The café is different today. Yesterday it was filled with people and talk of hope. Today it is filled with people, yes, but the talk has an altogether more negative tone. A disabled man with sandy hair rolls into the café with his wheelchair that looks like a chopper motorbike. The women who work at the café take his order but there is a slight crease in the corners of their mouths, a crease that suggests they don’t take this man seriously. When the man in the wheelchair mentions that he wants a cheese sandwich, the women laugh and say yes, of course. Are they laughing too much?
I live near the café in a second floor apartment. My building has a communal toilet that I can see from my window. At night, the light goes on, the light goes off. It is a continuous switching on and off of the light that reminds me of people putting things in their mouths and the inevitable exit of that very same food out of their anus.
Days after noticing the difference in the café, I now noticed that many people couldn’t speak anymore. I saw a young man being beaten to death by another man. A crowd surrounded them both and I said: why are you watching? Nobody said anything, of course; they just pointed to their throats and shrugged.
Though, when people did talk, they spoke in facts. I was at a party with a friend. A young woman approached me and said hello and I returned the greeting. She asked me if I knew Peter Sutcliffe and I said yes. He was the Yorkshire Ripper. She said: did you know that there were so many police files on Sutcliffe that the police had to reinforce the floors because of their weight? I said I didn’t. She then said: you know lions? Of course. She laughed and then stopped immediately and whispered into my ear: it’s rare for a lion to eat a carcass it didn’t kill itself.
This seemed to be the way people were now in my pocket of the city. Conversations had been replaced by one-upmanship, knowledge versus knowledge, people tearing at each other’s throats, youngsters fornicating outside of yellow buildings.
There was a group of people in the café discussing a ‘caucus’. There were seven of them: three men wearing blazers and corduroy trousers and, presumably, shoes; four women: one older than the rest and bitter about it, the others the unfortunate owners of vast overbites, giraffe necks and stringy hair that couldn’t quite cover up a dandruff scalp. I moved closer to hear them talk about problems in the area and things that needed to be done, about people in power and how those people in power abused that power. I looked at them through a beer glass and kept moving the glass, distorting the shapes of their heads. I did this on the oldest man there and held it when I thought his head looked hydrocephalic enough to warrant my mind to take a mental photograph of this image. I thought: these people don’t want to change anything. Everything about them was stale; their clothes, their hair colour, their skin. I disliked their constant ‘weight on my shoulders’ posture, too, and their voices – weak, nasal voices. They were comfortable to sit in cafes and discuss Karl Marx and other books they had read. They were content to attend protests that would definitely change nothing. I watched their jaws move and listened to noises come out of their mouths. I walked out of the café and breathed in and out, put my feet one in front of the other and continued towards my house where nobody was waiting for me.
The woman called herself Sandra, which I commented on.
- That’s an old name.
- My mother named me after her mother. It was her name too. We have a history of Sandras going back to the 16th century.
- You’ve traced your family back that far?
- They’re still alive.
We started seeing each other. We took it slowly. I met her at the café and offered to buy her coffee. She said that was too fast, so I ordered water. She said we should drink it out of bowls, so we did. The bowls were put on the table and we lapped at them, spilling water down our clothes. I’d just bought a suit to wear specifically for meetings with Sandra and now it was ruined.
Today, the menu read:
Free egg with every accident.
The café began to serve what they called ‘anti-social’ food and drink. I asked for an Americano and I was served a cawdle, which was lemon posset thickened with several egg yolks. I took the drink and asked for some food, preferably a burger. Instead, I received a mallard, it’s entire body smashed and badly minced, put between two large pieces of bread.
Today, everybody was eating eggs.
I dreamed of a life without the café