He didn’t like the café. In his opinion, it was the most drab, dingy, and dusty establishment on the whole street. The café next door had attendants waiting in smiling lines to greet and seat him, and yet he found himself here every day, where his only welcome was the rusted bell creaking his arrival. The woman at the desk gave him a once over and grunted, smearing her hands over her apron, and started cutting a slice off of the nut bread loaf. He scoffed, bold of her to assume he wanted that disgrace of a loaf again -- but also not wrong, he relented, as beady eyes watched his sullen face for any semblance of an objection.
He wasn’t surprised she knew his regular; he was one of the only few customers, and quite possibly the only voluntary one. His eyes flicked towards the corner of the café, perhaps not the only voluntary, then. He made his way over to his usual booth and ran a hand over his face, wincing in embarrassment as the chair let out a rude sounding puff of air on impact. It wasn’t unexpected -- the chair puffed every time he sat -- but it was more effort and embarrassment when he actively tried to avoid the sound and inevitably failed.
Still, the woman cackled at his resigned discomfort as she brought over the stale loaf, slamming it on the table with the force of eight hurricanes and jarring him out of his reverie. He looked on glumly as the coffee was delivered with equal strength, and mentally chalked up another coffee stain to the myriad he had already received on his suit. He didn’t have the money to buy several suits, and he often got away with just wearing the same one all week and washing it on the weekends. Recently though, he mused as the hag waddled away behind the counter, he could feel his trousers crinkling with old, crusted coffee splashes, and he couldn’t wash them if he was working overtime on the weekends. Maybe he should invest in another suit, he decided, trying to nonchalantly not choke on his loaf.
‘Maybe you should stop wasting your money here instead. It’s your own fault you’re strapped for cash’, a traitorous voice chimed in.
He hated that voice. It always had at least one valid point about his various misdeeds to ruin his day.
But he didn’t come here for the voice or the terrible coffee -- dear God, did they roast these beans or burn them? He sat back, trying to discreetly grimace away the bad taste, and watched the figure hunched in the corner, scribbling away despite his loud disruptions. No, he really only came for them.
Every time he arrived, they were there, writing furiously into their worn cloth-backed booklet. He couldn’t tell what they were writing, nor did he have courage or self-assurance to ask. He didn’t know if they’d ever stop writing, or if one day, after he’d shelled out another fiver for a cup of tar and gravelly bread, he’d turn to their booth and find them missing. He also didn’t know their name, but he fancied he could put out a good guess at their initials. Maybe A.V, or something exotic like that. He’d probably seen those letters before, but he couldn’t tell these days. Time was blurry in this shop. He traced a finger over the zip of his rucksack, trying not to stare too intently at his subject, and instead cast what he hoped was an inconspicuous eye over the grim interior design of his self-appointed hell as he waited for time to pass faster. He really didn’t want to do his spreadsheet.
The walls, he decided, were too yellow, and that grandfather clock was mocking him. He was sure of it. He glared back just as fiercely and slumped his head against his rested forearms on the table, his now-asleep laptop abandoned on the side. His arms were comfy, and they smelt like warm coffee or a hug. What did hugs even smell like -- he wouldn’t mind a nap right about now, actually. He could feel his brain melting in the heat, and his eyelids were drooping, heavier, like thick curtains shutting out the world. The scratching of a pen from the neighbouring booth was loud, but dimmed, like from behind a Perspex screen.
‘This table is filthy and you took a shower yesterday. Get up. I bet someone spilt something gross on the table and you just put it in your hair.’
God, he hated that voice. It was probably right too, but the air felt like molasses today.
He groaned, sleepily pulling himself somewhat upright and thrust two fingers into his collar, loosening his tie with a tug. His hands moved on autopilot, pulling out his sketchpad and scribbling. He thought that his subconscious mind guided his hand over the page, a gentle nudge in the smothering embrace of the heat. Button noses, oval eyes, wispy stray hairs, the silver piercing in their left ear, the earphones connected to their iPod, their ink stained hands. He dreamt of bees in the air and pomegranate seeds growing on apple trees, and the ever-nearing march of armies carrying bushels of olive branches. He couldn’t dream anymore, tired people usually couldn’t, but he could feel himself floating, far off into the depths of time.
A loud rap of knuckles on his table woke him up, said owner of knuckles limping off to change the sign on the door. He blinked himself awake, squinting blearily through the glow of the sunset and sighed. Time really did lose its effect here, he mused as he looked down at his belongings. So did sensibility, and he looked down at his drawing with a fond smile. He reclined into his plush airy seat, and felt his face stretch as wide as space itself.