1964-04-01 - Morality at a Cafe
Summary: Morality at a cafe
Related: None
Theme Song: None
kai elmo skali eshu 


Kai is a fixture at this particular sidewalk cafe. It's one where he always pays so he can come back. Besides, it's not far from his horrid little tenement, and he's not always able to make it to the village. So Hell's Kitchen it is. He's in his beatnik best, black, a black-and-white striped shirt, the beret. Hipster? Mime? No whiteface, so no. Hipster it is. He's smoking a cigarette from a sleek slender black holder, and he does his favorite thing: people watching.

*

Sometimes Eshu blends in: sometimes he does not. He's leaning a little more towards blending at the moment, but the contrasts of what doesn't quite fit don't really help matters. He's a young man, tall with dark skin that almost shines and darker eyes, but there's an easy, almost infectuous smile upon his features. His black hair is cut close and neat. He has a suit on, black with gray pinstripes, and a matching set of slacks. But his shirt, beneath the suit? Its not a dress shirt at all. Its blue and orange and red in a pattern likely exotic to most New Yorker eyes, but which would be recognized in Nigeria across the sea, and it hangs past his waist halfway to his knees. And though he walks with an easy confidence, he walks with a staff of all things: and it is an intricately carved thing, seeming to look like a rather fantastical snake, if one looks closely.

This isn't the best neighborhood, and at night its not the safest place, but he stalks with an easy confidence through it. The tip of his staff strikes the ground as if it spoke to the ground itself: thud, thud, thud, as he walks, but despite the confidence there's a listlessness to his demeanor as well. He clearly has no destiation: the world is his and all he wants for is a student in need of teaching.

He pauses near to a certain cafe, having not found prey— he mean, a student— and he reaches into his suit and pulls out a cigar case from the inner wallet, tugging out a nice, expensive cigar he absolutely can not afford. Next from a pocket comes a trimmer, and each side is trimmed, and he lifts it to his lips and lights it — puffing a moment, and he eyes Kai and his hipster cigarette. His eyebrow arches as he leans against his staff, glancing at the cigarette, and then at the cigar. "Civilization is when mankind decides what low they will *settle* for and decide its good enough." he remarks with a quick, light grin.

*

There's a minor commotion a little way up the sidewalk. A bright blue coat is being hassled by someone significantly bigger than he is. Elmo snarls at the guy to back off, flinging a hand off his arm. He's laughed at. That doesn't make him happier. He tries to get a move on but the uncool cat will not leave him alone.

*

Skali meandered down from the Tenement hovels in which she slumbered, a little envelope full of suspiciously rectangular paper tucked into her clutch purse as she cleared the entryway. The heels she wore were modest today, clicking rhythmically in time with the nails of the dog that clung to her heels, the large beast pausing here and there to sniff at the edges of the sidewalk, the trash in the gutters, the trail of an alley cat that had irritated him last week. Before the distance became too great, the dog would speed up to fall into heel once more, the married step of the two crossing the street, twisting around the block, moving towards the dive bar up the way that was suspiciously missing a wall. This city, walls falling down all over the place.

The familiar scent hit her, memories of dark pathways in the middle of Central Park reverberating through her senses as eyes flashed gold and she looked sideways to the little cafe she usually trotted past for favor of a place with alcohol. Pursing her lipsticked lips, she let out a huff, identifying the other person tucked into a seat at the establishment and seemingly tempted to distance herself from whatever problematic circumstances may unravel. Unfortunately, Magnus had other ideas - the brute padding over to the seat that held Kai, nudging about in his lap in hopes of finding a bagel, before sprawling with a yawn at his feet. Skali swore softly and muttered something along the lines of traitor before following at a more languid pace to join the cadre.

*

Kai tilts his head as he considers Eshu. He crosses one leg over the other in one of the least heterosexual gestures ever, and he takes a draw off his cigarette, exhaling before commenting, with a distinctly English accent, "I get that a lot, man. I get that a lot." Then he leans sideways to look up the street at the man in the blue coat getting hassled. "Elmo!" he calls. "Hey!" He's about to get to his feet to come save the day no doubt, but Magnus is of a size to knock him right back into it. He blinks a few times, then pats him on the head. "Nice doggie," he croons. He glances off toward Elmo, though. "Those squares are beating on my friend," he explains to the dog. Then, to Skali, "Do you see those squares? Picking on that bloke in blue? I'm going to go thump them."

*

Glancing over to the… squares… Eshu cocks his head to the side, regarding those causing trouble. "What will they learn if you, 'thump them'?" he wonders, and as he lifts his cigar to take a toke, his staff simply vanishes from his hand. At the same moment, there is another Eshu dressed exactly as he but with his staff, sanding near to Elmo and the Square.

Second Eshu smiles, "Friends. The world is a harsh place and full of suffering: to add to it but calls it to yourself." Second-Eshu smiles, and he and his staff … just vanish into thin air.

Eshu, the original, contentedly smoking his cigar through this exchange, pulls out a chair at Kai's table and helps himself a seat. He is not exactly a fellow who hides well. Still, his dark eyes harden on the square fellow a moment before his attention focuses upon his cigar, and he remarks to Kai, "Your friend is f1ne. Let him learn as his … opponent, learns. There is something odd about your voice."

*

To Magnus' credit, he seems to be the only one who sympathizes with the plight of Kai. Wrinkling back his lips, he lets out a low growl and hackles up while dark brown eyes turn towards the commotion. It is a disgruntled opinion that's silenced as Skali arrives to the table, pulling a chair from a nearby table and settling into it with a grumbling,

"Not our problem"

to the dog. Stubbornly, the hound turned a few times with a flick of its tail before sitting down and twitching an ear. Skali meanwhile pulled out a cigarette, eyeing Eshu's cigar hopefully before asking for a light without further introduction. Apparently she was happy to observe the human (or nigh human) dance of mortality even when it involved common street brutality.

*

The appearance of a black man in an extravagant shirt where there was none before startles the hell out of the big guy. He looks around wildly. Elmo, however, has only one thing on his mind. He takes advantage to grab the other man's wrist and then the man yells in pain, convulsing. Elmo grins a slightly more than slightly crazy grin and lets go. The guy collapses to his knees, gasping, unharmed but he definitely got one hell of a…something.

*

Kai eyes Eshu. "Teach him to stop putting knuckles to my mate, man." He gives Magnus a pat. This is the dog he was terrified of last time he and Skali met? "I'll go sort it out." But before he can, the street tough collapses, convulsing. Kai's eyes widen, then he settles back. "Well, I've learned something." He calls down to Elmo, "Come here, cat! What did you do?" He says it with a laugh. No sympathy for the square roughing up an innocent guy in a ginchy blue coat.

*

"Lesson taught." remarks Eshu, and when Skali looks to him, he sets his cigar into his mouth and pulls out both his cigar case and his lighter, offering the lady both a proper smoke or a light, whatever it is she would prefer. But he can't exactly speak with a cigar in his mouth like that, so a second one appears lounging next to him. He has a twin brother, see? "Lessons are best taught with a warning, with a carrot, and a stick, so I understand. I am Abeo." He nods to first Kai, the Skali, then to Elmo if he comes over. The black man is not showing any notice of him having duplicate selves appearing or not: surely his twin was already there. Though as his hands are full, that twin holds onto the staff.

*

A proper smoke is a gracious gift indeed. The woman plucks it from the case without commentary, lighting the cigar with a happy little noise made in the back of her throat as she reclined back in her seat and motioned for someone to bring her coffee. The dog sneezed, looking between the duplicitous personas of the other deity at the table with a low grumble of discomfort before folding into a tenuous down. Skali's confidence was more easily bought.

When a cup of the dark brew had been delivered underneath her nose, she fished out a flask from inner jacket pocket and unscrewed the cap. Whilst conversation idly thrummed around her, she filled the portion of the cup left for cream with a dark brown liquor. The flask was left on the table for who-so-ever cared to indulge in that vice as well.

*

Elmo's not done. He kicks the guy in the ribs while he's down, railing at him in a fury that dips in and out of English and Yiddish. The downed man raises a hand weakly, but can't seem to move all that well, and now /his/ weakness earns him a few more solid kicks.

*

Kai gets to his feet, still eyeing Eshu and his twin. He peers oddly. "Kai," he says. "Everyone calls me Kai." He nudges his cup closer to Skali, favoring her with a dimpled smile and the flask with a meaningful glance. "You're a sight for sore eyes, chicka. I'll be right back, I need to go learn a few lessons." He then heads toward Elmo, "Yo, cat, don't blow your jets. He's down, he's down. Come on, chill out, cat. Come take a short trip to Rio with us. I got a Washington to drop, so I'll be your angel."

*

Eshu nods to Skali with clear approval when she chooses the cigar, and after tucking everything else, he doesn't need an other-self, so the twin ceaes to be, and he holds his staff, watching the scene unfold. His expression darkens a little and he frowns, dark eyes focusing upon Elmo as the man seems to be taking advantage of the upper hand. "When the conquered throw off the mantle of their conquest, they so often become the image of their oppressors? I have noticed this often. It is a sign of one not learning the lesson the failures of others teach." And at this, his voice is edged as sharp as steel. The magic curse is there in his eyes but there's nothing overt about it: Eshu the god of balance is the weight that pulls down, the negative to counter the positive. But he is not, outside of tricks, an overt god. Still, he turns to look at Skali, "His eyes hurt for you?" he wonders with a tilt of his head, "But he seems to have a strange affiliation with animals that I do not understand. Why does he call that man a cat, and you a chick? There is nothing chick-like about you that I can see." His attention turns towards the dog who doesn't seem entirely to like him, and he offers a gentle open hand towards the animal, voice dropping to a whisper. "My people befriended cat before dog, but the bonds with dog are closer. You know me: I am Eshu of the crossroads."

*

Skali has entirely the opposite opinion regarding the horrorshow unfolding on the sidewalk, a little smirk spreading over her lips as she takes a long drag on the cigar. With dark smoke pulled into her lungs, she exhaled slowly and turned her attentions to Abeo - or perhaps it was Eshu - she didn't try to keep names straight. They were such transitory things.

"Ah or perhaps he is simply ensuring they cannot fail again underneath the hands of others?"

A light shrug, a bit of embers knocked loose, she ignored the low growl of Magnus as the hand extends, his ears pinning back, meeting the dark eyes of the other man with a disgruntled expression.

"He's afraid. It's hard for anyone to see what they should when they are afraid."

A gesture towards the violence playing out streetside as she answered his other question with a shrug,

"Vernacular. Names and words that don't mean what they are supposed to but generate a sensation of belonging. Try not to overthink it."

*

Elmo attempts to land another kick, but this one goes so badly wide that he almost completely loses his balance. Only Kai saves him from a fall, and it's good Kai is so dense. Elmo crashes into him like a confused wave upon an Alfheimian shore. "Kai," he mutters, then picks himself up, still shaking with adrenaline. "What are you doing here?"

*

Kai catches Elmo as he rebounds off his deceptively solid frame and puts him on his feet. "Having coffee, man. Come on." He pauses long enough to make sure the guy who's gotten kicked around isn't too hurt. The jolt may have been bad, though getting kicked by Elmo probably doesn't do too much damage. Kai directs him toward the table. "Remember, be cool. Just, like, breathe, man. Cool down." With these soothing sentiments, he draws Elmo over. "This is my friend Elmo," he says. "Go easy on him." With a glance toward Eshu, he adds, "He's been kicked around enough."

*

There's a slight nod of approval when Elmo crashlands against Kai, but it is to Skali that he speaks, idly running one hand around the head of his snake-staff, "The lesson was, do not bring suffering against others lest suffering come upon you. It did so. That is as it should be. But the other man, took the turn of opportunity to become vengeful: it is as if a lesson turns about upon itself and needs re-teaching again." A tilt of his staff towards Elmo and Kai, as he murmurs to Skali, "It is the greatest difficulty of mankind: they learn one lesson only to have need to learn another."

Eshu regads Kai and Elmo as they approach, but it is to Kai's words that he cocks his head, "Elmo, is it, your friend? I am Abeo Layeni. I know many who have been 'kicked around enough', and they learn many different things from this experience. Some learn wisdom. Some learn hatred." And his dark eyes focus on Kai then, a certain challenge to his expression, "You disabled that man: you won. Then you attacked him again. You had no need, but you did. What did you learn from this? How are you better for having done it? Is the thought of your own strength reinforced by beating the helpless— did you learn to be as strong as the weakness that attacked you, by being a bully, for all bullies are weak?" The black man in pinstripes lifts his snake-carved staff and leans it towards Elmo in pointing, "Or did you make a mistake and learn the wrong lesson?" He forgets his cigar for this question, his eyes on only Elmo.

*

Skali groans as she reaches to take another swig of her coffee, noting the time on a gold watch perched on thin wrist.

"And I'm late. Gentlemen."

From the little clutch at her hip, she sorted out a handful of coins that would cover her own drink even as the flask was recollected and stuffed into a jacket pocket unceremoniously. Another hurried swig of coffee was taken, as if she could choke down the whole cup of piping hot liquid without ceremony before the effort was abandoned and she stood to leave. With a twitch of her fingers, Magnus fell into heel and the two slipped down the street with the morality lesson playing out in their wake. It sounded far more educational than anything Skali wasted on mortals. Hopefully it did not fall on deaf ears as the dual crossroads denizen did not seem to be the sort who suffered repeating himself often.

*

Elmo is terribly young, as only mortals can be. He's obviously barely into human majority, of a race whose lives flicker in and out of existance like firefly lights. He allows Kai to guide him away, but when confronted by Eshu, he shies so badly he almost falls over again. He can't meet Eshu's eyes. "He called me a faggot. He kept /touching/ me." His lip curls, although he can't look back. "Maybe now he won't do that no more."

*

Kai catches Elmo again and steers him into a seat. "You're good," he tells him. "Just chill out, man." His tone has a gentleness to it. Then he sits, and he takes up his coffee cup. "Sticks and stones, but touching you isn't on, man. That's just not on." He casts an irritated look down the street at the kicked and zotted would-be tough. "Sometimes the lesson learned is after the fact," he tells Eshu. "After you've been beat down, man, pushed to the brink and over. You lash out. Past a point, man, it's biology, you dig? Yeah, there's a lesson, but that doesn't mean sometimes you don't have to put knuckles to a creep."

*

"Did he." Eshu's attention turns to the man upon the ground, "You must understand, there is a line. If you go this far, you are teaching a lesson: you are doing a service for the universe, for all of mankind, for all of the gods. But if you step beyond that, you are a sadist, you are vengeful, you are hateful and full of small, base thoughts. I will not teach you in this: I think in this the lesson you must learn you must learn yourself." His eyes flicker over towards Elmo, for only a moment, before he looks back to the prone man and taps his staff against the ground, "May he desire only what he hates and may he hate only himself for his desire." There's a certain reverberation in his words, like words spoken into an echo-chamber, "And may he lay no hand of harm against anything but himself for this hatred." So cast, silence settles around the trickster god, always teaching a lesson. Leaning back, sprawling really as best he can, he puffs upon his cigar casually, "Now he will *not* do that anymore." Except in body, there is nothing like youth in Eshu. Oh, the body has all that young life could bring to it (its partly why, after all, the god chose this horse to ride and refused to put it away): but the eyes and confidence are old.

Eshu's attention shifts to Kai, and he shakes his head, "I am a teacher, but no: you are a man. You are a gift to the world, and to give into the animal you come from denies that gift. There is no point where its 'biology' unless you show your own weakness: then you too have a lesson to learn. Yes, there are times to retaliate, there is a place in this world for revenge, but there is *not* a place for doing so because the animal in your heart demands it. You are better then that. You both are." His dark eyes look from one to the other even as he leans a head against his staff, "True vengeance is cold: it is spoken into the night and with cemetary dirt and rum and blood, it is called in whispers and dances and songs and when it comes it comes and takes you and this is vengeance made righteous. But it is not lashing out. Never lash out. You are better then that." He's maybe weird.

*

Elmo sits, shaking, and pulls his coat close around him in an unconscious gesture of self-protection. Maybe he leans towards Kai a little. He couldn't be blamed for that, right? But he's listening, maybe despite himself, to Eshu's words. The glance he flicks towards Eshu speaks volumes: he's saying things Elmo has heard, but has, in fact forgotten. Then comes the part about blood and rum, and he quirks an eyebrow at Kai, still eloquent: 'is this guy for real?' "Um," he says politely if shakily, "thank you, rabbi."

*

"Or you're scared," Kai says, lackadaisical as he takes a drag off his cigarette. He grimaces as Eshu delivers the curse. "Like, wow," he says, "Man, at least he'd walk off a kicking." He gestures to Eshu with his cigarette. "Weakness is a trademark of mortality, and it teaches too, cat. Unless you've been one of the beat down, though, you don't know." He says this as though he's got some wisdom here. Like he knows. He winks at Kai. This guy is… well, he's something.

*

"I am not jewish, I serve the orisha." A pause, "Or, I did." he admits to Elmo. Still, Eshu shakes his head, "Fear does not forgive mindless vengeance. And *weakness* is not the *trademark of mortality*, it is the *lessons that mortals are supposed to overcome*. That you *can* overcome your weaknesses are what make you special: so many other beings old beyond imagining can not grow as you do." That said, Eshu eyes Kai for a long moment and shakes his head, "I *know* what it is to be beat down. My people were clapped in chains and piled like sticks in boats, stolen from our lands and brought here, and here they endured as things, not people. Yet they remembered the orisha and the loa. Any who dared speak Legba's name, they were punished. Beaten. Killed. So instead they said Saint Peters name, but knew Legba in their hearts, and still, they suffered." He takes a long moment to puff at his cigar and grunt, then adds, "I have rode bodies broken near to death: I have heard the pleas of those breaking. I *know*." Severely, he adds in a hushed whisper, "And I teach." There is nothing kind in his voice there, or the tightness in which his hands grip his snake-carved staff.

*

The end of this speech has Elmo kind of pale and with really wide eyes. He tries to say something, his voice breaks. He coughs and tries again. "I, uh, I kind of figured you weren't Jewish, but you sure /talk/ like a rabbi. Except for the parts about blood and all? I, uh. Sorry. Sir?" He oonches closer to Kai, who is now the normal one.

*

Kai shakes his head. He doesn't seem to have it in him, like Elmo, to be wary. "I get the sense," he says, "that you're a brick wall painted in dogma. Like whatever I say, it's not going to have any effect on you." He shrugs a shoulder. "Just not my scene, man. If the lesson is 'listen to me and do as I say,' I failed that class ages ago." He glances to Elmo. "You good, cat?"

*

"Ah, so you do not agree so you try to paint me in dismissing you, when it is you who dismiss? me What is that term?" A moment's hesitation rises before the statement, "Ah, yes. The pot calling the kettle black. I bow to your… ages of experience." Eshu smiles, amused, and shakes his head slowly, "I am what I am." He looks to Elmo then, his expression osftening, "Since rabbi's are teachers, I take no offense at the comparison. You need not call me 'sir': you are not one of mine. Abeo is what I am called. You need not fear my words: the loa simply accept differing offerings then you may expect. Rum, yes…" He lifts his cigar, "A good smoke. Blood shed in sacrifice. Ash written with intent. Cemetary dirt fort here is nothing like the cemetary to draw forth a god of the crossroads: what greater crossroads is there then death?" But, Eshu rises. "It is simply a different way… Elmo. It is nothing to fear." And then he turns, and he disappears— only at the time he vanishes he coexists across the street with his staff. And again up a fire-escape. And again upon the roof. And then he is gone. He really needs to get into the habit of blending in.

*

Elmo watches the mysterious gentleman flicker from place to place, frowning and leaning forward like he's not sure what he's seeing. But the man is clearly gone. Probably? Maybe. He slumps forward on the table, face in hands. "This has been the weirdest day," he groans.

*

"You were dismissing me," Kai says. "You're dismissing me now." He looks to Elmo, like is he seeing this? Then Eshu disappears, and Kai lets his head fall back as he growls quietly in frustration. Then he says, "It's like being back home. 'We know better, H— Kai. We're all wise, Kai. You just need to learn to be just like us, Kai." He points to Kai with his cigarette. "Good riddance. I've met gods. They're tedious." And he was the normal one just a moment ago? "Don't let someone who thinks they're above you tell you who you are. Especially when they think they already know."

*

Eshu has left.

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