Flash Fiction: Arch nemesis

Espresso, tobacco, an old grudge and a chance meeting. Daydreaming About Mesoamerican Indigenous Folklore.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Everything was quickly settled into the new apartment. Qochata’s lifestyle was simple; uncluttered. He changed locations often to avoid the inevitable questions.

“How do you do it? You haven’t age a day. I must have your secret.”

Qochata would smile, demurely attributing his perpetual youth to good genes and a healthy lifestyle.

“Abuela and Abuelo, both past one hundred, still run our family farm. They work hard, rest well and eat humble home cooking.”

The lie never worked. Once someone remarked his agelessness, the wary looks and whispers began. He’d soon moved on.

His new, small studio in a historic, Mexico City building came furnished. He required only a bed, a nightstand, a comfortable chair and a lamp for late night reading. A large brass bird cage hung from the ceiling, empty with the door ajar. Each wall was entirely lined with crowded, newly installed bookshelves. The numerous books, his sole material burden, formed towering piles about the room. The kitchen table held a terrarium; home to a red coffee snake. Qochata reached in and stroked the reptile. 

“Ah, Café. It’s been centuries since we’ve been to Mexico City.”

A cawing, keel-billed toucan flew in and perched upon Qochata’s shoulder. 

“Yes, Pluma. I was waiting for you to return before beginning.”

With each relocation, Qochata felt at home, only after preparing his favorite dish; a sweet corn cake made with masa harina. Centuries ago, he had travelled far, working his magic to acquire the maize plant for the Mexica people. His patronage had helped humans conquer famine. Qochata taught the Mexica to live peacefully in magnificent cities filled with art, music and scholarship. It had been a happy time.

“Now let’s begin.”

Qochata gathered ingredients. He set out butter to soften and began mixing together cornmeal, masa harina, sugar, salt and baking powder. Shucking ears of corn, he carefully cut off tender kernels to add to his mixture. 

“Now, for the cream.”

Qochata opened the refrigerator. Moving items about, he saw no heavy cream or milk. Frowning, Qochata rummaged about the cabinets. 

“Mierda! No condensed milk either. Don’t worry my pets. There’s a corner market nearby.”

Grabbing keys and his wallet, Qochata donned a white, felt, stetson. Encircling the hat was a silver band, styled as a rattlesnake, holding a solitary eagle feather. 

“Be right back.”

Qochata crossed the street to the market. Stopping in front, he regarded the placard above the entrance.

Tchondee’s Shop.

The sign depicted the caricature of a jaguar smugly sipping espresso, smoking a cigar. Hesitating, Qochata glowered at the sign. He distinctly disliked jaguars.

Sneaky, brutish cats! Lazing about or devouring the weak.

Bells jangled as he entered. The store was split in two. The right side contained shelves of groceries with a small refrigerated section along the back wall. The other half was dedicated to a large espresso bar. Lining the wall, behind the counter, was a selection of cigars, loose tobacco, cigarettes and pipes. The individuals working behind the counter greeted Qochata warmly. Noticing the comfortable, leather chairs set out for patrons to lounge in as they enjoyed a smoke or cup of coffee, he decided to sample the espresso.   

“A solo espresso, por favor.”

“Coming right up, señor.”

Settling down in a chair, Qochata flipped through an abandoned newspaper. A barista approached with a demitasse and saucer. 

“Your solo. Enjoy.”

“Gracias.”

Qochata cupped his hand over the tiny cup, feeling the steam tickle his hand. Lifting it to his nose, he inhaled deeply. Murmuring approval, he slurped his espresso. The rich flavor was smoothly bold with hints of caramel and brown sugar. He swallowed, savoring the rush of smokey, bitterness. The espresso was exquisite.

“Excuse me? Where do you source your beans?”

“The owner is a connoisseur of coffee. He owns a plantation in Chiapas. He cultivates new varieties and tinkers with the processing and roast.”

“Interesting.”

“Yes, I find his work with tobacco in San Andreas even more fascinating. I’ve never smoked anything close to the tobacco he imports from his own properties.”

“I would very like to meet with him. Is your boss in?”

“Yes, he’s out back. One moment.” 

Qochata finished his espresso. He walked about inspecting the hanging photographs. They were all pictures of Mexican soldiers and scenes from famous battles. 

He seems to be a military buff as well.

Qochata hated conflict. 

Gazing out the window, waiting, he heard someone approach from behind. 

“Señor, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tchondee. Welcome!”

Qochata turned around to make his introduction. Both men’s smiles melted as their eyes locked in recognition. No handshake was made. They stood still, sizing one another up. Qochata spoke first.

“Thought you were in Afghanistan or Syria nowadays.”

“I was. But, with everything winding down, it’s just a dull routine now. I had a hankering for home.”

“Yes, me as well.” 

“I see. Espresso is delicious isn’t it? You enjoyed it?”

“I suppose. I really must go. I was looking for heavy cream. I came to the wrong place.”

Qochata made to pay his bill and leave. 

“What name are going by now?”

“Qochata.” he grimaced embarrassingly. 

“Ha. White man, huh? Fitting.”

“As is Tchondee, brother. You always enjoyed tobacco with its smoke and death.”

Tchondee simpered, holding his hands out with a shrug. 

“Look, Quetzalcoatl. It needn’t be awkward. The days of importance and power are over for both of us.”

“Perhaps, but you still relish stirring up trouble. My people have suffered terribly.”

“How long are you going to hold that over me? I am what I am. However, I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective.”

“Ha! That’s rich! What? Focusing on more subtle ways to kill? Cancer, addiction?”

“You wound me, brother.”

“As I said, I was just in need of a carton of cream.”

Qochata turned away, reaching for his wallet. 

“Yes, sweet corn cake. I know.”

Qochata stopping, turned to watch Tchondee retrieve a carton of heavy cream. He held it out to Qochata. 

“Here. It’s free, as is the espresso.”

Qochata looked down at the offering, deliberating. A few seconds passed and he took the carton.

“It was a fair fight, until you tricked me.”

“Yes. It was.”

“Your actions have been utterly reprehensible for an age now. What’s your angle? Should I move on?”

“It’s tiring always being evil. Guess, I’m feeling more neutral these days.”

“Neutral? Interesting. What about your new fascination with agriculture? You could use your talent for something actually helpful. Humans take readily to your influence. They’re destroying themselves and this world with your beloved smoke, smog and pollution.”

“Look. I don’t want this fifth age to end. We could see what we can do to save it.”

“Our days of being heroes are over.”

“There’s a bit of juice still left.”

Qochata considered his brother’s words. He walked to the door and stopped. 

“Tezcatlipoca, the sweet corn cake will be ready in about an hour. My apartment is across the street. Number 282. Bring coffee and cigars. And you can bring Colmillos, provided he doesn’t try to eat my toucan.”

Tchondee smiled, chuckling to himself, as Qochata walked out. 

“Thank you, brother.”

Word Count: 1193

Courtesy of Prompt Titled: Arch nemesis.

By THESOLITARYWORDSMITH at PROMPTUARIUM.

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