refused to sell for a bucket load of money the rumor was, and no one knew his reasons. God knew he could use the money. Georgia was curious like most anybody, but she never tried to snoop. The man seemed lonely, and in his loneliness Georgia sympathized. After all, she too had no one left in the world. ‘Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for me in the cold?’ She laughed, giving him a hug.
‘Not if it means I get the first kiss of the day from a beauty, and a soul awakening coffee before all the noise.’ He leaned down, helping her with the grill as the ice had it frozen somewhat.
‘You’re gonna pull your back one of these days, and I’m gonna have to start bringing soups to your home.’ They rushed in, and as she ran to turn the alarm off, Keith closed the door behind them as usual. ‘Speaking of which, have you had any breakfast this morning, Keith?’
Keith slipped into his favorite berth closest to the coffee bar. It was the warmest spot he said. ‘You know I’m not good with cooking these days,’ he rambled eying his hands.
As Georgia set about turning the whole place for business, she turned the heater on, and brought it close to him so he could warm up while she got the brew on. ‘It’s no trouble you know, I can have Sidharth bring you warm food every evening before we close.’
Keith remained quiet this morning, which was rather unusual to his usual ‘Oh no dear, it will only make me lazier’.
‘Are you okay?’ Georgia placed the tray of food down on the table and slipped opposite him. For the past couple of months, since she befriended Keith, they’d made a routine of having breakfast together so each one had ‘company’. Or at least that’s what she told him; but the truth was, she knew that between his meds and his regular dialysis, Keith didn’t have much money left at all. This way, she knew if nothing else, he got a good bellyful of hearty food and warm drinks in him at least once a day.
‘Did you make this soup, darling?’ He smiled from the bowl of lentil and pumpkin soup. That one smile told her he hadn’t had dinner at all the night before. Georgia nodded and watched him eat, forcing him to have seconds and thirds till he was truly full.
‘I’ll get you another coffee?’ She rose, warm happiness in her belly.
‘Oh no,’ he waved, munching on a bread roll lathered with butter. ‘You do your work, I’ll grab it myself if I need it, go on.’ And thus of she went, setting about her work till Ahmed walked in the door at his usual 7am and left the door open for customers.
It was a busy morning so Georgia had barely a chance to keep track of how Keith was going. It wasn’t till 11 am when it was time for her to go on her break that her business partner Ahmed walked to her. ‘Something’s wrong with good old Keith.’
She peered around his wide shoulder and indeed saw Keith looking rather worried. He was hunched over and in his hand was a white envelope he kept twirling. ‘He was fine this morning,’ she slipped passed Ahmed towards the pastry section, pulled out a carrot cake, warmed it up, and took over a pot of coffee with it to Keith’s table.
‘Oh boy, are we busy this morning or what?’ She semi laughed, putting the items down on the table and slipping in opposite him. ‘I thought we could do with some sweets!’ Keith barely looked up. ‘Everything okay?’
He sniffled and tapped the table twice with the envelope before sliding it across to her. He didn’t say a word till he pulled the cake to himself and pushed his coffee mug towards her for a refill.
She poured him a coffee and waited till one of the waitress brought over her large panini. She placed one half of it onto Keith’s plate and then finally pulled the envelope to herself. She turned it over and read a neat writing in ink, handwritten. It simply read ‘To Georgia A O’Keefe’.
‘What’s this?’ She asked.
Keith sniffled again. ‘Its for you.’
‘I see that, but what is it Keith?’
‘It’s my gratitude, for your friendship and kindness all these months. They truly have meant a lot to me. You mean a lot to me.’ He finally looked up and Georgia could see his eyes were tear streaked.
‘What is it? What’s the matter?’ Panic welled in her. ‘You okay? You are doing okay, right?’
Keith reached over and squeezed her hand. A smile on his face. ‘I am as fine as I can be, and no worse.’
‘Then what’s this?’
Keith leaned back on this seat and enjoyed a forkful of cake. The moment felt long for Georgia but it couldn’t have been more than few seconds. ‘One day, dear, you and I both know I will stop coming here in the mornings. One day, you will eat your breakfast alone.’
He looked at her with a puzzling look, one she couldn’t read. ‘When that day comes, please open that letter only then. Promise me, Georgie girl.’
Tears came just as easily. Something about the way Keith was speaking rendered her tearful. ‘You’re not saying goodbye.’
He shook his head. ‘No, but, I’m old. It’s just a matter of time.’ She clutched at the envelope. Her apatite gone.
‘You’re still going for your dialysis? Aren’t you?’
He nodded. ‘Now stop worrying and eat your cake!’
‘Morning Mrs Willard!’ Georgia yelled across the muddy yard. Winter was weening away, and snow was starting to melt. She was struggling to keep her boot gripping tight on the icy footpath.
‘Morning Georgie!’ Mrs Willard waved from her porch. ‘Could you please bring me a liter of milk tonight, dear?’
‘Will do! See you tonight.’ She waved goodbye. Her days were almost predictable these days. Wake up, get dressed, make cocoa, leave home, wave to Mrs Willard, the walk to work, and open the store with Keith’s help. She smiled at the thought and wondered what she should make for today’s special.
As she rounded the last corner, she thought she’d ask Keith for advice. Perhaps it could be his favorite dish she could put on the menu, after all, he did eat there often enough.
‘I was thinking Keith, that we could work on a new menu…’ She stood ready to hug him, but there was no Keith to hug. ‘Keith?’ She looked around the other corner. Keith was no where in sight.
‘No, but, I’m old. It’s just a matter of time.’ The words streamed through her mind. Before she could think what to do, she started running down the street, towards Keith’s house. She’d lonely been once to drop him off home after a particularly challenging day and it had been under a lot of snow. She only hoped she could recognize it now that the snow was gone.
She skidded dangerous and fell on her bottom right about where Keith’s house was. Of course she didn’t have to worry about not being able to recognize it, it was the only house left amongst large flats. She pulled herself up, pain shooting through her sprained ankle. ‘Keith!’ She called out as she practically hobbled to his door, holding onto the handrails all the way. She knocked thrice on the door. No response.
‘Keith, it’s me, Georgia! Open the door!’ She pounded on the door, feeling it shudder under the force. ‘Keith! Open the door!’
She wobbled to the window and tried to look in. It was dark and she could barely make anything out. She rapped on the window again, yelling. ‘Keith!’ It was then she thought she saw a leg behind the sofa. ‘Keith!’ She screamed, stepped back and threw her coffee cup at the window to break it. ‘I’m coming, okay.’ She struggled through the broken glass, slashing the back of her hand as she protected her head from sharp edges.
She sat in the corner of her dark room, still dressed from the morning. She had ended up needing six stitches on her hand. She closed her eyes. Keith had been on the floor face down. There was nothing they could do. He’d been dead for hours they told her at the hospital. He must have had a heart attack in the night and since he lived alone. But none of that made her feel any better. Keith was dead. Gone. And now, all she had to remember him by was an inch long scar and an envelope she’d been clutching since she’d gotten home.
She sniffled, finally got up and went to her bed, turned the reading lamp on and tore at the envelope. She’d promised after all. She pulled out the sheets carefully and sat down to read. Her hands still shaking.
Dear Georgie Girl,
You’re reading this. I’m sorry for the hard day you’ve had. I am. I wish I could have given that burden to anyone else but I have no one else in my life but you. These past months have been a blessing. You have been a blessing to this old man who had lost all hope. You have not just given me food and friendship, but you have given me something so precious, something I had missed out on stupidly in life. A daughter. You are sunshine in my cold world. You gave me a reason to fight on.
I enjoyed every morning I got to share a hug with you, to enjoy your company for breakfast, to laugh with you. Your joys and your concerns moved me. My dear child, I love you as much as an old man can love his daughter. I wish life will not let you get by alone like it did with me. That will be my last prayer on this earth; that you will find someone to keep you as you’d kept me. I thank you and bless you with all my heart.
As I say goodbye, I leave you something that’s precious to me, my house. A house I once had my family in. I know you will do what’s best, for you and this house. I held onto it as long as I could hoping my scattered life would come back to me, but now that it is yours, I hope you find some meaning in it to, whatever you will end up doing with it. My only wish would be that you keep it, as a gift, but that’s an old man’s assumption that you will want to keep it. Either way love, I hope it will help you. It’s close to work at least!
With this letter, consider this my last will. I bequeath all my property to young Miss Georgia Anita O’Keffe, the quarter owner of The Corner Cafe down the block.
Thank you and God bless.
Keith Owens Richards
Of 101 Percival Street.
Georgia stared at the letter unable to grasp what she’d just read. Keith was dead and left her with everything he had. Why? She read the letter again, and couldn’t keep her vision of Keith on the floor from her mind. He knew he wasn’t going to live long. He knew, didn’t he?
Georgia cried that night. She cried all night in fact. She couldn’t imagine going to work the next morning. She couldn’t open the store alone. No.