Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Adib Khorram




Steam belched and hissed. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck.

Smaug the Terrible was furious with me.

“What does it mean, ‘filter error’?” I asked.

“Here.” Mr. Apatan wiggled the hose where it fed into Smaug’s gleaming chrome back. The blinking red error light went dark. “Better?”

“I think so.”

Smaug gurgled happily and began boiling once again.

“Good. Were you pushing buttons?”

“No,” I said. “Just to check the temperature.”

“You don’t have to check it, Darius. It always stays at two-twelve.”


There was no use arguing with Charles Apatan, Manager of the Tea Haven at the Shoppes at Fairview Court. He was convinced, despite all the articles I printed out for him—he refused to read web pages—that each and every tea should be steeped at a full boil, whether it was a robust Yunnan or a fragile gyokuro.

Not that Tea Haven ever got such fine teas. Everything we sold was enriched with antioxidants or enhanced with natural super-fruit extracts or formulated for health and beauty.

Smaug, the Irrepressibly Finicky, was our industrial-strength water boiler. I named it Smaug my first week on the job, when I got scalded three times in a single shift, but so far the name hadn’t stuck with anyone else at Tea Haven.

Mr. Apatan passed me an empty pump-action thermos. “We need more Blueberry A?ai Bliss.”

I shoveled tea from the bright orange tin into the filter basket, topped it with two scoops of rock sugar, and tucked it under the spigot. Smaug, the Unassailably Pressurized, spat its steaming contents into the thermos. I flinched as boiling water spattered my hands.

Smaug, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities, was triumphant once more.

* * *

As a people group, Persians are genetically predisposed to like tea. And even though I was only half Persian, I had inherited a full-strength tea-loving gene sequence from my mom.

“You know how Persians make tea?” my mom would ask.

“How?” I would say.

“We put hell in it and we damn it,” she would say, and I would laugh because it was funny to hear my mom, who never used colorful metaphors, pretend to curse.

In Farsi, hel means “cardamom,” which is what makes Persian tea so delicious, and dam means “to steep.”

When I explained the joke to Mr. Apatan, he was not amused.

“You can’t swear at the customers, Darius,” he said.

“I wasn’t going to. It’s Farsi. It’s a joke.”

“You can’t do that.”

Charles Apatan was the most literal person I knew.

* * *

    After I replenished our strategically located sample thermoses with fresh tea, I refilled the plastic cups at each station.

I was categorically opposed to plastic sample cups. Everything tasted gross out of plastic, all chemicaly and bland.

It was deeply disgusting.

Not that it made much difference at Tea Haven. The sugar content in our samples was high enough to mask the taste of the plastic cups. Maybe even high enough to dissolve them, given enough time.

The Tea Haven at the Shoppes at Fairview Court was not a bad place to work. Not really. It was a significant upgrade over my last job—spinning the daily special sign at one of those take-it-and-bake-it pizza places—and it would look good on my resume. That way, when I graduated, I could work at an artisanal tea store, instead of one that added the latest superfood extract to whatever dismal fannings the corporate tea blenders could find at the steepest discount.

My dream job was Rose City Teas, this place in the Northwest District that did small-batch, hand-selected teas. There were no artificial flavorings in Rose City’s tea. But you had to be eighteen to work there.

I was stuffing the cups into their spring-loaded dispenser when Trent Bolger’s hyena laugh rang through the open doorway.

I was completely exposed. The entire front of Tea Haven was composed of giant windows, which, though tinted to reduce sun exposure, still offered a full and enticing view of the wares (and employees) inside.

I silently wished for the sun to bounce off the window, blinding Trent and cloaking me from what was sure to be an unpleasant encounter. Or, at the very least, for Trent to keep on walking and not recognize me in my work uniform of black shirt and bright blue apron.

It did not work. Trent Bolger rounded the corner and instantly got a sensor lock on me.

He grabbed the doorframe and swung himself into the store, followed by one of his Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy, Chip Cusumano.

“Hey! D’s Nuts!”

Trent Bolger never called me Darius. Not if there was a suggestive nickname he could use instead.

Mom always said she named me after Darius the Great, but I think she and Dad were setting themselves up for disappointment, naming me after a historical figure like that. I was many things—D-Hole, D-Wad, D’s Nuts—but I was definitely not great.

If anything, I was a great target for Trent Bolger and his Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy. When your name begins with D, the sexual innuendos practically write themselves.

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