When I arrive at the café all the good seats are taken and I’m left with the single’s table next to the men’s loo. I sit and don’t complain and try to see the good in the situation. I fetch my notebook from my bag and have a look around. My legs stick to the leather seat and my notebook sticks to the table. Lots of men come by and smile at me and one of them hands me a coin. And I’m flattered until I realize they’re mistaking me for the cleaning lady, but I keep the coin anyway to use on the bus.
At the table to my left a boy and a girl, talking, smiling, sipping their mochas, sneaking sideways glances out of awkward silences. She leans over and touches his forearm and he tenses and the forearm isn’t just a forearm anymore and she looks deep into his eyes and smiles and blushes a little. She takes a breath and her voice sounds so sweet when she asks, if his flat mate has a girl-friend. His face falls and the skin where she touches him twitches and he shakes his head but then he says he does. And her face falls and the hand she touches him with twitches and she shakes her head but then she says,
‘I hope they’re happy.’
Soon after she leaves and the boy is left on his own. He takes a sip of his mocha and he looks around the room and then he looks at me and smiles. And the longer that look lasts the more my face twitches and he turns back to his mocha and the conversation we could have had about his eternal love for the girl who left and her eternal love for his flat mate will never happen. I look away, too. I see the barista leaning at the counter and when our eyes meet he gives me an odd look. And I think it’s because I ordered my coffee to go and then sat in anyway.
There are a lot of people with laptops typing at a speed that makes me dizzy just by looking at them, except for one who’s smiling at his screen and must be looking at porn. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t bring my laptop, because I could be looking at porn too but instead I just brought my notebook and all I can do with that is write in it or rip out the pages and make paper airplanes, but I don’t know how. The pressure to write is weighing down on my mind in this café where everybody is typing or busying themselves with beverages, Black Berrys and love-affairs in the making, except for the baristas who are having a laugh at a coffee stain on the counter. And I chew my pen because I have no words to capture the commotion around me, but maybe it’s not about that at all. I try calling my friend, the one with the tip about how to overcome my writer’s block to ask her what it’s about but she doesn’t pick up. I leave an obscure message on her voicemail which I hope she’ll ignore. And I look down, study the blank page, am I immersed yet? Is this literary genius in the making? Maybe the left boy knows, so I look at him but he is texting.
That’s when the couple to my right starts screaming at each other in Spanish. I feel like an extra in a telenovela and also a bit scared. Because they are quite close and he is a bastardo and she is a puñetera and I’m just me plus coffee. The barista from before walks around the counter and inches forward, hands raised, clutching a red napkin. Suddenly the couple embraces, exchanging kisses and she is a mujer ideal and he is a garañón and we are all extras in their telenovela. The women are crying and the men are cheering and everybody is giving the couple’s reunion a round of applause. The baristas are holding hands and the left boy has stopped texting and I have a feeling that any minute now they are going to burst into song. So I start humming a tune but then everybody goes back to what they’ve been doing and the couple goes back to making moon-eyes at each other and I am still sitting here feeling a bit foolish. But I can’t write any of this down, because when my friend calls me back and refers to my message and I tell her about the couple and that moment of café love, she doubts this really happened. And she tells me it is not about the café it is about the writer and who knows maybe someone will spot me. And I imagine literary agents lurking behind the plant by the door to the men’s loo, reading over my shoulder. And my friend says I never listen to her and I want to argue that maybe I’m listening too much but then she hangs up without another word. I’m tempted to leave another message but then I don’t because she isn’t a writer and she doesn’t understand.
I put my phone away and look back at the page, still blank but for the ornate rim I drew around it. Maybe fine art is my true calling? I hear the baristas foot tapping and when I look up he is standing in front of my table staring me down. Maybe he doesn’t like people who write or those who linger too long? Maybe he has seen the caricature I drew of him on the coffee collar? He snorts and leaves and whispers with his colleague. I watch them as they study me from afar and feel paranoia’s cold fingers creeping up my back, sliding over my shoulders, around my neck and squeezing. I gather my things and don’t use the loo, even though it’s right around the corner and I’ve just had coffee and the bus takes almost an hour. I head for the door and every one of my steps is taking the time of two. I can see the baristas shuffling behind the counter, the one who’s been staring me down coming after me. I try to quicken my steps but my muscles strain against my effort to make them more like those of a professional footballer than they are. My bag wiggles and bounces, slamming into people’s shoulders and heads, spilling coffee over white trousers and making them type gibberish. As I reach the door, a hand on the handle, I feel my shoulder being grabbed, my body being turned in a direction I wished my body would not go to face the barista who smiles and asks me if I’m that writer who won the poetry slam last week and I nod and try to calm the flutters in my stomach as he asks me if I could sign the coffee collar I used. My signature is shakier than usual but I smile and wave to the baristas and they wave back and then the other people in the café wave too and as I walk down the street to catch my bus I feel like the star in a telenovela.
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