I had always hoped that there would come a time when a beautiful and articulate young woman who, upon graduating from university, would return home to live with her parents while she set about planning the next stage of her remarkable life. If I was ever lucky enough to meet her, I had always wondered what drink she might order if she had accepted this man’s invitation of coffee.
It was a particularly fresh Sunday morning in February. We had agreed to meet at 11 o’clock. I had cycled in spite of the cold. It didn’t snow, but the air was manufacturing something close to it. The atmosphere was sharp with ice, found its way through my gloves, drying out the base of my fingers. I arrived forty minutes early. Seagulls circled over an ugly, concrete sea. I muttered a curse to each and every one of them.
A man was cleaning the frontage of the jeweller’s shop next door while his son secured the ladder at the bottom. I couldn’t think of anything worse than a wet sponge on a day like this and as this thought passed, a seagull cawed. The seagulls cawed at everything. I sat outside with my back to the chill. Another caw. I moved closer to the door so I was beneath the café awning. Two smokers sat at the other end. The smell of smoke took me back to a time before the ban.
By 10:50, my cheeks were pinched with cold, and I wished I had worn two coats. At 10:57, I walked into the 99p Store across the street. Discounted warmth, I thought. I almost chuckled. The man was still cleaning his sign. “Shot!” exclaimed his son every time a cloth found its bucket. By 11:03, my empire began to crumble, like a time lapse of an iceberg on the effects of global warming. By 11:15, I began backtracking on this love project I’d formed in my head – one that had so much potential.
At 11:20, that man was still up his ladder and the city’s seagulls still wept overhead. She came into view and my empire restored itself. The crest on my kingdom can carry the seagull and the sponge. The day blooms. She apologises; I smile it off. No time to waste. As we order and take our seats, we talk in turns. I set about understanding her in my own secret way. Mine was a skinny cinnamon latte, hers a peppermint tea.