It was night when the door to the City lease office closed. Anthony knew he was finally done. He had made all the arrangements for two years and finally had his business running. accueillez des rêves! had been his project for the past 24 months – “23 months and 9 days,” he thought to himself as he marked his planner. He stopped momentarily in a state of joy wondering if this was real. How would he be able to tell if he was actually dreaming? His dreams consisted of this moment. Was he about to wake up? His body made a sudden jump as he mercilessly pinched his arm – he had to be sure.
“What’s next?” He thought to himself as he strolled, still exuberant, towards home, thinking about his “baby”. That’s what he’d been calling it for the past few months. It wasn’t a baby anymore. Now accueillez des rêves! was a five-star restaurant. Anthony couldn’t believe it either. Did he make it? Was he really there yet? Anthony had to suppress his excitement. 4 years ago, he was emigrating from Senegal with only a few essentials and some cookware. He tried to think of how it came to be, and his thoughts were filled with great memories from Senegal of his mother passing him the baton in the kitchen. Since his childhood, Anthony had wanted to cook. Not for people’s hunger though, but for their entertainment. He wanted to be a chef. He wanted to own his very own restaurant. He wanted control of something for once. Coming to America in pursuit of his dream, Anthony achieved highest honors at his culinary school. That’s when he met Sarah.
She always had been kind and supportive. How he missed her now. Their first date was at her cousin’s small bakery where he told her his life goal. She had started him off on his dream of operating a restaurant. They had worked together on everything. It wasn’t just his goal now, but theirs. She died; Anthony never quite got over it. He didn’t have to though. Sarah was kept alive in his heart and in his head. Her memory kept him going, kept him encouraged. The restaurant was their dream and he would make it. Anthony began to cry a little. Sarah would want him to move on, and celebrate his achievement, so he stopped his tears. “Thank you, Sarah” he said quietly out loud.
Anthony reached home without another sad thought. Home for him was a small living quarters above his restaurant. A desk, a lamp, a dresser and a picture of him and Sarah; There wasn’t much space for physical items, but that’s not what it was for. This was where he could realize his dreams - where he could find himself. He sat in his mother’s rocking chair as what appeared to be the last two year’s worth of exhaustion slowly caught up to him. Did he still have work to do? Anthony’s mind started racking itself for any recollection of a job he had yet to do. In the past, he would still be up working on papers, and taking care of his “baby”. Now was different though. Now he could rest. Now he was finally done.
The hospital bed Anthony woke up on was cold. “what happened?! Where am I?! where’s Sarah?!” Anthony didn’t remember a thing from last night except for thoughts of Sarah. A pale nurse came in to tend to him. Was she pale? Or was his vision foggy. “It’ll be okay” she said calmly, trying to soothe the distraught man. She tried to comfort him with love; Right now, the thing that would comfort him most was information. He got it. A doctor hurriedly came in just as Anthony was standing up removing the typical hospital attire and hardware. It was then that the doctor told him how lucky he was to be alive. An employee must have left the oven on low. The heat carried carbon monoxide up into Anthony’s living quarters. He was incapacitated and a fire broke out. A passerby saw flames and alerted the authorities who came and saved him. That bystander witnessed something terrible – the end of a dream, Anthony’s dream. Anthony’s heart had stopped. The monitor had changed from frequent blips to the panicked drawn out wail as Anthony removed the leads from his chest. Maybe the EKG monitor was still on.
Anthony awaited discharge, and contemplated the things that had happened. His normal optimistic demeanor had been replaced with gloom. He had overcome trials before, but not one like this. The others, though difficult to overcome could never completely block out his dreams and aspirations. His dreams consumed his life, and the fire last night, consumed his dreams.
A taxi dropped him off at his once five-star “baby”, now reduced to tearful ashes. A police officer made his way to stop the intruder from entering the property. The officer stopped in his tracks when Anthony looked at him. He’d been a peace officer for several years now, but had never seen a face like Anthony’s. A face so full of remorse and tragedy, sorrow and longing, fear and crushed dreams. Burned dreams. Anthony stepped forward into the rubble and charred walls. He saw the ruined stove, where he so often was craftily preparing for customers. He found the first table he ever served to, when he accidentally elbowed a critic in the face – and still got a four star rating. He found the chipped paint, where he had fought Sarah with the paint rollers as they happily worked on accueillez des rêves; he chuckled as a tear ran down his face. The mailman had come yesterday. Anthony sorted through burnt letters: “congratulations on a four star rating!” one proclaimed. The return address was destroyed. “Great work with everyt…” said another piece of half ruined mail. Then he found the insurance waiver. “As owner of…” the ink was charred in some spots, “…staurant, upon receipt of this signed application, full insurance coverage will be granted, al…” He could have read on, but he knew it was too late for anything.
Anthony moved on to his room. The stairs were gone, but so were the supports to the upper section; His room had crumpled and fallen down, into the main area of the dining room. He saw his burnt dresser and immediately gave up hope on his clothes. The only item recognizable was a picture frame. The glass had been blackened and was now nearly opaque. That didn’t matter to him; He knew what picture was inside. Leaving the still smoking memory, he held dearly to this picture, the only picture – all that he had left. Anthony crawled back into the cab with his one belonging, broken and alone. “Where to?” the driver asked apologetically, as he turned off the meter.
“The airport,” Anthony requested, “please.”
The officer, having such pain for this hurt man stopped the taxi as it pulled away from the curb. The lively spirit Anthony used to have had been evicted from the body that used to house it. Now only sorrow resided there.
“Where are you going now?” the police man forced out.
Anthony took a while to respond. He hadn’t quite yet come to terms with everything. He sat there and slowly wiped the black soot off of the picture frame