It is just before nine. She takes her time clearing the tables, the ones outside in the dark alley between the Royal Festival Hall on one side and the railway arches on the other. The sun won’t reach here until lunchtime. The alley has quietened, the rush to work is drawing to a close and the queue at the coffee counter for ‘to-go’s’ numbers only two. She prefers clearing tables to serving at the counter. Outside, only one table is occupied. The same table, every morning. She watches him, without seeming to. Arranged in front of him are pencil, notebook, ruler, pencil sharpener and eraser. She straightens chairs as he arranges his possessions at precise angles to each other. Into the tableau he adds his silver phone, a used and re-folded napkin, large coffee mug and plate with crumbs of almond croissant. She knows his routine. Every time she is on the morning shift, he is here. It’s as if he gets a copy of the week’s timesheet when the manager pins it on the noticeboard every Sunday evening. He sits now and looks into nothing, studying the blank paper as if it tells him the meaning of life. He writes. One line, two, half a page of lines, more. Poetry, she wonders. When he has filled a page, he picks up the ruler and from the top underlines each line with a firm touch. He never looks up, he never seems to see anything except his notebook.
He watches her, without seeming to. He comes here every morning at 08.50 and she is here Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. A woman who scowls and wears the name badge Euphenia works on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays he drinks his coffee, no croissant, and leaves.
He watches as she organises the black metal chairs, he likes the exactness of the pattern she creates, thin vertical ribs like the bars of a cage. She tidies the chairs always into the same position, he likes that too. She has a large tray on which she arranges dirty dishes like ranks of toy soldiers poised for a battle enactment: from left to right are a line of cups, line of mugs, stack of saucers, stack of plates, side-by-side are knives, forks and teaspoons. Wrappings, wooden stirrers, torn sugar packets and used napkins she puts into the large pocket on the front of her blue apron.
Above their heads, on the train tracks, there is a bang and a spark as a train moves from one track to another. On the roof of the Festival Hall, two seagulls argue noisily. She turns, he looks up, and their eyes meet.
She puts a fork sticky with blueberry muffin crumbs into her apron pocket. He scores a rough line diagonally through his shopping list. They know each other’s mind. He knows her name, she doesn’t know his.
© Sandra Danby
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In a café, she watches him without seeming to: CHAIRS CHAIRS CHAIRS #flashfiction via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-rs