“I see you like kombucha.”
“It is very good for you. Helps you lose weight.” My eyes rolled involuntarily. I’m not going to get all impressed because you notice I’m overweight. It’s not like no one has ever noticed before. I start to walk again but I feel a surprisingly strong grip on my wrist. I hate when I underestimate tiny people.
“Here,” I give him my last dollar, “now let go. It’s not cool to be touching strangers.” His grip remains steady and I realize I’m going to have to kick him in the face.
“I didn’t ask for your money.” He spits, grabbing my coat with his other hand.
“And I didn’t ask to be manhandled.” I pull back forcibly and manage to free both my coat and my hand from his grip. His high pitched laugh echoes in the alley shaking me from my usual city demeanor. I tell myself he’s a random weirdo but I run a block or two to be safe and cut into a bodega to make sure he isn’t following.
“Oh you want more kombucha?” The shop owner eyes me eagerly. “I have more in the back. Something new. Come see, come see.” I stare at him blankly. What is with everyone today? Am I the only person in all of New York who drinks kombucha?
“It’s ok. Come see.” He steps out from behind the counter and pulls back the beaded curtain at the back of the store.
My eyes go wide and I drop my bottle to the floor. It rolls with excruciating slowness across the uneven floor, stopping at his feet.
“It’s ok. A perfectly normal reaction.” He picks up my bottle and holds it out, beckoning me. I can’t decide if his smile is kindly or insane. “You go in. You can ask her for help.”
“uurr… iIi…ggh…” I want to speak but when I open my mouth only a gurgling sound comes out.
“Go!” He shouts forcibly and my feet move forward of their own accord towards the dragon behind the curtain. I hear a melody of clicking beads behind me as the curtain settles and I am alone with her.
“You like kombucha?” it sounds like a question but I somehow know it isn’t and I stay silent. She looks me up and down as if reading me. “Do you know who I am?” I shake my head. “I am the one who can grant your deepest desires, even the ones you don’t know you have.”
I find my voice, “I know what I want.”
“Do you? I am not so sure. Humans are easily confused and often don’t know their own minds. It matters not. Would you like me to grant your deepest desires?” I feel myself nod through a haze of confusion. She laughs and my heart feels like glass.
“Look in your pocket. You will find a delicious cake like no other. If you eat the cake you will have complete awareness. You will be able to see yourself, and everything else clearly. The cake will give you infinite wisdom but nothing else. Nothing, that is to say, from the material world.” She looks at me coyly, “Or…” her piercing eyes relish the pause, “you can give me the cake and I will grant you my best kombucha. I make it myself,” she gestures a clawed arm towards her belly, “and it will never run out. When you drink it you will never wish for anything ever again. You will have all the material things this world can give you. You may decide. I will wait.”
“Did you find the kombucha?” The bodega owner asks with twinkling eyes as I exit.
I don’t bother answering. I clutch my bottle to my chest and step out onto the sidewalk.