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.

Hot Sunday

“I don’t think I could ever really care about anyone I don’t find attractive,” said the man with the blue collar turned up.

“I know what you mean,” said the woman beside him, trying to sound nonchalant.

In three years time she’d regret going on a second date with him. She’d look back and cringe.

Probably.

Towards Regent Street the heat rising from the tarmac had the cast of shimmering water.

They’re walking towards it.

They’ll bathe their feet in it.

They’ll join the foot traffic passing up and down the West End’s great artery.

And he’ll take her shopping.

Window shopping.

Then they’ll get a coffee.

His treat.

After all, she paid last time.

It can’t be him.

Lizzy checks her phone.

11.40.

Literally twenty minutes late and no message.

Unbelievable.

She looks across the street.

“If she comes out of a cafe…” Matty’s notorious for popping into coffee shops before arriving when she’s already holding people up.

But there…

Lizzy squints and steps forward, to the edge of the pavement, the traffic on Southampton Row thickening at the red light.

It can’t be.

Chris Stock. Serving coffee.

It can’t be. He looks identical.

How long since they were at uni? twelve years?

She weaves through the stationary cars and up to the window.

Same face. Same movements.

Same watch?

It can’t be. Eighteen year olds all look the same.

She’s getting old.

But still she scrutinises.

And he looks up.

Spots her.

Waves.

Don’t let this be the record breaker!

Hour nine.

There’s no clock in the studio.

She never wears a watch.

And her phone’s dead.

But she knows it’s her ninth hour in the studio because it’s after exactly this long that Fernando starts acting like a dick.

By the standards of normal human behaviour he acts like a dick every waking hour. And probably while he’s asleep as well.

But by the standards that prevail in the studio he’s only in these last few minutes transformed into Fernandick.

“Clear up this fucking floor! Like, now!”

“Where the fuck is my tea?!”

Unless he’s asked for coffee. Or tequila.

There are no windows in the studio, so between shoots, when May is sent out for tea/coffee/drinks/cigarettes/magazines for bored models, she’s often surprised by the time of day, the weather, the fact that no one ever asks for directions to the studio, despite its location in a tiny alley in Kilburn, with no access to cars.

Thirteen hours in a row is her record for the longest shift.

Please, please don’t let this be the record breaker.

It’s not even hour nine and a quarter yet.

Fuck.

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.

Practising in the mirror.

‘Chrome Yellow’ by Aldous Huxley.

That’s the one.

Derren’s wandered innumerable bookshops, devoured flocks of paperbacks, searching for the book for her.

“Hi Cara, how are you?”

He practises in the mirror every morning in the days before they meet.

Their annual coffee.

He brings her a book.

She brings one for him.

She’ll talk and talk.

He’ll listen.

And when she pauses he’ll still be listening, knowing he should speak but unable to find a thing to say.

And they’ll part ways, but twelve months later he’ll be practising his “hello,” handing her a carefully chosen paperback.

It’s nice to have these coffees. It gives you something to look forward to during the year.

And with every book he reads, every weekend, every evening, he asks himself.

“Would she like this one?”