I meet with a new one every year at the Café of Envisages where everything is possible. Last year, he was a man dressed in shadows and secrets, this year…this year she’s something else.

I’m sitting, looking at the empty chair in front of me. My fingers are wringed in front of me and I’m tapping my foot on the ground.

In the air, there’s music playing and it’s The Fire by The Roots.

There’s something in your heart
And it’s in your eyes
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don’t say, “Good luck”
You say, “Don’t give up”
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn

I’m nodding my head, thinking about that line when a storm of black braids in a yellow jumpsuit comes to the table.

“Aaand,” she says, holding a cup of coffee, “this is mine,” she hands me the cup with tea in it, “here’s yours.”

Nineteen is jittery and her mismatched eyes catch the light of the sun as it filters through the café’s windows. One stormy grey, and one honey brown. She smiles at me, and I sip my tea. It’s hot, and sweet.

“Are you angry at me?” She asks. “It feels like you’re angry at me.” She pouts. “But why are you angry at me? I’m nice. Super nice.” She puts her hands on her face and stretches a smile. “See? Super nice.”

I look at her, and I shrug.

Something flashes in her grey eye, but it passes like an eyeblink. Then, her old self flashes back. “Why won’t you say anything? We’ve been here for so long and you haven’t said a single thing to me.”

The Café of Envisages was built by our ancestors, the Ancients. And when you daydream, you find yourself here, in the realm of possibility. It’s where our minds are stored, where they reside, where we’re forged, and destroyed. It’s where our dreams go when we’re not paying attention, and it’s where our nightmares go to chase them.

Words aren’t needed in the Café, but Nineteen prefers them for some reason.

She stretches her hand to mine. “Please,” she says, her eyes welling up, “just say something to me.”

I look at her eyes that are cold and warm, hard and soft, and I say nothing. I don’t have much to say to her. Everything that could be said is gone, and the days are a soft bittersweet memory in a year coming to an end.

I say nothing to her because there’s nothing else to say. I know how I feel.

And she does too.

A single tear made of molten gold and silver drops from her soft brown eye, and she sniffs and brushes it away, the metal sizzling as it touches her skin.

“Why are you being so mean to me?” She asks. “I was only doing my job, you know. All I did was exist. It’s not my fault that things didn’t really go as planned.” She takes a sip of her coffee and mumbles. “It wasn’t that bad even, if we’re being honest.”

I will look back on this moment many years later and wonder if maybe, that was what set me off.

I slam the cup on the table and silence falls and the air grows cold. Nineteen doesn’t flinch, she’s seen worse. But she’s looking at me now, with no words left to speak.

I have none either, and so, I share with her. I open my heart and mind and I show her my memories, my soul. I let her in and I show her the year I’ve had. I show her the pain, and I show her the losses. I show her all the things that could’ve gone wrong, and did. I show her my shame, and the tears start to come, but I don’t stop.

I show her my shortcomings, my failures and she’s still looking at me, but I don’t stop. I don’t stop until all the venom is let out of my heart and shared between us.

Her brown eye is wet and I can see that the tears want to fall like an avalanche, but she’s holding them back with pure will alone. Her grey eye is as dry as the air between us.

She is quiet for a while. Then, “I’m sorry.”

I nod, then I pick up my tea, then I sip.

She wipes her eyes, and she looks at me hard. “But you don’t see it like I do,” she says. “You’re not telling the story well. And I won’t let it end like this.”

Then, she begins to share and it feels like music washing over my spirit and I’m overwhelmed with life, but not just any life — my life. She shows me my triumphs, wins that I had forgotten, wins that I didn’t allow myself enjoy because I didn’t feel enough. She shows me the people I do all of this for. She shows me their pride, she shows me their joy, she shows me their happiness. She shows me the power of my work, the small impact it’s had. She tells me the same story I told her, but she’s a kinder storyteller than I am. And as I listen, I realise she’s also the better one.

The song continues to play in the background.

Yeah, and if I’m ever at the crossroads
And start feeling mixed signals like Morse code
My soul start to grow colder than the North Pole
I try to focus on the hole of where the torch goes
In the tradition of these legendary sports pros
As far as I can see, I’ve made it to the threshold
Lord knows I’ve waited for this a lifetime

“I speak to the other years,” she says, her eyes down but her voice clear, “and they tell me about the people that they saw pass through. The greats and the knaves, the heroes and criminals, the lovers, the war makers, and they all tell me of something, something that they call… The Fire.” She looks at me. “It’s a fire that comes from the very beginning from Prometheus and Eden, that’s passed on from generation to generation.

“It’s a fire that never quenches in a human, no matter what. I was speaking to 1945 and he always goes on and on about it. ‘The Fire that shows signs of quenching, that blows in the wind, but will never die’ and I think I get it. A little.”

She takes a sip of her coffee. “I know I was…hard. And I know that things will never be the same.” She shrugs. “But what about it? Do you know just how much you’ve overcome?” She gestures at me. “How much you had to go through to become this? How much you overcame to become you?”

I share with her a question and she waves her hand, dismissing it.

“That doesn’t matter,” she says. “All that matters is The Fire, don’t you get it? The Fire is in you but you get to keep it alive with the story you tell. Stories are important, but the stories we tell ourselves matter most above all.”

I look at her, and it starts to dawn on me. I start to feel it stir within me like a glacier.

Slowly, but surely.

If the stories we tell our important, and we tell ourselves the cold dark stories of the past, ignoring the warm, what happens to us over time?

What happens to our fire?

The music blares through the air.

One love, one game, one desire
One flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher
I never show signs of fatigue or turn tired
Cause I’m the definition of tragedy turned triumph
It’s David and Goliath, I made it to the eye of the storm
Feeling torn like they fed me to the lions

She looks at her watch. “My time,” she says, “is almost over.” I look at her and see her eyes, and hear the sadness laced in her words. She doesn’t want to go. She stands up and flashes me a smile. “But all of us have to go in the end.”

She purses her lips. “Please,” she says, “before I go. Please, just say something to me. Anything.”

So, I stand up and I walk slowly to her. She’s staring at me unsure, and even when I’m right in front of her, her eyes still ask me a question. And it’s a question that I answer when I hug her and she sobs in my arms. Her hair is under my nose and it smells like coconut, and tears, and memories lost that will never be found, and words left unsaid. She shudders and shakes, but she doesn’t fall.

“It was so hard,” she says into my arms. “So, so hard.”

I look at her and I tell her all I can tell her. I tell her what I’ve been feeling since the beginning.

I touch her face with my hands. “Thank you,” I say. And she smiles up at me.

She cleans her tears. “I have to go,” she says and she smiles at me, her eyes twinkling.

As she leaves the Café at the edge of all that is known, she turns and looks at me, and smiles. “It’s a nice song,” she says. And in a flutter and a smooth breeze, she’s gone, like all the years before, like all the years will after.

I am left here, sitting on the table, looking at an empty chair. Lost, hurt, tired, but stronger. My fire may shudder, andblow in the wind, but it will not die. And as I wait for the next year to come, I make sure to let them know, somehow, through the ether, that though I’m not ready, I’m readier than I was.

And in the Café of Envisages, like in life, that’s all you ever need.

To be readier than yesterday, and stronger, and kinder. To know and feel more than you did the day before. And tackle the next day with as much badassery as you can handle.

Because the end is coming, and we can do nothing else.

Before my time start to wind down like the Mayans
I show ’em how I got the grind down like a science
It sounds like a riot on hush, it’s so quiet
The only thing I hear is my heart
I’m inspired by the challenge
That I find myself standing eye to eye with
Then move like a wise warrior and not a coward
You can’t escape the history that you was meant to make
That’s why the highest victory is what I’m meant to take
You came to celebrate, I came to cerebrate
I hate losing, I refuse to make the same mistake

- The Roots, John Legend.

Thank you very much for reading! I hop you enjoyed it. If you want to see more of my work and know when I post and more about my process, please follow me on all social media @AnthonyAzekwoh. For more work, please check out:

Thank you again! Happy holidays.

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.