The customer was mumbling. All I could make out was “spiced”.

“I’m sorry?” I asked, leaning forward over the counter. He didn’t appear to hear me. He was engrossed in a mobile device, as most customers were these days. His thumb flicked upward on the tiny display in a steady rhythm. Flick, flick, flick. He seemed to notice that I wasn’t springing into action to fulfill his order, so he rolled his eyes up, away from the grip of the screen in his hand. The downward angle of his clean-shaven head lent the glance one of supreme annoyance.

“Rangoon Spiced Latte,” he said, and that’s when I noticed the headphones. Bright metallic apertures grasped the tops of his earlobes like protective shields. Thin arms sprouted from the tops, arcing outward and down into the ears themselves, terminating in soft plugs. I’d never seen their like.

I must have been staring. The customer raised his head and cleared his throat, then reached a finger around the side of his mobile and clicked a button. I could hear the faintest whirring noise, and the arms of the headphones raised, gently pulling the plugs out and up until they sat flush with the sides of his head, almost like vestigial antennae.

“What brand are those?” I asked, my job and the customer’s need completely forgotten.

“Brand?” he asked with a cackle. “These are one-of-a-kind, son. Engineered them myself. Do you like them?”

“I guess. I mean, the design is cool, but I’d have to hear them to really make up my mind.” He nodded. “And isn’t that a little dangerous? Having a motor shove the buds in place like that?”

“It would be, if I hadn’t also considered that and engineered the insertion limits to strict specifications. Besides, it’s not like the motors have enough torque to do any real damage. They’d burn out before puncturing an eardrum.”

“They sure do look cool,” I said. “You should consider selling them. I mean, not that pair but maybe getting them manufactured.”

“Then they wouldn’t be one-of-a-kind, would they?” He smiled. “Now, about that latte?”

2014.09.13 – 2023.05.09

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