Micah tightened his scarf. The Mediterranean wind chill rendered it almost useless. He tugged again at the zipper on his jacket. It was up as far as it would go. The scent of hot coffee from a sidewalk café beckoned to him like siren song. He pictured a logjam of customers clambering to escape from the cold, but when he arrived, there was only one, a young girl reading alone at a corner table.
“Sjediti bilo gdje,” said a waiter cleaning one of the tables. He gestured with his hand before disappearing inside the café.
Micah stood frozen now by indecision. Which table he chose suddenly mattered. If he sat alone, would she be offended? If he sat at her table, would she think he was rude? He couldn’t find the nerve to say anything and he began fidgeting nervously.
The girl looked up at him from her book and closed it. She was plain, with a friendly face that calmed his nerves as she studied him up and down. “Are you American?” she finally asked.
Micah nodded sheepishly. It was a relief to hear familiar English.
“He said you could sit anywhere,” she smiled.
He nudged his way shyly toward her table and sat across from her. The awkwardness of the moment made it impossible to speak.
“Annie,” the girl said. Her coat moved as if it was alive.
“I’m sorry,” he shook his head. “I’m Micah.” He extended a gloved hand. Thin fingers, blue from the cold, reached out to take it.
“You don’t see many Americans in Buje, Micah. Do you have family here?” Annie’s coat moved again.
“No, I’m here on kind of a project. It might sound weird, but it’s research… for a book.
“Are you a writer?”
Micah nodded reflectively. Being a writer didn’t necessarily mean being published.
“How exciting!” This time she squirmed when her coat moved and it now had Micah’s complete attention, trapped between terrible curiosity and the discomfort of staring at her chest.
“I guess. Do you have family here?” he asked, changing the subject quickly before it could turn to what he’d written.
“I do now,” she giggled.
It was a confusing answer. She couldn’t mean him, they’d just met, but the thought made him blush. Annie’s coat moved again and this time, she unfastened the top of it, and a tiny kitten poked its head out.
“I found it in a garbage heap,” she said sadly.
“And you kept it? It could have diseases!”
Annie made kissing lips at the kitten’s face and spoke to it in baby talk. “You don’t have any diseases, do you? You’re so adorable… Isn’t she adorable?” She looked up at Micah for approval.
“Most kittens are,” he agreed. The waiter returned and Micah pointed at Annie’s cup. “Kava,” he said. “Molimo.”
“Dobro,” said the waiter with a sideways glance at the kitten protruding from Annie’s coat. He marked the coffee on his ticket and disappeared again.
“Does she have a name?” Micah asked.
“Not yet. I’m not really sure she’s a girl. She’s too young to tell the sex yet really.” The kitten mewed. “I think she’s a girl though. She doesn’t have any…”
Micah’s eyes darted nervously away when she looked at him, making yer laugh.
“…you know, man-parts,” she finished coyly. “And besides, I can’t keep her anyway.”
“I can’t take her on the plane. I already checked. If I’d flown her in, I could fly her back, but the airline won’t allow it because she’s… indigenous.” She enunciated the word in a growl. “You know, it’s like you said. She could have diseases or something.”
“What are you going to do with her?”
“Throw her away. Duh! That’s what you do with kittens.”
Micah’s mouth dropped open.
Annie burst out laughing. “I’m just kidding, silly. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I guess I have five days to figure it out.” Her voice turned suddenly sad, and her eyes flicked to make contact with his at the words five days.
The waiter returned with Micah’s coffee and a small saucer he set on the table in front of Annie. She looked up at him confused. “Mlijeko,” he said with a wink, nodding toward the kitten. She started to say something and he put a finger to his lips. “Shoosh, shoosh!”
After he’d gone, Micah watched as Annie fumbled around in her purse, eventually producing an eyedropper. She sucked up some of the milk and then put the eyedropper into her own mouth and held it there. Micah tried not to smile. She looked a little ridiculous, and especially so when she asked him, What?! with her eyes.
“You’re leaving in five days?” he asked.
She nodded. After a moment, she pulled the eyedropper from her mouth, and moved it to the kitten’s. “It has to be body temperature or she won’t drink it,” she said.
Micah took a sip of his coffee and swallowed hard. It was a lot of responsibility. “I could take her,” he stammered.
Annie looked at him reproachfully as if he’d threatened to steal her baby, but her face softened and she continued to stare quietly, making him more and more uncomfortable the longer she stared. When the kitten had finished the milk, she refilled the eyedropper, and handed it his direction. “You want to try feeding her?”
Micah nodded involuntarily, but he could only blink reluctantly at the dropper.
“Come on. I don’t have any diseases either,” she scolded.
Fear grabbed hold of him the way it does when you first get to the end of a diving board. Sometimes you just take the plunge. Trying hard not to think, he took the eyedropper and put it into his own mouth to warm it. At first he couldn’t look Annie in the eyes.
“Except for herpes,” she stated calmly. “I have herpes, but it’s just a mild case.”
Micah glared at her and she smiled. She scooted her chair around to his side of the table while the milk warmed. Tentatively, he took the dropper out and gave it to the kitten the way she had done. Milk squeezed out too fast, dribbling from the kitten’s chin into Annie’s open coat and down her chest, pulling his eyes with it before he realized and jerked them quickly back to the kitten.
“You’ll make a good daddy,” Annie said softly.
Micah’s heart raced. The warmth of her breath, so close to his ear, flushed his body with adrenaline and his ears were suddenly ringing. He couldn’t even hear the words she said next, and all he could do was stare numbly at the lips that spoke them.
Annie reached over and fumbled with his scarf, finding his zipper underneath and pulling it down. The excitement was too much for him and he began to tremble a little, thankful he could blame it on the cold. She pulled the kitten from her coat and tucked it safely into his. Then she leaned forward slowly, lips puckering for a kiss. Micah closed his eyes.
“Good luck, little girl,” Annie kissed the cat. She finished the last sip of her coffee, fumbled through her purse, and tucked a few bills under the empty cup before standing and pulling on her gloves. “Thank you so much,” she said to Micah, and she turned and walked from the table.
“Annie, wait! Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, we swapped spit didn’t we?” she laughed.
Micah ignored the inaccuracy. “What were you doing in a garbage heap?”
Annie smiled mysteriously. “Studying it,” she answered. “You can learn a lot about people from their garbage, you know.” She started away and stopped. “It might sound weird, but it’s for a story I’m writing.”
“You’re a writer too?”
Annie didn’t answer this time. Being a writer didn’t necessarily mean being published.
Micah watched her walk away and turned his eyes down to the innocent little ball of fur tucked inside his jacket. The eyedropper twirled aimlessly about in his fingers. His mind flashed back to ten minutes before, when Annie and the kitten were the last things he’d ever have imagined.
“I guess I have to find you a name,” he said.
© 2012 Anne Schilde