The woman two tables over from me looks French in the classical, cinematic way that very beautiful girls sometimes do. She has a cloud of not-quite-black hair falling to just below her narrow shoulders. Her face is almost unbearably pale in comparison, totally unmade-up. Huge, dark eyes with long lashes give an oddly innocent quality to her otherwise grown-up face. Her phone rings, and she answers in that wonderfully unselfconscious cut-glass accent peculiar to the English upper class. Yes darling, she says, she has had a dress fitted for the Spring Ball next week, and yes she would love to have lunch tomorrow, one o’clock is perfect, okay, okay darling, ciao. The woman smiles after she puts the phone down, and it warms her whole beautiful face. When she finishes her drink, she seems to float rather than walk from the room.
There is a man in the corner who has been here since the shop opened, slowly drinking coffee after coffee. On finishing each one, he goes just outside for a cigarette, and every time the barista’s face lights up, hoping that this time me might really leave. A few minutes later, it falls again as he re-enters, rubbing his hands from the cold. She wants him to leave because he smells bad. Not unclean necessarily, but stale – like old beer and ashtrays. And he coughs, a cough that fills the whole café and sounds as though he is trying to shift years and years of tar and phlegm from his lungs. He coughs into a dirty blue handkerchief, and looks at it for just a second or so too long before stuffing it back into the pocket of his long black leather coat. When he isn’t coughing, he just stares into his coffee for minutes and minutes on end. At first I thought perhaps he was waiting for someone, but who would come to see this man?