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Archive for the ‘Location: Café/Restaurant’ Category

A stranger as a challenge. You are on the telephone but I need to communicate with you. A gesture, then. You ignore me. A wave. Can I pass, please? You avert your eyes. I lean over you to order my sandwich. I hear the tinny voice from your handset. Someone is crying. What I say is this: Don’t go. Or do go. Stay with him, or don’t. Eat well, or not. Settle in this country, or don’t. Be ridiculous, but sometimes don’t be. The only place from which you don’t have to come back from is the journey to yourself.

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The Greek restaurant out of London – it is here I must speak to a stranger. This room is full of excited girls with curled hair and brave, stiff dresses. They side step on the dancefloor, clap clap, eyes wild and frightened. I ask you about the bill and you look to me hatefully, angry for my asking. You have thick fingers, a small nose and a hollow mouth that won’t look at the customers who are shrieking at the Michael Jackson impersonator behind us. You are gloomy but, at their lot, some must despair for others to celebrate with gratefulness.

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Embarrassingly, I have to ask what Bubble and Squeak is. So many English traditions seem to have rushed passed me, ungraspable, like ploughed fields and neat back gardens from a smudged train window. You are Russian and have hair backcombed at odd angles. There is lipstick gathered in the corner of your mouth and, as you suggest other menu options, I realise I can’t move on from my default position of younger child. I’m stuck here, at this age, hearing someone tell me what to eat and nodding, wanting to please, yet – as always – I never know what I want.

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The man behind the counter brandishes a bouquet of cutlery. I’ll have that one, you say, pointing and fluttering eyelashes, thick mascara clapping together in a suggestive round of applause. That one, then. You reach out for one and he draws them away. Come on! you say, really meaning, don’t stop, don’t stop. It’s very humorous for you both. Or it is, until I grab a fork and jam it into my unhurried sandwich, waiting to be paid for. They are astonished. They’ve never seen such behaviour! In an adult, too! Sorry, I say and I do slightly mean it.

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With your eyes on me, you say  –  Look, about the other night. Your throat, it might be dry. You’re not sure you should bring this up. A nicer life is one where you only talk about what you have, rather than what you want. We don’t need to do this now, I reply. You: I just couldn’t do it. It didn’t feel right. That’s all. Me: When I’m with you, I experience many different types of emptiness. Maybe none of this happens, or some of it, or hardly. Maybe none of this happens, or some of it, or hardly. I probably just ask for a slice of cake, that one, please.

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You are whispering by the kitchen. I have never heard a person talk so softly. I think you are waiting for something and are scared it may not come. Holding a jar of parmesan, you touch the shoulder of your fellow waiter. In contrast, there’s cutlery and white plates, wine glasses and a coughing fit, someone hammering frantically, desperate to finish the shed, affix the trellis or whatever people do that makes so much noise. This music for the suburbs, this DIY as a percussion solo, this constant sound that hides voices, grabs my throat and assaults my peaceful mind.

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I ask for tofu and you say this is possible. I want red bean cakes and this is feasible, too. I take my bento box and sit in a pink chair, admire the red heart-shaped table decorations. Should a café show its romantic aspirations so openly? I eat, see you laughing into your companion‘s shoulder. Your thoughts might be food-shaped. The pointed shoes you choose, your plans to own a gallery or fly to Iceland, all in the shape of vegetables. I see the thoughts as balloons, with you holding the strings as they float above your giggling, aspirational head.

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