His mouth gave him signals that it was thirsty. His lips were dry and his tongue rough. He peered through the crowded plaza and spotted a café. He sat down at one of the chic tables outside. Eric watched the crowd flow as tourists danced around each other looking for the perfect shot from their expensive cameras. A waiter approached him and he asked for a coffee. Most of the tables were taken except for a few. A man was seated beside him who was reading the local paper. The man looked up and smiled at Eric.
‘Do you have a light?’ the man said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Eric pulled a box of matches from his pocket and set them on the man’s table. He smiled faintly at the man and continued admiring the views.
‘Where are you from?’ the man continued as he puffed on the cigarette.
‘Beautiful place, what brings you to Vienna?’
‘I had an aunt who lived here. She passed away not so long ago. I’d never been before so I took the opportunity. Have you been to Australia?’
‘When I was a young boy I ran away from home. I jumped on a cargo ship at the docks and it took me all the way to Perth. I joined the military there. I spent two years doing a duty for a country I didn’t belong too. They discovered who I was and I left.’
‘So what brings you to Vienna then?’
‘I’ve been here for four years now. I slowly make my way through Europe. For some reason I can’t leave this place though. It’s strange but I feel at home here.’ The waiter returned with coffee and placed it in front of Eric. The aroma was powerful. Eric picked up the small cup and took a refreshing sip. He could already feel the caffeine rejuvenating his tired body.
‘What’s your name?’ the man asked.
‘Nice to meet you Joseph. Do you work here in Vienna?’
‘I do odd jobs every once in a while, wash windows, clean gardens. I try to live a very simple life. I don’t like to be burdened by money and responsibilities. I believe that living a free life enables you to pursue whatever lies in your heart.’ Eric lightly chuckled.
‘I wish I had an attitude like yours. Money basically rules my life. I have a family to look after. I need that steady income coming in.’
‘You’re family is not with you?’
‘No, they are at home in Australia. I’m only here for a few days.’
‘How does it feel not being responsible for others?’
‘What do you mean?’ Eric asked as he sipped his coffee.
‘You are here; you are free from your responsibilities. You do not have to worry about money or anything like that. You can sit here like me, enjoy the view and drink a cup of coffee. Hell I could spend all day here and not care. Don’t you feel the same way?’
‘I guess so, I mean money is always in the back of my mind but it does feel nice just to sit here. I could definitely get used to something like that.’
‘So why don’t you?’
‘You mean just abandon my family and my job? I don’t think anyone could possibly do that.’
‘Why not? I did when I was a boy, I never even told my parents I was leaving.’ Eric was amazed at what Joseph was saying. He turned his body towards him.
‘You mean you just up and left? Without telling anyone? They must think you’re dead or something?’
‘I wrote them a letter when I arrived in Perth, they weren’t very happy with me but they respected my decision and I haven’t seen them since I left. We write back and forth occasionally and I suppose one day we will all meet up again, but until then, we are all living care-free lives.’ Eric was stunned. He couldn’t possibly imagine doing anything like that.
‘Okay, but I could never leave my family, not now, not like this. It wouldn’t be right.’ The old man extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray.
‘Hey it’s your choice. If you wanted to have this kind of freedom, that is the kind of choice that you would have to make. You have burdened yourself with so much that it is hard for you to break free. It was easier for me when I was a boy because no one was depending on me. We both took a path but mine was slightly different from yours. Look at us now and what our lives have become. I am free and you are tied down. It isn’t too late though. You could still deviate from that path. Who knows what will happen.
Eric just stared at the man. He turned back towards the plaza and watched the tourists hurry through the crowded space. His mind was working overtime. How could he even consider Joseph’s advice?
They sat there together for the rest of the afternoon. They made small talk and played chess.