The only open diner around the block is my solace for the night. It is welcoming in a sense that it has no choice to be. Passing strangers like me don’t mind — it offers us a space to be lonely but not alone at the same time.

From the outside, the first thing anyone would notice is how the harsh fluorescent lights scream drabness as they bounce off the yellowish ceiling and walls. The color yellow is usually attributed to happiness, hope, and warmth, but this place, this city, is anything but those.

Like an aquarium, huge glass panels surrounding the diner display the lonely creatures inside. I see a man dressed like me — probably a salesman too. I wonder if he also had a rough day, hence him coming here late in the night. Unlike me he is accompanied by a beautiful woman in red. From afar they look like a couple, but as I come closer, I realize, they still are not. I catch how their hands slowly reach to touch each other, and when they do, they linger for a while, subtly break off contact, wonder to themselves who initiated and ended the act, and start their dance again.

The balding server gives a furtive glance at the almost couple, probably arriving at the same conclusion as I have. As I enter the diner his attention quickly goes to me, thankful for the new distraction.

“Welcome. What can I get you?”

“Whiskey, thanks.” 

“Rough night?”

I just nodded. I am not in the mood to talk about how desolate I am inside. I am hidden in the farthest matryoshka doll. I appreciate him trying to reach out despite the small talk just being a polite gesture, but he is grasping a void. He hasn’t even grazed the outer matryoshka doll yet.

For the longest time I wonder why I still stay at this city. Work is full of arrogant bastards one-upping each other. They are as empty as I am, but at least I don’t waste my time filling myself up with hollow achievements. As for my dating life? Non-existent. Women like broody guys at first but when they realize this is not an act, that I really am depressed, they get bored and leave. No one likes to waste their time with a gentleman misplaced in life.

The server gives me the poison I ordered. I look up and briefly meet his eyes to give my thanks. Is it understanding I see? Pity? Maybe it is just me projecting, desperate even for the smallest sign to tell me to stay because this city isn’t as cold and lonely as it seems.

I’ve been writing fiction for the past few weeks but I haven’t got the courage to publish any of them yet, until now. This is a first time for me. The prompt above is heavily inspired by one of my favorite paintings, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. He has already produced a large body of work before painting this in his 60s, but Nighthawks is what put him on the map.