Arwin arrived early at the bus loop and decided that he had enough time to grab a coffee before his bus left. Luckily, his favourite coffee shop was located on the edge of the loop.
He had to swerve around a pile of manure in front of the cafe. A mounted police officer’s horse stood nearby, the tall, beautiful, chestnut steed quietly munching at a clump of grass errantly growing out of a crack where the sidewalk met the parking lot.
Arwin passed through the front doors and smiled. As always, the smell of delicious, roasted coffee beans filled the air, along with hints of cinnamon, hazelnut and chocolate. It lifted his spirits. The interior of the shop was what Arwin loved most about the place. Someone had brilliantly designed the inside of the shop as a blend of cafe and library. Warm, dark woods and heavy, gray stone permeated. Wide windows allowed lots of natural light to flood in. Bookshelves ringed the cafe along two and a half walls and were used as dividers between seats. The many books covered a variety of subjects and styles, from fashion to fiction, travel to philosophy. All were free to use. A big fireplace dominated one wall. The fireplace was quiet now, but in winter real logs blazed within, bathing the surrounding leather couches in heated bliss and delivering the nostalgic smell of burning wood.
Although the place was somewhat busy, it was not too loud. Ribbons of thick, colourful fabric hung in elegant loops from the ceiling, dampening sounds. Thus the place maintained a peaceful air despite the myriad conversations taking place around steaming beverages in white mugs. Cheerful greetings came regularly from stylish baristas in black and pink uniforms behind the main counter as they took and filled orders.
He recognized the girl at the second register; because he was a regular here, he knew her a bit. Her name was Mia and she was a lover of anime and cosplay and chemistry. She was friendly and chatty and worked really hard at her job. She had thick glasses and her dark hair was pulled over in two, pink-tipped ponytails that both draped over the left side of her head. Arwin lined up at her register, as he almost always did.
He noticed the red-uniformed rider of the horse standing in line for the washroom, looking rather uncomfortable. Apparently the mountie had a manure situation of his own to deal with, but because humans weren’t as free to leave their droppings about as horses were, he was forced to wait in line, awkwardly dancing in one spot while a frenzied mother tried to hustle her three, misbehaving kids through the toilet first.
Arwin glanced again at his phone, very conscious of the time. Maybe he shouldn’t be risking a stop for coffee. Maybe he should be playing it safe and waiting at the bus stop. After all, if he missed that bus, the next wouldn’t be along for another thirty minutes and that would make him late for his interview. He anxiously tapped his phone on his leg and looked at how many people were ahead of him, guessing how long this would take. He hummed and hawed but decided to remain in line as he was already there. He pulled a reusable travel mug from his bag, ready to hand it over when he ordered.
A middle-aged couple entered the shop and came to stand in line behind Arwin, their arms entwined.
“So, what are you gonna have?” the man asked the woman, who was presumably his wife. He was tall and heavy of build, with a massive gut that strained the buttons on his plaid shirt.
His wife was almost as thickly, but more softly, padded and seemed to be wearing an entire pallet of makeup. She tilted her head and looked up at the menu above. “Hum. I don’t know… I like the macchiato but I always have the macchiato. Maybe I should have a tea.”
“Thought you said you wanted coffee, Nance,” the husband grunted. Presumably Nance was short for Nancy. Because who name their child Nance?
“I did. I do. I don’t know…”
“Lookee there. The special is cherry chocolate latte. Apparently some spring thing.”
“Looks too sweet.”
“I like sweet.”
“I know you do, Bob.” The lady chuckled. She patted his voluminous stomach.
The customer in front of Arwin moved away from the register and Arwin stepped up to order.
“Hey, Arwin!” Mia flashed her pearly smile at him and held a hand out for his reusable cup, expecting it; she knew his order without having to ask.
He smiled back. “Busy, huh?”
Mia handed him the payment machine. “A bit. What’s with the tie? Event at school?”
Arwin swiped his payment card and entered his PIN. “I’m not teaching today. Job interview. Not getting enough hours so I need to find a full-time job somewhere else.”
“Aw. But you love teaching. Can’t get on full time on any school board?”
“I’ll keep an eye out. The instant anything comes up, I’ll apply. Hopefully the new job will just be temporary.”
From behind Arwin, Bob stepped closer to the counter to get a look at the sign for cherry chocolate lattes. He glanced at the payment machine in Arwin’s hand. He grunted. “What? No tip?”
Arwin glanced up in surprise. “What?”
Bob pointed at the machine. “No tip,” he repeated, voice indignant.
Arwin half shrugged and half shook his head.
Refusing to be ignored, Bob continued. He edged closer, getting right into Arwin’s personal space. “Seriously? You’re not gonna leave a tip for the girl?”
Arwin shook his head and handed the payment machine back to Mia.
Nancy spoke up too. “What’s that, Bob?”
Bob turned to his wife with a smirk on his lips. “Guy here ain’t tipping the barista.”
“Really? Oh go on, give her a couple bucks,” Nancy advised Arwin.
“Actually, I don’t tip,” Arwin told them.
The smile left the man’s face. “Whaddya mean you don’t tip?”
Arwin put his wallet away. “Sorry, I’d like to chat but I have to be somewhere.”
But Bob wouldn’t move out of the way. “No no. Explain. What d’you mean you don’t tip?” he demanded.
Arwin hesitated before giving in. “Well, I think it’s a bad practice. And by not tipping, I hope we can change culture for the better.”
“What?” Nancy gasped.
Bob chortled. “Listen to Mr. White over here. The reservoir dog thinks tipping is wrong.”
Nancy was far less amused. She spoke sternly, shaking a sausage-like finger in his face. “She just served you with a smile. She was very nice to you. You don’t think she deserves a tip?”
Arwin held up his hands in defence and smiled, hoping to ease the tension out of the situation. “I think she was very nice. But people are nice in lots of jobs and don’t get tipped for it.”
Nancy frowned. “This is a tough job!”
Arwin nodded agreeably. “Absolutely, it’s a tough job. I sympathize. But what job isn’t tough? And most people don’t get tipped. Isn’t it a little unfair that some people get tipped and not others?”
Bob spoke in a superior tone of voice, as if he needed to explain the obvious to an idiot. “We tip, boy. That’s what society expects. Everyone does it.”
Arwin bowed his head. “I totally understand the desire to fit in. But what if a common practice is not the best practice? Maybe there’s a better way to do things.”
“Fuck me,” Bob scoffed. “Trying to justify not tipping. You’re a real asshole.”
“So what makes tipping so wrong?” Nancy asked. From her tone, she obviously believed that such a thing was impossible.
“OK,” Arwin replied, “for one thing, there’s something seriously crazy about leaving a tip on a drink that’s ninety percent profit. I mean, we’re already dropping six or seven bucks on a single drink and we’re expected to pay even more?”
“Price has nothing to do with it,” Bob interjected. “You tip even at a five-star restaurant.”
“Well,” Arwin continued, undeterred, “it’s commonly thought that tipping improves service quality. It doesn’t. Studies have shown this. It’s not a motivational tool. Actually, we’re blackmailing people into doing their jobs better by holding their wage ransom unless we’re happy with everything they do. All that does is put all the power in the customer’s hands and forces the server to take abuse from us or risk not being paid, like they’re slaves. It puts the server into an unfair position. Frankly, it’s cruel: bad for their self esteem and general emotional health.”
Bob rolled his eyes. “Blackmail, huh?”
Their conversation was now starting to hold up the line for one of the two cashiers and attracting a bit of attention. The other staff behind the counter were listening and glancing over as they worked. Even a few customers had taken note and were eavesdropping.
Garnering increasing attention, Arwin felt the need to explain further. “By encouraging tipping, owners are actually trying to pay their staff less and profit more. They want the customer to pay the server’s salary so that they don’t have to. But it’s not a dependable wage. That means that servers come into work with no idea of how much money they’re going to earn that day. At every other job we demand to know exactly what our salary is. But servers have to gamble, not knowing if they’re going to have enough to make rent, constantly living in a cloud of financial insecurity. It’s completely unfair to them.”
“Not all servers are worried about money,” Bob said.
“Nope,” agreed Arwin. “Some don’t. Look at Mia.”
Everyone glanced at the girl. She flushed bright red and looked down.
Arwin grinned. “Mia’s great. She’s friendly and fun. It’s a highlight of my day whenever I come in here. I’m so thankful for her cheerfulness and awesome attitude. If she ever needed anything from me, a favour or something, I’d jump to it, no problem.”
“So fucking tip her then,” Bob growled.
“What’s your point?” Nancy demanded with a frown. She evidently didn’t like this train of conversation.
“The point is, she’s great. I’ll bet she gets a lot in tips. But what about everyone else working here? What about the servers who are just as sweet and work just as hard but aren’t as popular for some other reason?” Arwin asked. “I don’t think it’s fair that you should earn less at the job because of, say, your gender or what you look like.”
“Yeah!” exclaimed a very thin and plain female barista using the espresso machine.
“I totally agree,” added a male cashier with facial piercings.
Mia reluctantly nodded, a bit sheepishly. “Yeah. He’s right. I do make a lot more than most of the others. It’s not really fair, I guess. We do pool and share tips though.” She handed Arwin the drink he’d ordered.
The male cashier shrugged one shoulder. “Although I’d rather just have a higher wage. I mean, I’m gonna make less if I’m not on the same shift as some of the girls here. It would be nice if my salary wasn’t based on how my coworkers look. Or how I look. What’s that got to do with how well I do my job?”
Coffee in hand, Arwin glanced at his phone. Time was running out. He really should be going if he was going to be at the bus stop on time. “Servers deserve better. If we all stopped tipping, then wouldn’t owners be forced to start paying their staff better? Wouldn’t that make most servers happier in the long run?”
Unfortunately, Bob looked completely fed up with Arwin’s argument. He angrily pointed at Mia with a fat finger while glaring at Arwin. “Ok, smart guy. Enough of your shit. Your girl was nice. She made your coffee and she did it with a smile. Just give her the fucking tip and stop trying to justify being a cheap son of a bitch.”
Mia raised her hands in protest. “Hey, I’m fine without it. Really. I mean, he comes in here, like, all the time. Which means I have a job. Honestly, that’s fair. And he’s always the nicest guy when he comes in. Besides,” she blushed, “I kind of agree with him.”
The barista at the espresso machine chimed in. “It would be nice if owners and companies were the ones behind the change, but if they don’t care about us enough to do that, then the next best thing would be pressure from customers, right? I mean, it’s not like they’re going to listen to us if we try to stand up and change things. We’ll just get fired.”
Arwin nodded. “You know, there are lots of businesses trying to do away with the practice. In fact, did you know that tipping doesn’t even exist in Asia? And yet people rave about the quality of customer service in places like Japan. If you don’t believe me, take out your smart phone. Go online and read. None of what I’m saying is new.” He smiled at the couple.
Bob calmed, dangerously so. “Look it up, huh? Why? ‘Cause I’m too stupid to understand, that what you’re saying?”
Arwin backed up a half step and hastily tried to deny it. “No, that’s not—“
Bob spoke right over him. “I’m too stupid. Mr. Smart Guy over here. Probably has some fancy education. Too smart for the rest of us dumb folk, huh? We can’t understand complicated stuff like tipping. Not like you. Must be real tough for you having to put up with all us dumb, regular people, huh?” He raised one, meaty hand and shoved Arwin in the chest.
Arwin, not expecting the shove, stumbled back. “What are you—?” His arm jerked, the lid popped off the top of his drink. Cafe latte shot out, drenching Nancy from face to knees.
The woman stood there, aghast, makeup melting from the warm liquid.
Bob’s face reddened. “Why you little—!“ He lunged forward and grabbed Arwin by the collar, then flung him towards the counter.
Mia jumped back with a cry.
Arwin’s back slammed up against the counter. “It wasn’t my fault! You pushed me!” he objected. Where had all this anger come from? They were just talking.
Bob grabbed his foe by the collar again and shook Arwin back and forth. Close up, his breath smelled of wet cigarettes.
Arwin’s stomach recoiled at the stench. He couldn’t imagine having to kiss that every day. It would be like licking a used ashtray. Gross!
Bob released Arwin with one last push.
Arwin, anger flaring, stood straight and clenched his fist before stopping himself. A little shoving was one thing, but throwing punches would take it to another level.
“What are you gonna do?” Bob mocked. He aggressively stepped closer until their chests were touching. “You gonna do something, smart guy? You want to take a swing at me so I can kick your ass?” He reached out and rudely started rapping his knuckles on the top of Arwin’s head. “Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Think, buddy. Think!”
Anger surged through Arwin and he slapped the other man’s hand away, but he still resisted the urge to punch him in the face. It wasn’t easy though. The man might be a bit taller and heavier, but Arwin wasn’t afraid of him. Only afraid of getting arrested for fighting and missing his interview. Speaking of which, he really had only minutes to spare at this point. He needed to extricate himself from whatever was going on quickly.
Arwin glanced over at the tables full of cafe patrons. People were standing up to get a better view of the altercation. But none were moving to help. The bystander effect. Humans were bizarre creatures. The probability of bystanders helping in a situation is inversely proportional to the number of people standing by. That is, the larger the crowd, the less likely it is that anyone will help someone in need because everyone assumes that it is someone else’s responsibility to step in. Plus, most people don’t want to get involved because they want to avoid the responsibility. If any of the watchers would just say something, protest, attempt to help diffuse the situation, it would probably quickly de-escalate.
Bob gave Arwin a smug grin. “Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here?”
Arwin groaned and slapped his forehead. “It’s make like a tree and leave. Oh my gosh. I can’t believe you actually said that, Biff.” He chuckled.
Nancy snarled while using paper towels to dry her face. “How dare you speak to my husband like that? You rude man!”
Bob roared and swung his fist at Arwin’s head.
Arwin easily ducked the swing and moved to the side. “Hey! Come on, now. Please! Let’s all just calm down.”
Bob roared again and came for Arwin with both hands.
Arwin danced out of the way and backed out of reach, trying to keep tables between the two of them. Where was that cop when you needed him?
Bob put his hands up under a round, two-person table and flipped it up at Arwin, spilling drinks and causing the customers there to squeal and get out of the way.
Arwin leapt backwards and almost collided with a female barista shyly trying to avoid the confrontation. The mug of cappuccino in her hands went flying. She stumbled and Arwin leaped to catch her. “Sorry!” he told her, helping her stand upright again before once more moving out of Bob’s reach. “You ok?”
Bob mercilessly plowed through the crowd after his quarry. He carelessly sent the shy barista flying in the same direction as the cappuccino.
From her backside on the floor, she silently glared at Bob in response, luckily unhurt.
Bob’s eyes had gone red and he showed no sign of stopping his relentless onslaught. Every second Arwin remained out of reach only seemed to further fuel his unreasonable anger.
Bob’s pursuit was relentless. He ruthlessly knocked others aside without pause, flipped tables, and sent an unending string of curses and slurs Arwin’s way. He stole drinks and deserts from other people’s tables and flung them at Arwin.
Arwin tried to evade it all, repeatedly pleading with the man to calm down, but eventually found himself once more backed up against the barista bar.
Bob closed in. He bore down with a comically ruthless expression on his face. Both ham hands bunched into large fists.
Arwin cursed to himself, trapped. Was he really going to have to physically defend himself from this madman? it didn’t look like he had a choice if he wanted to get past him and out of the cafe.
“Here!” called a sweet, female voice.
Arwin looked over.
Mia skillfully slid a steaming cup of milk tea towards Arwin. It was in one of those really fat mugs the size of bowls. The tag hanging over the side read Guardian Spirit Tea.
Apt name at the moment, Arwin thought as he took the mug in hand, ignoring the warmth of it on his palm. He heaved the whole thing at the incoming attacker.
Caramel-beige herbal tea, with an earthy aroma, and bitter, nutty flavour, splashed across Bob’s belly and pants, making it look like he’d wet himself. Bob came to a halt and yelped, probably from the heat of the liquid.
Arwin looked over at his own guardian spirit. “Thanks, Mia!” He grinned.
She gave him a conspiratorial smile in return.
A pair of hands took hold of distracted Arwin. He looked up to find that Nancy, Bob’s very angry wife, now had firm hold of him with her fleshy fingers. She was evidently much stronger than she looked. With a heave, she threw him and Arwin flew sideways, crashing into a glass display of roasted beans. The glass shattered, spilling beans and Arwin all over the floor. Luckily, none of the broken glass caused any harm.
Nancy reached for Arwin again. As she moved forward, her feet came down on the dried beans. They shot forwards out from under her. She fell, hard, onto her wide backside with a loud oomph.
Arwin had no time to recover.
“That’s my wife you’re assaulting, you bastard!” Bob screamed, his big belly shaking with the effort.
“What?” Arwin protested. “She attacked me! Just like you did!”
A serving platter whizzed through the air near Arwin’s face and bounced off the floor. He ducked backwards and just avoided another. He looked up and saw Bob determinedly approaching with an armful of black trays. Bob spun them at Arwin’s head. Arwin threw himself out of the way, trying to keep tables between himself and his attacker. One of the trays landed next to him on the floor and he glanced at the logo etched into the plastic. “Hey, Frisbee.” He laughed. “Far out!”
Each thrown tray put all the other patrons at equal risk and soon everyone was diving for the floor or scrambling for the exit, finally motivated to flee the scene instead of watching. One tray bounced off a man’s head, knocking him from his chair. Another hit an iced latte in a woman’s hands. The drink exploded on contact, drenching the poor woman.
Just then, the mountie burst out of the bathroom. “What the maple syrup is going on out here?” he angrily shouted, his face livid. The shade was remarkably similar to that of his crimson uniform.
The whole room paused, going completely silent. Everyone watched the cop, even Bob and Arwin.
Then anger turned to panic and the officer doubled over in pain. “Oh, shit.” Apparently he meant that literally because he clutched his buttocks, turned, and desperately ran back into the washroom, slamming the door behind him.
Arwin popped his head up above the edge of a table and met Bob’s eyes. “Come on, this is ridiculous. Let’s stop this. Truce?” he asked hopefully. His answer was another flung tray. He barely ducked in time.
“Come here, you wife-assaulting prick!” Bob yelled with fury, all reason long gone. Out of trays, he charged again. “I’ll kill you!”
Scrambling away, Arwin made his way towards the front door, but progress was hampered considerably by the mass of patrons already trying to do the same. His escape became frustrated and fleeing customers pushed him up against the condiment stand. A hand grabbed Arwin’s collar from behind, jerking him about so that he knocked a pile of dirty plates to the ground.
“Gotcha!” Bob exclaimed, a gleefully triumphant look on his ugly face.
Two women attempted to crawl past. A bottle of vanilla powder toppled over on the condiment stand. The top came open and a cloud of lovely-smelling white powder smacked one of the crawling woman right in the face. She looked over at her friend with wide eyes, blinked, and then made a horrendous sneeze. Somewhat wetter powder splattered onto her friend’s face.
Bob growled and raised a fist.
Arwin glanced around, desperate. He grabbed a whipped cream canister and pointed it at Bob’s face. Fluffy white cream blasted out, blinding the other man.
Bob released Arwin to wipe the cream out of his eyes.
Snatching a metal jug labelled MILK as a weapon, Arwin saw a break in the crowd and dashed towards the door.
When Bob chased his prey outside onto the sidewalk, hot on Arwin’s heels, he failed to notice Arwin’s weapon. Arwin’s arm came up, swinging the metal milk jug.
Jug connected with skull with a dull clang. Thankfully, the weapon wasn’t heavy enough to do any real damage. But Bob’s eyes crossed and he staggered forward in a daze. Wobbly legs gave out and he sprawled forward onto the ground next to the police officer’s horse, startling the animal.
“All right!” an authoritative voice bellowed from within the coffee shop. Evidently the cop had finished his personal business. “Now, who’s responsible for this mess?”
Every hand both inside the coffee shop pointed outside. Thankfully, it was somewhat vague as to just who they were pointing to.
Arwin pretended to be just another bystander and pointed at Bob.
The police officer sternly stalked through the room, all eyes following him.
Arwin used the momentary distraction to make good his escape. He quick-walked towards his bus, noticing that he only had seconds left to board, according to a clock high atop a nearby pole. Glancing back over his shoulder, the last thing he saw was the police horse dropping a couple of heavy, wet clumps of manure directly onto Bob’s dazed face. Then the cop hauled the man back onto the sidewalk and begin giving him a very tough talking to.
With a relieved grin that he’d made his bus, Arwin climbed aboard, getting back to his future.