As soon as she hangs up the phone starts ringing. A loud Nokia ring tone, repeating through the café, bouncing off the walls from table to table. A few of our resident caffeine lovers raise their heads, most are too engrossed in their book, magazine or conversation to notice. She’s sitting in Starbucks on a cold April afternoon in
Brighton. Through the windows
outside she can see Churchill
Square bustling with shoppers; all wrapped up in
coats, anoraks, jumpers, scarves, gloves, anything to prevent the little warmth
they possess from being eaten up by the icy air. She switches the phone to
silent mode and replaces it to her handbag.
The drink in front of her is a peppermint flavoured hot chocolate. The cream that was once frothy and perfectly formed has now melted into a swirling blend of white and brown. She stares at the pattern, absorbed by the kaleidoscope of changing shapes, emptying her mind of thoughts. She knows it tastes wonderful and could easily devour the thing with one gulp instead of taking a small sip every few minutes. She is waiting however. Waiting until four o’clock, which is why she is sitting here in this perfect place to be for anyone with time to kill.
This morning she had no time. There was his breakfast, his sandwiches, a fresh new shirt to iron, a kiss on the cheek with a, “Drive carefully dear.” Upstairs to open the suitcase, gathering together her essential belongings and once packed she showered and had a modest brunch; habitually listening to her radio 4 morning play before locking the house and caching the number 21 bus. Once in town she made the necessary trip to the bank, immediately reserved her tickets, and accordingly received a printout of her journey’s timetable. She returned two library books, window-shopped for exactly one hour – buying nothing – ahead of finally deciding this café would be the best place to spend her afternoon.
As always she wants to be alone. Her day’s interactions with other human beings have been nothing more than those of necessity. All apart from the phone call that is.
Why he called her at this time she has no idea. Does he suspect? Why should he?
“Darling, I’m just ringing to see how you are.”
Why does he care? When has he ever genuinely cared?
“I could come home early today. It would be nice just for a change. Do you think?”
“Don’t John. We’ve talked about this. You know I need the days to myself… I’m fine. You know that. I’ll see you this evening… No John, I don’t want you to. I’ll see you this evening… Don’t John. Please. I’ll see you later.”
Did she sound desperate? She hopes to God she didn’t. Because he mustn’t know she’s here, she can’t be found out.
She quickly takes another sip of the chocolate, tries to savour the luscious taste; attempts to lose herself once again in the meditation of rejecting her thoughts. This unexpected spout of anxiety should not ruin her afternoon. She should be at peace. She is free. Why has he spoiled this?
She succumbs to yet another sip, bigger this time, and looks around the café for a distraction. There is a surprisingly large amount of people in the room. At least, every table is occupied. Glancing around, she tries to decide what they are all doing, why they are here. The more palpable characters include a young mother with her restless toddler; a group of three Asian students quietly absorbed in their notes; an elderly couple sharing a comfortable silence; a middle aged businessman on his lap-top; and a young attractive couple deeply involved in their own private conversation. A few of the tables are taken up by single individuals; all of them reading something of some description: attempting to appear preoccupied she imagines (should she do the same?). She wonders why they are here. Are they waiting for someone or simply wasting away the hours? Where are they going afterwards? What plans do they have?
Her attention returns to the attractive couple. A man with dark hair, designer stubble and bright green eyes talking to a blond woman whose pretty smile intermittently turns into a quietly sweet laugh. She is wearing dark red lipstick which matches her scarf. Her hair in a pony tail revealing a youthfully innocent face, her blouse is pink and she is drinking what seems to be some sort of fruit tea concoction. She reminds her of herself a few years earlier: Her brightness, her confidence… Although now she is undecided: possibly not her true self. More like the self she wanted to be. A marvellously romantic future ahead of her, endless possibilities of fun, travel and adventure.
The remaining sludge at the bottom of her cup stares back at her. She will not finish it. Soon she will be in Mark’s & Spencer’s shopping for his dinner. And afterwards she is going to be home again, tearing up the note she left on the kitchen table this morning; the same note she leaves him every week. Unpacking her things, giving the house a quick once-over, receiving her husband at just gone six o’clock to greet him with a routine kiss, ask about his day, and then together they will go through the motions they act out every evening.
Although, what of his persistence in calling her today? Could he have returned home already? How will she explain herself if he has? Maybe it’s time she finally does go through with the trip to her mother’s house. Make a fresh start, a new chance to become a different person; the person she craves to be.