I was ten minutes early. The cheery interior contrasted the wintry experience outside. I walked around the cafe, looking for her. There were people on laptops and iPads and people reading books and chatting quietly to old acquaintances but she wasn’t there. There was barely any noise. I thought, When she shows up our conversation is going to be very loud in juxtaposition to this.
There was no line. The barista ignored me for two minutes but it was the only time in my life that it didn’t irritate me. I like my coffee black, so I asked for one. It cost $2.44. She didn’t ask me what size I wanted, or what kind of roast I liked. I liked that. She gave me my coffee in a modest white mug. No markings on it. I thought it was too small but I liked how clean it looked. It almost gleamed, had value. I put 56 cents in a ceramic bowl next to the cash register.
The ceramic bowl had a handmade sign taped to it. This is what it said:
The 56 cents made the same sound a thousand keys are making in a thousand places on earth at any given time, readying themselves in steady hands to serve their common purpose. The barista turned her back to the noise; I thought it was courteous of her not to look. I would have been more curious in her place. I wondered how the staff split the tips. I wondered if they resented looking at so many pennies and nickels. Do they feel irrational thoughts attributing their self-worth to people’s unwanted petty change? I thought. And most of all I wondered if it was annoying to count all that change when calculating tips.
I sat at a table facing the front door. It was a perfect view. There’s no way I won’t see her come in. I thought this despite the darkening horizon, despite the windows that became increasingly opaque minute by minute, despite the distractions I would inevitably create for myself. I got up to get a newspaper and then sat back down. I tested the coffee. It was too hot and burned the right side of my upper lip. A woman on her cell phone stood next to the door and leaned on it, just short of opening it. After a few minutes I deduced that she was speaking to her boss about some project she had to do for him. For some reason I found myself wishing that she hadn’t brought her work into the cafe. I suppose you would tell me that most people use cafes for that purpose, though. I opened up the newspaper and read bits of pieces about things. Things like l’état des orphelins de Duplessis and Les discussions sont lancées entre les étudiants et Line Beauchamp. Things that were important, things that were pertinent, things that commanded my attention. But none were as relevant as her.
I looked at the time. It was three minutes past the time we had planned to meet. 7:18. 19h18. I didn’t mind. I took a sip of coffee and it didn’t burn. It was hot, black, perfect.
Then she was there. It happened in a flash, unexpectedly. I just looked up and she was there, standing to my right. Just like that. I hadn’t seen her come in. She was beautiful. In a fraction of a second, everything opened. Before any words were spoken. Neurotransmitters fired. I didn’t know which ones and didn’t care. What is this? Dopamine? Testosterone? Why is everything in slow motion? I wondered. And it was. I had time to appreciate every facet of her being, to simultaneously take it all in at once while focusing on specific – almost molecular – aspects of her loveliness.
Most prominent was that one salient, striking feature about her – her eyes. The same shape and colour as large almonds, they gazed through her glasses and into their comparatively inferior counterparts. There were also her legs, her smile, her outfit, her everything – my brain demanded that I concentrate on them all – but the eyes were more powerful in the end.
Her voice pierced the air and time sped up again. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. I smiled. “You’re only three minutes late. I checked. It’s okay.”
She ordered something to drink. She came back and I caressed her hand as she drank. We talked for a long time. Too long. She needed to study but I kept her from studying for as long as I could – a delicate balancing act as I was aware of the risk that she would resent me if she did poorly on her exams due to my distracting her from her studies. Time flew too fast. It always does when you’re not waiting for things to happen.
Her voice – there was just something about it. I remember at one point she stopped talking and looked at me. She sighed and said, “I really want to kiss you.” I don’t know how to explain this part to you. You probably wouldn’t understand no matter how many fancy words I try to use. But her voice had such a charming quality to it. Her voice rang. I don’t think you really get it, but maybe you do. But that was the moment when it fully dawned on me. The moment I really believed it. She was going to stick around, this one. For me. Well, it seemed that way, anyway. This brilliant creature, sticking around for me. Me. What a wonderful feeling that was. At any rate, I smiled and told her, “Then you should.” Then we leaned over the table and kissed. It couldn’t have gone any other way. And I know you are just going to say that of course it couldn’t have gone any other way because that is what ended up happening and there isn’t some kind of parallel universe thing going on, but I promise you that we had the most fun in that cafe.
Eventually I had to go. When I got up to leave, she looked at me and said, “Make it count.” We kissed for a long time but not long enough.
She walked to the bathroom before I left. I think you’ll be able to relate to this next part. As she walked away I drank in everything I could, like some sick glutton. I wanted to burn her into my memory. I had been with her two hours and wouldn’t see her for nearly eight days. I didn’t want to forget, even though I didn’t think I would. But you know, part of the glutton’s appeal is that he never knows if he will ever eat again. Or maybe you’ll tell me that he has no appeal because he eats despite knowing he will eat again. So I drank her in, and she walked away, and for some reason the thought of her turning around to look at me one last time was just as bad as the thought of her not turning around to look at me one last time. So I left.
I walked to the metro. Mont-Royal metro. For a few blocks I lived a diminished life. And then I remembered something and held onto it.
“I really want to kiss you.”