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  • I step wearily into the coffeehouse and sit down at one of the tables by the open frontage. Exhaustion settles over me like a cloak. Walking the red hot streets has sapped all of my strength. Nobody else is moving out there. The locals know better. Attempting to function in this extreme heat is akin to old Don Quixote tilting at his windmills. The elaborate wrought ironwork along the streets is too hot to touch. To sit, to allow the mind to drift, to sip cool drinks and smoke; these are the only activities the heat permits.

    The interior of the coffeehouse is dark and brown. The furniture is brown, the walls are brown, the flyblown posters have acquired a brown patina, the people are brown skinned, their teeth are stained brown by tobacco and strong dark coffee. A ceiling fan turns overhead, sending warm currents of air to wash lazily over me every few seconds. It’s a stark contrast to outside. Beyond the demarcation line of the glassless windows the world is stark white, bleached by the blinding magnesium glare of the sun. The sunlight outside on this august afternoon is so strong that it sends burning spears right through my retinas and into my brain. I put the dark glasses I’d removed a moment ago upon entering back on so I can look out at the street.

    The streetcar rumbles by in a discordant metallic clamour. A dust cloud rises in its wake. The clanging of its bell cuts a clear path through the thick soupy silence then fades as the tram clatters away around the corner. The dust cloud subsides and then its just we ten or so denizens of the coffeehouse again, sitting in the languid heat idly scanning the tobacco brown walls and the ancient stained handbills forever advertising long forgotten events.

    The quarter is sleeping outside, siesta time. Even the flies don’t seem to move in this heat. Breathing sucks; I mean you literally have to suck to get the air into your lungs. Inside, the bartender is asleep on the counter, head pillowed on his arms. Nobody seems to care that I haven’t bought anything; half the customers in the place have nothing before them either. Caring would require energy and that’s a precious commodity at this enervating temperature. From somewhere behind the counter a radio croons an old song, every note wrung from the deep well of painful memory that permeates the soul of this region. In the clear, strong voice you can hear the struggle and despair of the untold numbers who sweated and died in the fettered slavery of the cotton fields just outside of town. It rings in your head as you sit here, soaked with sweat, in a sleeping coffee bar a stones throw from the Mississippi river, that giver, destroyer, provider and killer whose capricious guardianship rules the lives of everyone here.

    My eyelids are heavy. There’s a cloud of tobacco smoke hanging at ceiling height. It eddies slightly in the region of the ancient fan, like a somnolent beast stirred into sudden and temporary fright by the slicing metal blade. The smell is mellow and fragrant, the rich aroma of a good cigar, not the crass reek of a cigarette. My eyes close. I succumb.
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