The Big Man from the Coffee Shop

He sat pensively, his hand lightly touching his lips. His heavy brow obscured his eyes, his thick, stumpy fingers darting back and forth over his phone screen. He sat in a coffee shop, ignoring the steaming mug that sat next to him. His robust stature and heavy presence were at odds with his choice of clothing: a gentle cardigan and thin spectacles that rested lightly on his nose.

Absently, he groped around for his coffee, and took a drag, still fixated on his phone screen. He was distracted, mulling over the exam he had just taken. His bag sat next to his mug on the table, sheets of revision poking audaciously out at him. He placed the mug back on the table before leaning his head heavily on his fist, rolling the flesh up his face. He was less worried now, more bored, and moments later he rose, his chair clattering on the floor noisily. He furtively glanced around, a mouse trapped in an elephant’s body, but the rest of the patrons were too busy taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi to notice the heavy-set man. He quietly rumbled a goodbye to the waitress as he left, which she returned chirpily. He laid a heavy hand on the glass doors, which were now blurred by the rain, and, resigning himself, he swung them open.

Outside, he was blasted by the wind, a jarring change from the muggy warmth of the coffee shop. He curled his collar up around his neck and tried to shrink into it, beginning the brisk march home. His eyes were lowered as he walked, staring at the pavement. When the weather was nice, the city lit up to reflect it, the sandstone buildings reflecting the light gently, framing the trees. But when the weather was like this, the city became lifeless, the colour washed out of it. He kept his head down and plodded on, ignoring the vague grey shapes of the houses, subconsciously avoiding the cracks in the paving, his soaked jeans making his gait stiff.

He felt a dull impact at his shoulder, a small woman clutching her hat over her head. He offered her an automatic apology. She simply glared at him. He carried on, chewing his encounter with the woman over. He hadn’t been looking where he was going, but surely she hadn’t either? Perhaps he was too apologetic. He turned onto his own street, still absorbed in second-guessing himself, and was jolted out of his thoughts by blue flashing lights.

A sense of inevitability crept over him. A small crowd had gathered on the other side of the road staring at him as he neared the fire engines. He squinted up through the rain: they were outside his flat, as he had thought. The fireman who had been eyeing his approach halted him. There had been a fire in the flat above, and he wasn’t allowed into the building until they had checked to make sure it was safe. Grinning apologetically, the fireman adjusted his helmet. Perhaps he could go and get a coffee while he waited?

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