Inside a coffee shop located on the corner of some busy four-way street stood Charlie, waiting for his latte. The three teenagers behind the little counter moved in every direction, knocking metal on plastic, pulling brass knobs, releasing steam, pouring this, sprinkling that, a wild flurry of bodies performing a synchronized beverage dance while everyone else waiting in line appeared frozen and de-caffeinated. The carefully metered aroma of coffee and soft contemporary jazz music that swirled around Charlie as he remained upright and waiting reminded him of what purgatory might be like, some vague location between standing in line and reclining above cushions. His mind wondered around the earth tone colors and coffee bean mosaics that coated the walls and soon Charlie found himself searching for a quite place to sit and think, a place near one of the windows hopefully…oh too late, well luckily there was a place in the center of the room flanked with sofa’s and there he made himself at home, working himself between two cushions he set his coffee down and slowly stretched his legs out on top of a little community of neighboring pillows. Ahh. He closed his eyes.
Soon a little boy with silver spectacles shaped round carefully balanced his hot chocolate with both hands as he took up residence right next to Charlie. The boy tried to take sips of his chocolate the best he could since he had a patch over his left eye behind his glasses, the doctor said it would have to be there for two more weeks. He had a lazy eye. It was just the two on the sofa and the both began sipping their drinks, each conscious of the other, there was an unnatural silence about the room. Then the boy suddenly turned to Charlie and asked, “Want to hear a joke I heard?” Charlie felt obliged to humor the child so he agreed.
“Ok,” said the boy, “say knock-knock.”
Charlie considered what was asked of him for a moment then said, “knock-knock?”
“Who’s there?” the boy answered swiftly. Charlie wasn’t sure what to do, something wasn’t right he thought.
“Who’s there?” the boy repeated slowly.
“I don’t know?” Charlie said as he crinkled his forehead in confusion.
“Well lets try again,” said the boy, “say knock-knock.”
“Knock-knock,” Charlie mumbled and straightaway felt ridiculous.
The boy with what looked to be a little smile repeated those words, “whose there?”
“I don’t know who’s there!” Charlie exclaimed.
“Nobody! Nobody!” Charlie was trembling as he spoke the words that seemed out of his control and immediately Charlie broke down in front of his young inquisitor, shielding his tears with his great big hands. Who’s there now he thought to himself? This little boy brought out the strangest emotions, he saw his own son who grew up long ago, who one day, just like his wife, wasn’t there. Such great distances of time and loss caught him off guard, he felt ashamed and childish.
“It’s OK grandpa, it’s just a joke. I don’t get it either,” said the little boy.
He pulled himself together taking a long sip from his latte. He managed something that resembled a smile.
“It’s a good one Charlie,” the old man said at last, “I haven’t heard it that way before.”