Hello, everyone! It's Shani and today I'm going to share with you a piece from my Creative Writing class. We were asked to create a piece of fiction based on an 'Unexpected Event'. I decided that I wanted to explore a normal setting - a coffee shop for example, and turn it into place where someone who appears to be normal, but is actually not normal whatsoever, frequents. I hope you all enjoy it!
Valentino's is always crowded in the afternoon. Filled with nervous students who gaze mindlessly at their textbooks. Brimming with the old and the young, both desperate for some bittersweet coffee to accompany them as they listen to the soft crooning of a new poet, who is attempting to pry their heart open with their words for the audience to witness. Valentino's is a breeding ground for those obsessed with all things literary. A beacon for artists, lost poets, and scatter-brained writers.
I stop by Valentino's at one o'clock everyday, no later or earlier, and sit in the same antique lime chair by the front window. I stay for exactly an hour. I sit at my table and watch the people who dart, stroll, and saunter past, all of them having some place to be. London is a city in constant motion, but here at Valentino's life slows and stops for a blissful hour of my day.
I wrench my gaze from the sea of faces which rush past the window, as a deep aroma of ginger, sugar, and coffee beans settles around me. My eyes latch onto a china cup, which is encrusted with little blue lilies around the rim, accompanied by a china saucer and two ginger bread biscuits. For a moment I am stunned, for though I heard footsteps approaching I did not think my beverage would be ready so soon. Yet, here it sits.
"Your latte, sir," A high pitched sultry voice declares from above me.
I hide my grimace as I turn to meet the eyes of my server. Candice. I knew it was her from the moment she opened her mouth, Candice has been my server every day for the past year, a flirtatious smile always ready on her thick cherry lips, a teasing look in her hazel eyes. I like to think that the only reason she continues to serve me is because of my consistent lunch breaks from work and her respective work shift. I like to think that, because the alternative option disinterests me and I can't bring myself to care. Funny, had it been a year ago I would have jumped for the chance to date someone like Candice.
"How are you today?" She says sweetly as she tucks a curl of blonde hair behind her ear, and gives me a teasing smile. "No sign of your mystery girl?"
A wave of annoyance washes over me.
"No, not yet." I clench my teeth to keep from hissing at her. "But she'll be here, she always is."
"You're such a stalker," Candice laughs innocently.
I flinch. I pick up my the hot cup of spicy liquid before me, hoping that my fingers aren't shaking, and let it scold my throat as I take a sip. I don't look at Candice. I can feel her frowning at me, her eyes on my face, searching to see what she has said wrong. What has caused this sudden tension between us. I don't look at her.
"E-enjoy your latte, sir." Candice's voice is strained. Hurt. Then her footsteps are clacking away and I am left alone.
I'm glad to be alone. I don't want to be seen talking to Candice. I know that there is a chance that she, my mystery girl as Candice has shamelessly branded her, may see. Anxiety seeps into my veins and I whip my head up to scour the room. Relief, such relief that she has not yet arrived and witnessed the encounter. I don't want her to get the wrong idea about Candice and I. She mustn't misunderstand. She is the only one.
Frustration coils in the pit of my stomach. Waiting for her is always the worst part of my day. Anticipation thrums inside me like an incessant tune, a question of will she stop by? There's a chance she may not. She doesn't visit Valentino's everyday, no, her movements are quite random - much to my annoyance.
The little tinkle of Valentino's front door has me looking up once more in hope. The chatter from various customers around me seems to cease, the high-pitched hiss of the coffee machine falls quietly into a small hum, and the poet who is obnoxiously reading Edgar Allan Poe's 'Annabel Lee' in the corner, dies out. There is such silence in my head.
I see her it and it feels as if I'm seeing her for the first time all over again. Today, her short caramel hair is curled in small ringlets framing her delicate heart shaped face. Her thin lips which are usually free from colour are painted a brilliant red, fierce and inviting. Black eyeliner sweeps across her eyelids and her soft green eyes leap out at me from across the room. Beams of sunlight filter in from behind her as she steps inside, the rays making the golden flecks of her freckles visible on her translucent skin, as if someone has loaded a paintbrush with gold paint and flicked it across her face.
Normally, I am accustomed to her wearing long, tatty jumpers, with thick black leggings and winter boots. She doesn't seem to like the cold all that much, but today the sun has been kind to her. A vivid red summer dress adorns her small body, cascading to her knees in a river of ruffles. The neckline plunges just below her collar bones, exposing fragile pale skin and bones that stick out at beautiful awkward angles. Tiny black flowers are sewn along the bodice of the dress, black veins twisting down to the waist, and swirling out slightly at the skirt. Mahogany sandals adorn her pale feet, the laces of the sandals twisting up and around her dainty legs like snakes.
She scrunches her nose up for a moment, she smell of foamy milk, sugar, flour, coffee beans, and buttery pastries crowding in on her. Then finally, her face gives way to a radiant smile, red lips stretching across pale cheeks.
I marvel at her. My mystery girl. Her presence is a balm to my frazzled mind. I've been waiting for weeks for her to resurface, and the relief threatens to bubble over. All of the anger, the frustration, the mind-numbing worry that I felt whilst she was away is gone. My aches and pains soothed. Suddenly, the dull yellow wallpaper which I have been staring aimlessly at for weeks springs to life, the irritating noises of the baristas pottering around behind the counter turns into a gentle melody, and the crumpled flowers in their hanging baskets seem to revive themselves as she walks in. She is the bringer of new life, of harmony, and peace. A spring Goddess walking among us mere mortals.
She makes her way across the room. My chest automatically tightens, I can feel sweat coating my fingertips, and the relentless sound of thunder thumping in my ears. She won't sit at my table. She never does. That doesn't stop me from hoping that some day she will, that the gentle smile she gives out so freely to the members of staff, to the elderly couple sitting in the corner, to the gangly teenager attempting to read Carol Ann Duffy's 'Havisham' aloud, will some day be directed at me. It never is. Instead, she bypasses me completely, our skin nearly touching as she moves past me to sit at the opposite table.
Disappointment twists like a knife in my stomach, but it soon dwindles into acceptance. Understanding. It isn't her fault. She doesn't know that I lust after her like this, desperate for a single glance from her, a single smile. She doesn't know and she surely wouldn't understand if she did.
She orders the usual. Hot chocolate with marshmallows, no cream. Never mind that it's above twenty degrees outside. The world could be up in flames, and she would still be content to drink her hot chocolate. I hide my growing smile behind my cup, cautiously stealing glances at her when I believe she isn't looking. It takes a great amount of restraint not to outright stare at her. To stride over to her and demand to know where in God's name has she been for the past several weeks, and why didn't she inform that she would be away. I know I could never do such a thing. The poor girl wouldn't understand. She doesn't know me. She doesn't know that I wait for her here, at Valentino's each day, just hoping to catch a glimpse of her. She doesn't know that I watch her when she is here, watching the way she plays with her hair, wishing I was the one who was playing with it. She doesn't know that I study her movements, the little furrow of her eyebrows, the crinkle of her nose when she smells something mouthwatering, the frustrated frown when she rushes in from the rain. She doesn't know these things and I don't want her to know. She isn't ready to know.
Too soon, she has finished her drink and is placing her money down, overpaid tip no doubt, onto the table. I was wrong when I said waiting for her was the worst part of my day. This is. Watching her leave Valentino's and being unable to utter a single word to her. Over the span of the year, you would think that some progress would have been made, but...
She's walking past me again. Heading towards the exit. If I reached out my fingertips ever so slightly I could brush the flesh of her arm, feel her skin against mine. I could knock my cup off the table, let her pick it up as she passed, say thank you and then strike up a conversation. I could accidentally trip her over, move my leg out at the last minute, and then rush to her aid the moment she hits the ground. I could simply stop her and give her my phone number. Tell her that I think she's the most breath-taking woman on this planet, and that she should give me a call sometime. I do none of these things.
Instead, I watch her walk past me, sending smiles to those she passes and small waves to the members of staff, and then I watch her slip out of the door, and out of my life for another day.
Apart of me wants to roar. To scream and break things. To run after her like the desperate fool I am. I sit quietly in my chair and sip at my latte. The clock on the wall across the room chimes two o'clock and I gather my things. It's okay, I tell myself over and over again as I head towards the exit, she'll be here tomorrow.