The page turned, the paper made a crisp hiss and Alex gently raised his coffee to his mouth. He had been visiting this cafe religiously for weeks. He ordered the same food and read the same book. It was a pocket of peace where he could dive into another story and sink away from the buzz of the world.
Summer had finally arrived and with it came the incessant screech of children and empty chatter of their parents. Always talking about the weather and people Alex had never met. These people had begun to work their way into the pocket of peace and had attached themselves to Alex’s existence.The conversations of those around him would drag Alex from the forest of thought he had planted for himself. He found himself plunging in and out of the lives of others, hearing half-talk everywhere. Every lunch was now a story of broken sentences: “Did you hear-“”-we never want-“”-to be honest to with you”.
And who the fuck was Karen? The couple next to Alex seemed pretty certain that she was a ‘bitch who only cares about herself’. That’s not nice. He was sure that Karen was a lovely girl, just one of those people who make wrong decisions every so often.
Alex had given up trying to read his book. He had been stuck on the same page for the last few weeks. The last sentence he could remember reading was: ‘the dead were silent and polite, I have never had a fight with a dead person’. The lack of progression in Alex’s reading of this book meant that he could not remember anything that had happened before in the story. The entire book became associated with this sentence. These words were an artefact of the whole story and were to Alex the threshold between an old peace and the now ever-present shower of intrusive noises and names with no faces.
Alex’s coffee had grown cold and the delicate decorative heart design on the froth had warped into a ugly shape of dirty shades of cream. Two pound fifty is a small price for sociability. People were always saying that he needed to talk more, to get out more and be seen. He felt like a slut being seen. Alex pulled his collar towards his neck at the thought of others seeing into him. Those around him had already interjected themselves into his life and now they are seeing him? Alex felt sick at the idea that those around him had their own image of him. They could see him and in this act of seeing him they were stealing a version of his self that he could never regain.
An old man coughed and looked up at Alex. Their eyes caught momentarily before the old man left. Gone forever. A photograph of Alex was now installed in those ancient eyes, a photograph that he would never see. How many versions of him were there? Alex dizzied in the idea that for every one fleeting moment of contact with another being there is a reproduction of Alex; Alex is numerous as a social being. But did these versions of him even belong to himself? If they were unobtainable and purely the possession of the other person, surely he could exist beyond himself? Surely he was only a part in the totality of Alex? Was Alex as a whole a collage of these photographs – snapshots – that others took of him when they interpreted him? He cupped his face in his hands and scrunched up his fringe between his fingers.
“Too much thinking for my lunch break” Alex chuckled slightly to himself, trying to swim to the surface of his mind. He grabbed some coins of multiple values, shapes and sizes from his pocket; a collection of shining faces. He placed the small tip on the table, collected his unread book and made his way to the exit.
A waitress watched, from the far corner of the cafe, a man rise from his table, collect his unread book and make his way to the exit. The man had been quiet and rather polite. He had not touched his coffee. He seemed distant whenever he had visited the cafe. She did not know his name, but she thought he looked like a Michael, or perhaps a Mark . He stood for a moment at the cafe door before he plunged into the sunlight. Gone. Gone forever.
The waitress cleared what used to be his table and picked up a collection of shining faces. It was only a small tip, but she did not mind. She smiled as she dropped the coins into her purse and zipped it shut. Safe, secure and now all hers.