The Night Café
Somewhere in the streets of Japan, a young man was on his way home, having just been fired from his company even after working overtime. It was nearly midnight and the rain was pouring down. The man felt extremely tired. There was not an ounce of motivation in his body. All he wanted was to lie down and sleep, but the road home was very, very long. Then, through the heavy rain, he spotted orange light streaming out from a building on the street corner. The sign above the door read "The Night Café".
The young man opened the door and went inside. As he entered the tiny café, he was greeted by a thin, old man with gray hair in a suit. The old man held a white towel in his hands, offering it to the young man. He accepted it gratefully and the old man smiled. The old man asked if he would like a seat and menu and the young man accepted, sitting down at the only table in the café.
From somewhere, the old man pulled out a menu and handed it to the young man. Looking at the menu, the man saw that there were only two things on it: "dessert of the night" and "tea of the night". He tried to ask the old man about it, but the old man simply smiled kindly and assured him that it would be to his taste. The young man chuckled nervously and ordered both. The old man took the menu and then went through a door in the back of the café.
The young man sat there, taking in the beauty of the small café, wondering how he never noticed it before. The interior was made of wood and the cozy, orange lighting was a stark contrast from the blistering cold outside. Everything in the store was shiny and looked to be in perfect condition, as though it was put together the same day. He came to the conclusion that it was probably a completely new store, and felt bad that its opening night ended up having such terrible weather. He doubted that they got any customers apart from himself. Although, they wouldn't be able to serve anybody else, since there was only one table.
Then, just as the young man began to think that it was actually rather odd for there to only be one table in the establishment, the old man returned. He was carrying a plate with a strawberry cheesecake in one hand, and a cup of chamomile tea in the other. The young man thanked him as the old man returned to the door at the back of the café.
As he stuck the tiny dessert fork into the strawberry cheesecake, the faintest memory began solidifying in his mind. Then, as he put the piece of cheesecake in his mouth, it came rushing back, as though viewed on a monitor. A memory of his childhood summers, spent on his grandparents' farm. After helping out on the farm, his grandparents would make him a strawberry cheesecake as a reward for his hard work. He used to sit outside with his grandparents, eating the delicious cake, with a view of the beautiful country area around the farm.
The man looked around himself in confusion. He was surprised to find himself still sitting in the café. For just a moment, he had been absolutely certain that he was out on the old farm again. He shook it off and then decided to have a sip of the tea to wash down the delicious cake. As he lifted his cup, the faint smell of chamomile tea brought another faint memory. He moved the cup to his lips and took a sip of the tea, just the right temperature for him to not burn himself, and suddenly found himself in another memory. This one was more recent; from just a few years ago.
The memory was of a bright winter day. He was on vacation in the snowy mountains with his young daughter. They had just gotten back from skiing and were staying in for the night, at the small cottage they had rented. As his daughter warmed up on an armchair by the fire, covered in warm blankets, he made some tea by the stove. The young man placed the tea on the table between the two armchairs by the fire and sat down in the chair. As he poured the tea in the cups, the aroma of chamomile filled the air.
Once again, he found himself back in the small café. He felt a tear by his eye and swiftly wiped it away. How could it be that he had never looked back upon those times before? They were just minor things at the time, but now they seemed like the happiest times in his life. Somehow, the sadness and depression that he had felt earlier, as he had walked through the freezing rain, water sloshing in his shoes, feeling the water soaking his clothing all the way through, was washed away by nostalgia. Now that he thought about it, he was completely dry. As a matter of fact, he felt warm. When had this happened? He couldn't have been in the café for more than a few minutes.
He looked down at his plate, intending to take another bite of the strawberry cheesecake, but the plate was completely empty. Only a few small crumbs remained behind. He looked to his cup for some chamomile tea, but found it, too, completely empty. The man looked up in search of the old man who had served him, but found the café to still be empty.
As he looked around the room, the man began to notice various things which were certainly irregular, though he hadn't considered it earlier. Like there only being one seat and the menu only containing two items. Despite these confusing things, the man still felt comfortable, relaxed, and warm. Not the slightest bit of fear or panic.
The man looked out the window and noticed that the rain had stopped, though he couldn't remember when. Then, in the reflection of the window, he saw a figure behind him. He turned and found, to his surprise, the old man standing by the side of his table once more. Perhaps he had come back out from the door in the back without him noticing.
The old man smiled at him and asked if he enjoyed the meal. The young man, still slightly confused, quickly righted himself and said that yes, he had. The old man took the empty plate and cup, and walked to the door in the back. He then returned a minute later with a receipt. The young man took the receipt and looked at it while reaching for his wallet. He paused when he saw the receipt, however. It had already been paid in full. At the bottom of the receipt was a message, written in cursive, with a small heart next to it. It read “Thank you for everything.”
When the young man asked who had paid it, the older gentleman told him that a young girl had come in earlier in the evening and asked to pay for the next customer. Whoever it was, the young man thought to himself, he was incredibly thankful to them. For that one night, he had felt the happiest he had in years. It was like he had regained the will to live his life, lost so long ago.
Looking out the window, he was surprised to see the red sky in the distance. Somehow, he had lost track of time, staying there all night. He turned and bowed to the old gentleman, thanking him for the incredible food and service. The young man felt a sense of unbridled joy and love towards the small café. He decided that he would come back as soon as possible and spread the word of this wonderful place to anyone who would listen. The old man chuckled kindly to himself as, ready to face the world once more, the young man closed the door to The Night Café.