The window seat

Sade, the sweetest taboo playing in Starbucks on Wardour Street

A man sits down next to another man and they’ll leave separately.

The people passing the window look the inhabitants square in the face. They can afford to be brazen, secure in their anonymity.

The denizens of the cafe experience the world through the periphery of their vision. They look at phones, laptops, iPads, plausible objects of their attention, giving the lie to side glances and edgeward stares.

Yellow and red light against the roof of the black cab.

Indicator lights flash suddenly in the glasses of an old man in the road, who jumps back from an onslaught of rickshaws.

He looks out of place, though he comes to Soho alone every other evening and wanders in thwarted hope.

Acrylic hair tumbles from shoulders as a woman inspects a broken heel on favourite shoes, and swears.

Silently.

It’s all a silent film from the window seat. Only the traffic can be heard alongside the blaring music.

Alison Moyet.

The milling thousands, the shouting, spitting, laughing, drunken thousands outside are silent.

Shoulders are knocking against shoulders in the crush, eyes are touching each other across streets and from doorways polluted with exhaled smoke.

Only Whitney Houston can be heard in the window seat. Bodies are examined at the edges of vision by eyes attached to screens.

Outside, the swagger.

Inside, the forced languor.

Attention solicited.

Eyes fixed on screens

Peripheral vision finely honed.

Madonna.

“Is this a parody playlist?” Says one man to another.

Almost.

Nothing could be said here that wouldn’t sound like an opening line, in this refuge for people who lack the swagger of the world outside the window. Hopefuls who can only speak in reply.

And the man leaves and passes the window seat.

A silent film.

Mint tea.

Michael Jackson.

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Book shop cafe 

She might be retired or she might not be. It’s impossible to tell from the bobbed hair, which is of no distinct colour.

Or from the clothes, which fit very well and are not cheap.

But she’s not young.

And she’s in a bookshop cafe, reading a paperback, with a cup of tea. Or coffee. And it’s Monday morning. On Charing Cross Road the commuter torrent has ebbed.

But now she rises, and since she said a polite good morning to the woman sitting opposite her at the communal table, she parenthesises their shared forty-five minute silence with a smiling goodbye.

And the young man two tables away swiftly revises her character profile. He decides, finally, that she’s seventy two, and that she reminded the woman opposite of her favourite lecturer from university.

Warwick.

English.

Her laptop screen is facing him, and she (or rather the back of her head) seems ponderous. He can almost read the open document, but would have to lean forward conspicuously. It would be obvious to everyone around him.

The bookish-looking, floral-patterned young mother to his left.

The five people tapping at keyboards who’ve bagged the individual tables and have probably been in situ for days.

The server manning the coffee machine, who probably carries out a version of his character-profiling endeavour every single shift.

So he resists.

He can’t defy his programming.

Much to his frustration.

Both of them.

“They’re so few,” he thinks.

The customers.

And he pushes open the door to the cafe, walks past empty tables, orders the soup.

A flat white.

A pot of tea.

“A flat white and a pot of tea?” asks the woman serving him.

He pauses, not knowing what to say, not even knowing why he ordered both.

“Both?” she asks again.

“Yes, both for me.”

She shrugs.

He pays.

And sits.

In minutes she appears and places the cups and the bowl of soup in front of him.

Minutes later she re-appears with a panini.

“Mind if I join you for my lunch?” she asks as she sits.

He shakes his head.

“Thanks. It’s always dead on a Wednesday.”

“Looks like it,” says Toby.

“What are you writing?” asks Emmie, looking at his notepad, open on the desk.