Accordingly, he lived by playing cards and backgammon, and the occasional loan. That was the assumption of the cafe’s patrons, at least. He never gave a name, instead, he simply appeared outside each morning at exactly five minutes to open and would leave only when kicked out by the owner. He always took the same seat, a table in the corner, and gave the same offer to whoever passed.
“Play a game with me,” he’d say to whoever passes. No matter the person he would tell them, “Pick a game to play and I’ll make it worth your while. I want nothing in return, just your time and a game. There’s nothing for you to lose, only to gain.”
So the guest would sit down, pick a game and play. No matter the game the man would win. He would shake the guest’s hand and thank them before he’d try to ask their name. Before he could, they'd stand to leave or reach for their wallet to give a reward and the man would have to stop them to explain.
“I said you’d only have to gain and I’m nothing if not a man of my word.” And so the man would give his guest advice tailored to whatever it may be that ails them. Always oddly specific and incredibly vague, the guest would leave confused to rarely return for another game. The advice would always be necessary, though. None would play without needing something fixed, some their love life, others their job, all would lose and all would get their help. At times the guest would once again offer to at least pay for a coffee but would always be refused. The man was there to help. It would leave guests wondering what could cards and backgammon earn the boy?
Very few would return to play again, however, none returned more than twice. Some needed to be told something new, others the same, and the rest would wish for something else to be said completely. None would ever stay past the end of the game.
He lived a lonely life, the card man in the cafe. He would spend his days telling people what they needed to know to solve their problems but never his own. He never gave a name as he was never asked for it. Each day would repeat the same as the last.
As usual the card man took the same seat, a table in the corner, and gave the same offer to whoever passed. As the seasons passed, there were pumpkins and bats as a stranger rolled in the card man could feel a change in the air. The smell of pumpkin spice lattes filled the air but he got caught off guard as this stranger walked in. He went straight up to the card man, his charcoal coat a contrast to the cinnamon one of the man. The card man thought “time to win win win”. But something felt off as this man sat down. A change in the wind pushed through the cafe. As they played their game, each one ended in draws. Not a single game won but such little time left as they looked outside the windows at the night sky dark as his charcoal coat. A pretty color to the eye. As they dealt their last cards the card man could tell something was up. They played their best, one by one, but in the end this stranger has won. He smiled and thanked him for the game as this stranger walked out into the night. As the card man was finally defeated he sat there in shock. He sat there for a while till once again was kicked out. As the card man was putting his cards away he noticed digits written on one of the last cards. The stranger's number… maybe he'll see him once again.
Now, the card man’s guests had never asked for his number, asked for his name, those who asked for anything only asked for another game. They never offered anything either, so the pen scratched into the playing card was as strange a sight as the man himself was to anyone new to the cafe. No one knew exactly what the man did with the phone number, no one knew if he had a phone or not after all, but what people did know was that the next day, the stranger returned. Still dawning his charcoal coat, another long day of card games began.
Again, each game ended in a draw. The card man tried to give the stranger the much needed mystic advice that everyone else received, but the stranger would begin a new game before the man could speak. He couldn’t tell the stranger in the middle of the game, those weren’t the rules and he didn’t know what he needed to say until the game was done. Seeing into one’s soul was as much a science as it was an art. So each game would end in a draw and with a playful smile the stranger would begin a new game. The day dragged on, game after game, neither winning nor losing. During the games, the stranger would talk and ask questions no other player had bothered to ask. It was a breath of fresh air to the lonely card man.
For a week or so, perhaps even longer, that was how it went. Soon the stranger wasn’t the only of the pair that talked during the games. Their conversations were pleasant and then on the final day, after the final game, someone had finally won. The stranger set down his cards and held out his hand. The stranger became the first of the card man’s guests to best him and as the man went to tell the stranger what magical advice he needed, he found himself drawing a blank.
“You give people advice, right?” The stranger asked, “When you win you tell people something they need to know. Well I won, so I guess I’ll say something to you. Tomorrow, go to the beach and take a swim at dawn.” And with that, the stranger stood and thanked the card man before grabbing his charcoal coat and leaving the cafe.
The mysterious man found himself feeling a lightness in his chest. “Is this what others feel when I look into their souls?” he thought. Despite the strangeness of the situation, the next morning, five minutes till the cafe opened, the man stood not at the door but on the sand. He wore the same suit, a very faded cinnamon-brown suit. He neatly removed the pieces one by one and waded into the sea.
For the first time since he first appeared, the card man did not return to the cafe. He did not give his free advice to those who didn’t ask his name. For at least that one day, the card man’s life was his own. For as many times as the man had glanced into the life of another, had given advice on love, he had never seen what he had needed. As the sun grew higher in the sky, the strange card-playing man dawned his cinnamon suit once more and reached into his pockets. He pulled out, not his deck of 52 cards, but a single card with a line of numbers scratched into it with a pen.
The patrons at the cafe would miss his presence at first, but soon would forget about the unusual man with the unusual routine. They would not take notice of the two men dressed in charcoal and cinnamon coats who would begin to frequent the cafe together, taking a seat near the back to play a game of cards...