The street cars rushed by as people anxiously hung on to them while others smiled and held their hats in the air. The sidewalks were full of hungry and of focused faces. The air felt fresh and the clouds were clear under the bright sky.
Ernest stood on the crowded sidewalk. He wasn’t short but he wasn’t tall either. He was wearing a black suit with slimmed down pegged trousers up to his waist and an oversized coat. His hair was slicked back but growing long and he wore a scruffy beard that looked neat and well trimmed.
He was holding two briefcases. One in his right hand and the other in his left hand. He especially seemed to be holding the briefcase in his left hand with intent. His expression was gleamful and almost one of surprise in what he was seeing. The smell of smog didn’t even bother him as the streets were filled with the pollution so common to the city life.
People behind him rushed out of the way as two men seemed to be running away from something or from someone. Once they passed and went around the corner, everyone resumed their walk to wherever they were going. He looked back but quickly returned his gaze to everything occurring in front of him. He looked around for a while before he started walking North, where the hills were.
He was walking intently with both his suitcases in hand when a patrol car spotted him. The patrol car slowly creeped up on him. Despite the loud engine running, Ernest didn’t pay any attention to the mumbling engine following his footsteps. He continued walking without any reservations.
“Who is this kid,” the police officers must have wondered. “This Mexican looking asshole must think he’s real hot walking like that, not even paying attention to us.”
Their siren immediately went off and the patrol car quickly turned its wheels towards the curb as if ready to run Ernest over. He definitely had to take notice of that. It would have been hard not to notice a patrol car coming directly for him.
The officers stepped out of the patrol car. They were in biker cop uniforms. Ernest smirked at this sight of this but quickly composed himself. He looked as if he was trying his hardest to keep his cool despite being agitated and filled with anxiety.
Both officers had clear skin and stood at least six feet tall with a menacing look on their faces. The one who was driving had his hand on his baton, while the other one kept his hand on his pistol. Ready to shoot at any moment. Without warning, provocation, or consideration for the human body standing with both his arms and hands to his sides.
“What’s going on officers?” asked Ernest.
“Shut up!” touted one.
“We’re asking the questions here, not you,” said the officer with his baton now fully drawn. “Waddaya got in those briefcases you’re holding on to, huh punk?” he said as he pointed to the briefcase in Ernest’s left hand with his baton. “You got some reefer? Some maryjane or some marijeewanna? C’mon, you can trust me.”
“I actually just moved here, I was hoping to live out here. I work as a writer and photographer for the — ”
“ I don’t care. There was a robbery that occurred around the corner from here, just a couple blocks down the street at a convenience store, you happen to know or see anything?” he asked.
“No… I don’t know anything about that officers.” Ernest swallowed hard as they walked away. His face was still a red hue under his light brown skin. He switched the briefcase in his left hand with the briefcase in his right hand. He looked around. Some people, including two older Mexican men and an older Black man stared at Ernest from across the street. As if they were relieved that nothing escalated further than a quick conversation. He looked back at them with a hint of solace on his face.
The patrol car drove off as Ernest stood there contemplating what just happened. He walked off back towards the hill looking for an apartment or a room to set up in. On the way there, he found a small liquor store and purchased a fifth of whiskey for the night.
Within less than half an hour, Ernest found a small apartment building with a little white sign that read “Rooms Available for Everyone. Only 90 Dollars a Month” in red words out in front. He walked in and was greeted by an older little lady with fair skin and bright, short curly hair. She smiled at the sight of Ernest walking into the front office.
“Hi, young man! How can I help you?”
“Hi, how are you?” said Ernest with a smile. “I saw your sign, I hope there’s still a room available? I just got in and I was looking for a nice comfortable place to stay around this area.”
“Of course we still have rooms!” she said. What do you do, young man? Do you really only have those two suitcases with you?”
“Yeah. I’m a writer for a magazine in New York. I really like the idea of living like a nomad so I try to carry as little baggage as possible. It makes it easier for me to move around. I haven’t found anywhere I particularly like yet,” he said. After a short pause he added, “but maybe I’ll finally settle down here. I like this town so far.”
She handed Ernest the key to his room and he politely thanked her for kindness. She was excited to hear Ernest worked for one of her favorite journals. She said she was an avid reader of fiction and poetry, though she admitted she felt she was never any good at writing. It turned out that she was the owner of the apartment building. She had been running it on her own since her husband had died. They had owned it since the early 1900s when they were both still in their thirties. They wanted to create a place where skin color wasn’t an issue. A sort of safe haven where you could sleep without worrying about getting dragged out of your bed at night. And she planned on running the apartment building until it was her time to go. It was her life’s work.
He unlocked the door in the flat and entered the room. A small living room with a sofa and a radio in the corner on a small table, a bedroom, a restroom, and a tiny kitchen. The room was dim, light was perpetuating through the cracks in the curtains. He didn’t bother turning the lights on and instead put a briefcase on the table that could work like a desk. He opened the curtain wide and sat in front of it with his bottle of whiskey. A newspaper lay in the middle of the table. He started at it for a few seconds before turning his gaze back towards the window and his attention back to the bottle.
The room was silent. Lights flickered outside. It sounded like everyone was dancing and screaming outside. The trees swayed back and forth. People moved between flats, coming in and out. The sound of engines roaring echoed through the distant streets. But Ernest sat there without any interest in the movement of life outside. The land was of little concern to him. He drank at his bottle with more encouraging sips every time until it was almost empty.
Ernest suddenly jumped up and rushed to the bathroom. He walked out appearing more composed than he had before. He grabbed his jacket and pulled a few pre-rolled cigarettes out of a small case in his briefcase and made his way towards the door. He left the room and found himself walking outside. The scenery was brighter and more livelier than it had been during the day. Police cars cruised through the streets with dim lights. People stood on the sidewalks having a good time, making a raucous. The ambiance was joyful besides the tensing sight of an occasional police cruiser.
Ernest found himself walking back down South. In the search for an all-night diner the little old lady had told him about earlier in the evening. After fifteen minutes or so, he found a dinner with a huge glowing sign outside that read, “El Ermitaño: All-Night Diner.” Ernest walked in and was immediately taken aback by the thick aroma of tobacco smoke. Few Mexican midnight smokers were scattered throughout the diner. Eating, drinking coffee, and smoking all at once.
Ernest sat down on the long empty counter. He pulled a cigarette out his pocket and put it between his lips. He appeared intent to light it until what appeared to be the only waitress in the whole joint approached him and said, “you know, you can’t smoke that in here.” Her skin was light brown, her eyes were a hazel brown and she had long black wavy hair that fell to the lower half of her back. She pulled it behind her ear as she waited for a response.
“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be a problem considering it’s so late.” He smiled at her while she eyed him carefully until he put the cigarette away.
“So do you want to order anything or did you just come in to smoke your stuff in here?”
“Yah,” he said with a smirk. “Get me a coffee with milk, no sugar, and a sandwich please.” The waitress took his order and walked back to the kitchen. She came back and walked up to the counter where Ernest was sitting. He had his head bobbed down.
“Who do you think you are?” She placed her hands on the counter. “I mean, you come in here trying to smoke that in here like it’s no big deal. What’s wrong with you?”
Ernest looked up. He looked at the waitress and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.” he said.
“You know you can’t smoke that anywhere around here, right? Why would you even consider that a good idea? Imagine if the cops decided to come in here? They would beat you to death and shove that joint down your throat.”
“I suppose that wouldn’t be a good way to go out, would it?”
“Maybe you’re looking for a beating aren’t you?” she asked. Ernest stayed silent. Before she added, “Cómo te llamas? My name is Camilla.” She pointed to the round white name tag on her chest. It read “CAMILLA.”
“My name’s Ernest”
“Why are you coming in by yourself this late, Ernest?” her demeanor relaxed.
“I got in town earlier today. I haven’t eaten anything since last night. I got tired of drinking alone and I got hungry. What else does anyone else come to do inside an All-Night Diner?”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “How old are you, anyway?”
“I’m twenty-four,” Enest responded with a smile. “But I feel old. I feel old in every sense of the word. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not doing this life thing right, yah know”
“The times won’t help much,” she said. “Plus you probably drink too much.”
“I don’t drink too much. How can you say that so confidently?”
“Mmm, because I know,” she said. “But it’s alright, I’m not judging you.”
Ernest stayed silent for a few seconds before adding, “Yah know, I really wish I was here during the riots a few years back. Maybe I could have helped or maybe I would’ve just gotten beat and thrown into jail. It pisses me off thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about it since I got into town.”
“Is that why you are wearing that suit? Is it an act of rebellion against authority and all the sailors or is it just because they lifted prohibition after the war?” Camilla asked as she nonchalantly laughed. They continued talking as Ernest ate and finished his meal. She didn’t bother picking up his plate, instead they just talked. Few other customers came in and the few that were sitting around when Ernest arrived had made their way towards the door already. Camilla and Ernest continued to talk about their family life, their upbringing, and desires, and dreams until almost 4AM.
“I’m gonna get going, I need to rest a bit,” said Ernest.
Ernest walked back to his new flat as Camilla finished her shift at the diner. As he turned the corner, he was stopped by a tall figure standing in front of his path. Ernest looked at him, examining the stranger. Before he could say or do anything, the stranger spoke, “I saw you talking with Camilla. Why?”
“What?” asked Ernest. “I was out eating — ”
“Don’t go into that diner anymore. If I see you talking to her again, I’m going to break your head. Got it?”
“Yeah, I do,” said Ernest nodding his head with a slight grin. The stranger bumped his wide shoulder into Ernest and calmly hurried away with his head turned away from the restaurant. Ernest watched him leave with a sense of curiosity and amusement. When the stranger was out of sight, Ernest turned back and went home.
He entered his flat and sat at his desk. The clock on his bed stand read 4:19AM. He pulled his typewriter out of the briefcase sitting on the floor and set it down next to his other briefcase. He pulled another cigarette out of it as well as a few other small containers. The cigarette started burning in his mouth. The room filled up with smoke and herbal smells as Ernest began typing. Occasionally pulling the cigarette out of his mouth to ash it. Luckily enough, there was still more whiskey too.