In moments when he remembered where he was, he would go as often as he could to Wudei'a's shop, and he would sometimes remember to be overjoyed at the ease of it all.
He would come in and sit down, and without a word, she would come and set a cup of coffee in front of him. He didn't need to say or remember anything. Even when he was confused, and could not understand how he had gotten there, it was fine, because Wudei'a would come and silently give him coffee, and then he'd focus enough to understand.
Not that he recalled, exactly, but it almost always ended up with him staring at the coffee cup, and trying to discern whether or not it was actually there. For Nicholas' fragmented mind, this was a profound and new experience every time, and yet, it had a leaden feel, a familiar aching burden.
Reaching forward, slowly, as if to give the cup a chance to flee on little crab-claw feet, or melt into the table like worms burrowing into soil, he finally set his hesitant fingers to the tiny loop on the side.
Solid, vaguely warm, lustrous to touch, a sense of brittleness. A loop of an old woman's bone. The crook of a hard, fevered finger.
Lifting the cup, he was gratified at first to feel the shifting weight of it, but he quickly grew cautious again, for touch was just a sense, and senses could lie. He was lucid enough of his surroundings at that moment to feel grateful no one had come to speak with him, because it was difficult enough at times to understand whether he was imagining the coffee, or remembering the coffee, or actually holding the coffee... without having to deal with the greater riddle of something intelligent paying attention to him.
His intelligence? Another psychic figment, cloaked in a sense of flesh and breath and light? A broken off and forgotten fragment of identity, made living to his senses alone? That led to a maze Nicholas had already spent too much time in.
Time was the cluttered file cabinet that Nicholas sorted his memories inside, and he realized that he'd shifted folders somewhat; he'd been holding the coffee cup for a while.
It was cooling. The freshly dead, already porcelain stiff. Touch of the concrete below, storm drain skin. No more steam, just placid dark fluid. Oil. Obsidian mirror.
He forgot what he was thinking about a moment ago, but he resolved that he would like some coffee, and he hoped that it was real. Even if it were not, he would prefer to have taste, and so he decided to have a sip, which he did.
Bitter, still warm. Drinking incense smoke. Faint sweetness. The spiraling of murky water down a drain. Cardamom fog and some distant memoriam to chocolate.
Was that the taste, or was he only remembering what he'd had before? Had he remembered the taste correctly? How could he know if he'd only imagined drinking coffee before?
This puzzled him, and he set the cup down.
Outside of the maze, he had no clarity. He knew that he had to keep coming back, because he needed to hammer spikes of reality into his mind, to hold down the crazy grey watercolor tarp of his experiences in the maze, but the tangled timeless unwinding of the labyrinth had muddled Nicholas to the point where his name was the sole foundation of his identity.
He recognized the name as familiar. And when in the maze, he was lucid enough to know which path led to where, and what juncture was which. In the maze, it was easy, he'd been through the tunnels so many times before, they were all familiar to him. The feel of the mossy concrete under his fingertips, the vague chill of the humid air, the spirals within spirals in all things: water down the drain, the winding of the tunnels, the twisting of stairways... shadows of the self were within these for him.
In the maze, he could remember his deepest identity, but it was all a brilliant subterranean architecture, a hall of mirrors reflecting a thousand caverns. He was himself there, but there was only Nicholas there.
Outside, he could only remember Nicholas, and the coffee that Wudei'a gave him, and that sometimes people would come to look inside themselves, but they would only see the maze. They said Nicholas knew the way, and he did; he drew maps. He could never remember (or find a way) to explain that all the miles these others would walk with him, they were only inside their mind.
If they walked with him at all. Perhaps they were nothing but his solitude, made manifest as a stranger, seeking his help.
Nicholas was a guide. He knew that. All that he owned, or thought he owned, he carried with him. Every quiet moment, he would touch these things, reassuring himself that they would not leave him, that they were not imaginary. His rope, his crowbar, his pack, his shoes, his empty journal, his maps, all of his other things. Nicholas was a strong man, and clever, when he wasn't thinking too hard.
Nicholas also liked, or dreamt that he liked, coffee, so he drank more of it. Though he could not remember, when he finished, he would wait for something or someone to address him, and then ponder whether they were real or not. And if nothing came, or sometimes if it did, he would always leave the shop, and descend into the maze again. It was the place he knew.
He knew that he'd gone there once for something, but he could not longer remember what it was, and so he kept seeking, hoping he'd recognize it when he found it, and hoping (when he could recall) that when he did find it, it was a real thing.
He forgot all about that after he set his coffee cup down, only remembering that soon, he would be leaving again.