There are streaks on the old coffee mug. Lines of paling foam which dribble down the tarnished china, coving all but the crackled logo of its home and owner.
The ceramic piece has been washed a lot over its five vintage years, too many times to count. Half a decade of rich coffee and change. The changing of customers, of staff, of interior, the coffee mug has seen it all. And yet the humble object has remained immutable throughout. Sat above in pristine whiteness, looking down at the clientele one minute, lowered to the table with a soiling of fouling brown the next. Wash, stack, use, wash, stack, use. No one expects more of it than that. But now the cracks in the logo are beginning to show, it’s white youth has become tanned by the pseudo Mediterranean paintings that hang on the walls.
“The roads, they lead to Roma” mutters the old Barista as she passes the aged ceramic to a colleague. She says that a lot nowadays, either out of habit or misinterpretation. The fresh-faced coffee within the old mug takes the Barista’s comment all too literally however as it makes a break for freedom. It suddenly pours itself over the edge and, within seconds, brown streaks are wandering the side of the mug like the great Egyptian Nile, starting as a mass of foam, splitting into separate lines of individuality. The unsuccessful delta columns stop mid way, the successful ones pool on the thin napkin at the base. Regards of how hard each strand has tried, the liquid’s efforts have resulted in nothing but a sticky trail across the mug.
“They really must put less sugar in these things,” a disgruntled consumer complains as they place the old mug on one of the newer tables. “Or at the very least stop over filling the cups.”
Another drop of brown stops short of the mug’s base.
“I agree,” her companion replies, “the staff here really do nothing to help themselves. I’ll go and ask for a fresh one, you shouldn’t get your hands sticky over something so trivial.”
The companion waves flamboyantly at the old Barista behind the bar, as if the employee were blind and he were crippled. In no particular hurry she lowers the box of protein bar refills and meanders to the small table.
The customer points at the offending object. “Deal with it.”
Without emotion or word (for the staff here either cannot or will not speak the customer tongue) the Barista scoops the streaked mug and swiftly empties its contents down the drain. As she stares down the plughole stands of greasy black hair fall out of her loose bun for the third time that day, perhaps the only thing that remains of the rebellious nature that characterised former youth and beauty. That disobedient streak which took her away from there to here. There, she was a smart and charming girl who had everything going for her, here she avoids the stares of her English masters and the attractive panini delivery man. Even he is too good for her here. A fresh personality ground down to little more than six characters. “I clean”, mumbled as she scuttles past the grumpy man in the tight shirt. She quickly twists the hair strands behind her ear as she dashes away. “I’ll cut it tonight” she thinks to herself.
Throughout all this the old mug hangs off the bony finger without comment. Of all the changes the ceramic has seen, hers has been the greatest and least unnoticed. The human glances down at the crackled lines and thinks the same of the object as they both dive into the back room.
In the dull light of a kitchen that scrapes hygienic regulation, the streaked mug is ceremonially dumped into a vat of industrial foam, alongside numerous others that are stacked on the side. Under gentle washing the streaks on the old mug slowly begin to disappear, revealing in their place dark tan lines and chips stained with pale lipstick (or that’s what the Barista hopes). Dirt and age that no amount of washing will remove. The manager’s instructions are clear though: There’s logo, there’s use.
At this moment the mug turns in the bowl and lifts its fading logo to peer up into the droopy eyes of the Barista, as if were trying to convey a message or a plea. Outside there continues the crashes and bangs, the shouts and grinds of the daily, but yet in the backroom of nowhere, for just one moment, these two objects share a unexplainable connection. The sentient being nods at the weary object in what she considers to be mutual understanding, and drives the mug hard under the murky water with pale, delicate, hands and a scouring pad.
The old mug has never been seen on the high shelf since.