No More Excuses

My steps echo through the empty hallway and I stop to let the sounds be absorbed by the pale walls of my apartment complex. Seconds pass and finally everything is quiet. Just the soft buzz of the A/C can be heard and the occasional cough from old Mr. Cronshaw. Huffing, I tip-toe over to his front door and press my ear against the hard and splintered wood. I hear his coffee machine and the hum of his computer. He’s home, I think, and sigh as I slowly turn my body back to face my own front door.

I find myself in my apartment in what seems like seconds. My shoes are off, lying carelessly on the wooden planks, and even though no one else is here that can possibly care about the shoes lying in the way of the door, my hands reach for them. I push them against the wall with such force that I would bet money that the old hare Cronshaw heard it.

I look down at the messy shoelaces and my eyes darken. I pull the twisted shoelaces out of the sneakers and methodically start threading them in again with precision and care. This time they are straight.

After holding the ends of the shoe laces in my hand for a second, questioning myself if I should let them dangle, I tuck them behind the shoe tongue so that the ends aren’t seen. It is as if the shoes would go to sleep.

The routine makes me tired, I realise, as I stifle a yawn. I need coffee. Immediately. Now it is my coffee machine that starts making noises and in anticipation I grab the only coffee cup on my otherwise empty shelf.

As I lean against the kitchen counter, my eyes fall on the mess I left behind this morning, when I rushed out in a hurry. My lips pull up in distaste. The newspaper is scattered and bread crumbs litter the table. It dawns on me that Cronshaw would want the paper and I roll my eyes at the old man who is unwilling to leave his apartment.

Sighing, I walk out of my flat, my feet only covered in socks, desperately trying not to make a sound. I place the newspaper on his doormat, like I do every day. Just as I am about to dart back into the welcoming and warm four walls of my apartment, Cronshaw’s door creaks open slowly. I freeze immediately. His eyes peep from behind the open crack on the door and his cracked lips form a grin. I sigh, annoyed, but plaster a smile on my face.

“When I heard footsteps outside I swear I thought it was the end of me. They go for old men these days, don’t they?” He says, and looks at me anxiously.

“Well… it’s just me… I come everyday. No need to worry.” I calmly reply as if I am talking to a child.

“Of course. Of course, Maya,” He says, shaking his head, “Won’t you come in, though?” His dull eyes lighten up and I click my tongue impatiently.

“I would love to but I have this big paper due next week for university and…” I trail off, hoping that he would take the hint.

“One minute won’t harm ya, right?” His eyes gleam with hope, and before I can even reply, he unlocks the door and opens it, welcoming me. He turns around at his heel, as I follow reluctantly behind him.

I would much rather just sit on my couch alone and do absolutely nothing. I need it. Especially after the day I had had.

I pass old his bare wall; no framed pictures or even photographs are hung on them, and I wonder if they would stay bare forever. Hadn’t he told me about a brother once?

“Make yourself at home. I’ll stir up some coffee.” The old Cronshaw calls from the kitchen and I plant myself on a stool. By now, I know this routine better than my own palm. We would chat for a while before I can come up with an excuse good enough for the old man to let me leave. The coffee always tasted too sweet; I liked mine bitter, and he seemed to like it rather sugary.

“There you go, dear.” He says gently, before placing the hot, steaming cup of coffee on the polished wood.

“Thank you, Mr. Cronshaw, but I really need…” I start making an excuse, but before I can, he cuts me off midway. I close my mouth abruptly.

“It’s only one cup.” He pleads, and I know I’m imprisoned here until my cup of too-sweet coffee is gone.

“How was college, dear?” He asks, after a few sips.

“I didn’t go today.” I state, hoping to close the subject.

“How come? Didn’t ya go? I swear I saw ya walking to the bus.” He tilts his head. Instead of replying immediately, I drink my coffee.

“I did go, but only for the first ten or so minutes.” Uneasiness fills my stomach. I don’t want to tell him this, it is my problem. Not his.

“Why is that?” He inquires persistently. I press my palms together forcefully in my lap and my fingernails painfully sink into the palm of my hand. Moments tick by before he opens his mouth again.

“What happened, dear? You can tell the old man. I got no one to spill the secret to anyways.” A choked giggle escapes his lips and I look up from my lap for a split-second, before averting my eyes.

“The police wanted to speak with me.” I finally reveal after a few pregnant pauses.

“What?” He looks up startled. The coffee mug slips out of his hands and a puddle of brown liquid flows on the posh wooden dining table. Neither of us reach for the cup as the coffee now spills on the carpet.

We stare at each other, both of us wide-eyed and in distress.

“What did you do?” He asks, raising his voice.

“I drank too much and…” My eyes rest on his coffee mug, and my cheeks flush with shame.

“And did what? You didn’t drive, did you?” He calls pleadingly, his hands gripping the hard wood of the table.

I just nod, my eyes welling with tears. I hastily wipe the tears away, questioning myself why they are even there. Crying over a future that was never to be?

“And I hit someone,” I choke out the words and I swallow before continuing, “and- and I just drove away.” Finally, it is out and I look old Cronshaw in the eyes. They have darkened and they stare right back at me. Neither of us says anything. He doesn’t need to. I can see right into him. His frail limbs are shaking, and his bottom lip is quivering, and his eyebrows are furrowed together into a thick bush.

I stand up, I can’t bear the sight of him being so broken. I push in my chair. The ends of it scrape against the wooden floor loudly and he looks up. He shakes his head slightly.

My legs are moving fast the second I don’t feel his gaze on my back anymore and with heavy breath I shut my door quickly behind me. A startled breath escapes me when I see my mirror image from across the hallway. Teary cheeks and red eyes stare back at me. The cracked lips seem to laugh at me and before I can even form the thought in my head, my hands reach for my shoes. I catapult them against the mirror. Shards explode around me but I don’t care. I just want this to be over.

The next days arrive and leave without warning. Everyday, every single day, I take my newspaper and drop it off at old Cronshaw. I wear shoes, though. It doesn’t matter; I never see his eyes glance fearfully around the door anymore. Even though his coffee machine is still on and his computer still buzzes, the door remains shut. The newspapers start piling up and every now and then, worry flashes over me.

Day three I receive a phone call from the police. With a cup of sweet coffee in my hand, I stand in my hallway.

“You are dropping the charges?” I repeat, confused but the second I hear the cut-off and annoyed “Yes, Ma’am. Someone confessed to the hit-and-run.” I breathe out. Even their meaningless “We’re sorry for wasting your time,” doesn’t ruin my mood. I’m free. I escaped. I don’t know how but I don’t care.

I hang up and leap into the air, my loud footsteps echo through the whole house and I laugh.

“Mr. Cronshaw! Mr. Cronshaw!” I yell with a wide grin on my face. My hand knocks at the door, again and again. After minutes of no response, I press my ear against the wood once again. I hear no coffee machine and no buzz from the computer. Just as I am about to give up hope, the door opens wide, revealing a battered Cronshaw. His dull eyes don’t lighten up when he sees me, and only after he moves past me without a word, I see the police officer trailing behind him.

Nobody speaks. My gaze follows the old, broken man, and I look down at my coffee that has gone cold. I feel like I am drowning and I urgently need something that will keep me from choking. Breath sputters out of my mouth, making a hopeless sound. He turns around at this, and a ghost of a smile plays on his lips. I can just barely make out him stumbling down the stairs, leaving me standing at the door.