I sat staring into my coffee. The café was pretty busy, but I’d arrived after the post-school drop-off socialisers, and before the elevenses crowd (which usually kicks off about half ten) and snagged myself one of the larger two-seater tables. And now I stared into my coffee like it held the secret of eternal life, or cold fusion, or some other alchemy.
An insistent voice broke into my reverie. She looked like her voice should be really annoying, but the enthusiasm wasn’t overdone, there was genuine warmth, and it wasn’t squeaky. A musical contralto.
“It is you isn’t it? We were at school together.”
I thought this unlikely – I would have remembered her, and I said so, but I invited her to take a seat.
“Do you mind? That would great!” – a little flick of ash-blonde hair, perfectly waved – I’m doing the coffee-run and it’s going to be a while. It’s so busy today. Actually, I think I’m a bit later than normal, it was so hard to get away this morning for some reason.”
I let the chatter pass round me, making the appropriate noises, but making little effort to encourage the conversation. She turned slightly in the chair in order to lean against the wall, pulling up one booted foot and hugging her leg.
“Are you sure you don’t remember me? I have the strongest feeling we were in the same English class, or maybe it was Maths?”
“I’d be surprised if you remembered me, I was just one of the faces in the crowd. I wasn’t good at sports, I wasn’t brainy, I wasn’t even the class clown!”
“No, but you have a nice smile, and that’s the sort of thing that brightens a dull class.”
“If it was dull, there wouldn’t be anything to smile about.”
“You seem determined to be curmudgeonly.” She gave me a mock frown.
“No, just argumentative,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, that’s my order – here” she took a pen and wrote quickly “my number – I’d love to catch up properly. Best days of our lives and all that! Whoops – be careful!” This last because, as she’d unfolded herself from her chair and was handing me the napkin that she’d written on, she’d somehow caught the edge of the table and set things clattering. We calmed the crockery, neatened the napkins and settled the sugar.
“Sorry about that – see you soon!” She tossed that last over her shoulder as she whisked away in a subtle cloud of CK1, picking up a cardboard tray with four coffee cups.
I nodded to my partner, who was sat closer to the door. I’d lied. I did recognise her, and in actual fact we had met before, and I was a little bit hurt that she didn’t recognise me. But I didn’t feel too bad. The ability to pass unrecognised is like money in the bank in my profession, and it would have made this so much harder. She had done it so neatly, that I hadn’t noticed her lifting my wallet and phone, even though I’d been looking for it. Oh well. One pick-pocket picked up. What was next on the docket…?
©David Jesson, 2017
It was chaos all round. All our technical guys were on sites doing time sensitive installs, the sales guys were on other sites doing a great job holding clients’ hands and investigating the problem before they talked it through with the technical guys whilst they walked around a car park, went to the loo, or drank a cup of tea. Luckily, I’d got one that was an easy fix. I just needed to get them to change over their software dongle.
So, I popped home and put on the suit before heading up to central London. Going into the Bank’s Reception, I announced “I’m here to see John Brown.” Taking a seat, I start to check my phone when I notice a guy walk in and hear “Hi”. I recognise the voice from our phone call and stand up to shake hands, when “whoa, I know this guy, don’t I?” He gave no indication of feeling the same, so I retreated behind the professional face and got on with the exchange.
Later, as I was explaining to John’s boss what was happening and why it had happened, I spotted John looking at me quizzically. Staying firmly behind that professional face, I concentrated on John’s boss and keeping him content. And finally he was. John suggested “coffee?” and I followed, expecting that we’d go into some sort of canteen. But no, we left the building and walked around the corner into a little independent coffee shop.
And that’s when he said it “Remember me?” I had to be honest and replied “Yes, but no” which made him chuckle and add “I always liked your sense of humour”.“Oh no, he couldn’t be, could he? Not someone I’d talked to on the internet? I surveyed him coolly. Bit too young for me to have approached him, had he been one of those young ‘uns chancing their arm and wanting a bit of a Mrs Robinson thing?”
And then he said “you’re Lady Hamilton aren’t you, from that dating site? I tried to chat you up but you were insistent that I was too young. Something about being too close to your daughter’s age.”“Sounds right” I admitted and wondered how quickly I could drink my black coffee and get out of there. “I met someone” he said smiling “after you’d given me that friendly slap. I got in touch with someone more my age.” “Oh dear, that does sound like something I’d do” I apologised, “forgive me, I can get a bit punchy online.” “No, no forgiveness necessary” John admitted, “just what I needed in fact. I’d have never gone near Sarah without it and she is just so damn perfect for me. That’s why I dragged you out here, to say thanks, thanks very much.”
He’s still a client. And happily married to Sarah. Their second child is on the way. We’ve never discussed it again. But we always exchange personal family news whenever we speak for work. It puzzles my colleagues no end.
©Debra Carey 2017