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.

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Briefly Golden

When he has something on his mind, something that can’t be brushed away, lodged like an airborne seed in the soft tissue of his conscience, he stirs the loose leaves in his pot of tea.

And he repeats his worry to himself.

And Salina watches him .

She watches the delicate movement of his callused fingers, the rotation of the silver spoon, carefully polished, glinting in the hot water, which is now deep brown.

Particles are seeping into it from the sodden, whirling leaves, and they carry his worry with them.

She doesn’t see it that way though.

Suddenly, across the courtyard, in one of the flats opposite, a window is pushed open by an unseen hand.

The glass catches the sun and the light is thrown into Kemal’s living room.

Onto the faded easy chair.

Across the crowded wall.

Through the glass of the teapot and into the crowded water.

Making it briefly golden.

And if he were to drink it, it would be bitter.

Salina purrs.

Eventually the water will cool and be still.

And Kemal will ease himself into his chair.

Reaches for the milk.

A basement room in Finsbury Park, a woman places water on a ring in a pot.

And the ring reddens, hot.

And bubbles form in an office in Farringdon, the switch flicked by Jessica.

And it boils and steam climbs the window in the kitchenette (really more of a glorified recess) in the studio in Kingston.

And Stewart waits dutifully for the terminal click.

Lifts.

Pours.

Gazes at the traffic on Fulham Broadway.

And as Petra’s gaze is arrested by a woman on the street below, tripping as she crosses the junction at Kew Green, she overfills the cup.

It flows onto the counter, eagerly.

And she swears.

Stewart pushes a spoon against the tea bag.

Strains.

Reaches for the milk.

Jessica slugs milk generously.

And bubbles are slowly forming in Finsbury Park, as the red ring tries its hardest.

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.