The doorbell jingled, but not a pair of eyes looked up at him from their preoccupation. Gummed boots shuffled hesitantly towards the corner table that had only one worn out chair without armrests, fitted with a faded out cushion and a fabric that once was velvet but had not aged well. It was the most dilapidated piece of furniture in the otherwise esoteric but modern café. He settled into the chair, without moving it an inch, for it was just as he had left it yesterday. How he left it everyday.
With just a brief exchange of glances, the solitary waiter in the establishment whispered across the cafe to the espresso machine. The barista was late as usual, but his absence was not crippling in the least, as in these quiet hours, the patrons, strays and occasional inquisitive tourists were all that ever came wandering into the lane, and ordered nothing more than a coffee or a baked good; nothing that the deft waiter couldn’t handle on his own. He moved as quiet as a breath of air, his footsteps barely falling,and set down the espresso with complimentary biscuits on the table in a hauntingly immaculate manner. Not ripple spread across the dark, strong-smelling liquid, not a clink was heard. A customary but warm smile glistened in both their eyes and just like an apparition, the waiter was visible no more, only the cheap eau de cologne lingered. The man sipped his coffee, set down his cup and only then did he look up at the rest of the people in the cafe. He did it everyday, maybe silently hoping for a miracle which he did not see coming anytime so.
His gaze wandered over to a couple, sitting in another corner, nestled in each other’s arms, yet only few sounds were ever uttered between them, each enraptured in a fantasy of their choosing. The oppressive silence, laden with the whir of the air conditioner and laced with the fragrance of slightly stale bread, remained just as viscous and heavy in the atmosphere.
Mrs. D’Souza was seated at her usual throne, right in the middle of the cafe under a blinding light which made her look important against the dim interiors of her vicinity, with her usual cafe au lait getting cold in front of her. She sat with a tiny phone within her claws, as always still waiting for a reply from a daughter she hadn’t seen in twenty-one years. The man raised his cup towards her in warm greetings. She stared at it unfazed, forced a polite smile when she realized she needed to respond, and dove back into her phone. The wisps of steam rising from the untouched coffee, has ceased to be a while back.
The bell jingled violently once again and two burly men, clad in their Sunday clothes, chattering rambunctiously and a bit too passionately about a consignment that was due in a few hours. One couldn’t help but eavesdrop into their rather voluble conversation. A smell of jam tart burst into the room and in a flurry, the two rushed out leaving only the dust and silence to settle back on the occupants of this setting.
A loud horn passed by the window , where he was sitting, and pulled him out of his reverie. A loud splash and a few heated words later, even the street assumed its passive reticence, almost unwilling to spill its secrets.
His eyes finally settled, guided by the smell of a new cup of coffee, onto a miracle. She was concealed from prying eyes, hidden behind a jungle of furniture feet, underneath a small alcove in the wall which housed books and some damaged, framed Polaroids. A time-worn, dog-eared book was nestled between her thighs, it’s title indecipherable. Time has stopped in that corner. The light was soft and the silence was comfortable there. He stared at her for long but barely noticed anything about her. With her heave frames set on top of her forehead and an oversized sweater, she was far from tantalizing or even impressive. Perhaps that was what enraptured his attention the most.
The waiter was surprised, perhaps the first time in a long time, but he went and got a second espresso and set it down on his table, this time with an audible clink. The sun never reached the street and, save for the antique clock perched precariously on the till, there was no way of knowing how much time had elapsed in one’s preoccupation in this sluggish place. He got up from his seat. The chair moved with a soft scratch on the hardwood floor. The waiter watched intently and non-complacently, with gaze that could only be described as taciturn.
The man settled down beside the girl; she did not gaze up from her book and neither did he attempt to draw her attention, but they acknowledged each other silently. His pocket paperback edition of Camus came out of the peak coat, which had yet not been taken off despite the balmy interiors, and a particular page was thumbed out. Stories reignited after a momentary suspension from fantasy. The dust settled once again but this time the silence was comfortable.