“Am I your best friend?”
“You’re my oldest friend.”
The waitress brings my latte and she sets it down with a cold blank smile. I thank her. She asks the two men if they want something and they say no.
“Is that the same thing?”
“It could be.”
I look back at my laptop, but I am not able at all to concentrate. The men are very interesting. I watch them play a board game. They play with the casual manner of people who have played the game for too long and are too familiar with the rules and with the moves of each other.
They might be Turkish, but they equally might not be. The men speak only English to the waitress, although I know she does not speak much English, yet she has no trouble understanding them.
One of the men is very old, and the other man is very old as well. The man who is answering all of the questions wears cheap and shabby clothes, and so does the man who is asking the questions. Once I have examined them for several minutes, I can no longer tell a difference between them except that the man who is asking the questions has white hair and the other man has grey hair. They sit beside the window and most of the time there they stare at the people who are walking by. The Berlin city street is not crowded like London or Paris, but it is busy enough to provide entertainment, and I see they are distracted often by what happens on the outside. The weather is nice but quite windy and cloudy and the air is cold, and soon it will be raining.
I have seen the men before, only in this café, and they always arrive before me and they leave after I leave. After I leave, I do not remember a thing about them — not until I return to the café and I see them again. I never remember their conversations. I have never seen either of them win a game. I decide that if I see one of them win a game, the world will end.
“They don’t listen to you, you know,” the man with the white hair says.
“They don’t listen to you either,” the man with the grey hair says.
“They are not supposed to listen to me.”
“It doesn’t matter who they listen to.”
“Does that bother you?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“I thought all fathers wanted their children to listen to them.”
“Yes, perhaps they do.”
My phone rings.
“Hey baby,” I say.
“Sweetheart. What time will you be coming home?”
It is my wife. She wants me to bring home some things. A woman enters through the front door and a few brown leaves blow in with her. I wave to the waitress.
“Ich möchte bezahlen.”
“Zwei sechzig,” she says.
“Do you ever get lonely?”
“Surely you are bored asking me that same question.”
“You never ask me a single question, and I’ve run out of new questions. Can you blame me for asking the same question again?”
“Of course not. No, I don’t get lonely. I’m always alone. I have no concept of such loneliness.”
“Your children ignore you.”
“They are merely an extension of me. Even with children, I am still alone.”
“But I get lonely.”
The woman orders a black tea. I pack up and I say goodbye to the waitress. The men look up and I nod to them. They nod back. I have a feeling they will talk about me when I leave. I look at their faces and I try my best to commit them to memory, but it is too hard for me. I do not know why. The man with the grey hair — he smiles at me.
I pull the door handle but the door is locked.
“Warum ist die Tür abgeschlossen?” I ask the waitress.
“Sie ist nicht abgeschlossen.”
She shakes her head at me from behind the counter like I am an idiot, but makes no move to check the door. Again I try, but it is locked. The man with the white hair clicks his fingers. The waitress stares at me. I return to my seat for a while to see if something new will happen.
“That isn’t nice,” the man with the grey hair says, looking at the game board.
“No, not at all. But you know me.” The man with the white hair moves a piece on the board.
I look over at the woman. She looks tired but pretty, about my age, with fair hair. I feel the men looking at us. She is studying the menu, perhaps deciding on what to eat. Her knuckles are white and the nails on her fingers dig into the back of the menu. She looks up at us and smiles at the room and I look away, trying to look as if I was not staring at her. The men smile back. The man with the white hair looks at me and winks. I do not like him. I am afraid of the other man. I do not know why.
“I’m bored,” the man with the white hair says.
“Well, then do something.”
“Yes, but tell me, what?”
“Anything you like. Being as old as you are, there are no consequences for you.”
“You don’t mind what I do?”
My phone rings.
“Hey baby, I’m on my way,” I say.
“I think there’s someone in the house. What should I do?”
“I’m just around the corner. I’ll be there in two minutes. It’s probably a cat or something. Don’t worry.”
I look over at the woman again. She looks troubled. I examine her lips. They are full and round; kissable, I imagine. I then compare her to the waitress. She is pretty too, but I am irritated by her attitude with the front door. There are no other people. The woman then sets down the menu and leans her face into the tea and she closes her eyes and the steam slithers up her nose.
The man with the white hair clicks his fingers. There are now fewer pieces on the board, but I did not see either man take a piece. The waitress comes to me again — I order another latte. She smiles at me in a flirty way. Perhaps I was too judgmental of her. She goes across to the table of the woman and I watch her rear as it swings from side to side. I look around at the old men and see that the man with the grey hair is watching me. He is not smiling. I feel like a schoolboy who has just been caught cheating in a test. Outside, a few leaves blow past the window and the rain begins to fall.
I compare first the woman and then the waitress to my wife. My wife is very beautiful, as are both the woman and the waitress, but I know every aspect of her body, and we have been together long enough for me to become bored by it. Again I think of taking out my laptop, but I am expecting a phone call and then I will have to leave, so I do not. I have already checked my emails seven times today. I pick up a menu and I watch the woman over the top of it. The waitress brings my latte and sets it down. I look at the line of her breasts as they squash together and I watch the light as it vanishes between them. For a moment I imagine my face disappearing into that line, and then she takes a slice of cake to the woman. I stir the latte with a spoon and the milk and the coffee mix to sawdust.
My phone rings.
“Where are you? Someone’s in the house,” she says.
“I’m outside the front door, baby. Where are you?”
“I’m in the bedroom. I’m in the closet.”
“Stay there. I’ll call the police.”
The woman looks up at me from her cake. She must speak English. The man with the white hair clicks his fingers.
“There’s somebody in the house and my wife is hiding in the closet,” I say, and smile, not sure why I am telling her that.
“Oh,” she says and takes a mouthful of cake.
She chews it with no apparent pleasure.
“You’re very cruel,” the man with the grey hair says.
“Would you like me to stop?”
“You can continue.”
The man with the white hair motions to the waitress. In his hands he pretends to hold a small saucer and a small espresso cup and he lifts the cup to his lips. The waitress nods and turns to face the espresso machine. I return to the menu and I watch the woman. The machine whirs and spits out the coffee. Some of it lands on the floor. The waitress brings the espresso to the man and he sniffs it and nods his head, then he touches her arm. Her shoulder drops like he has broken it and she leans down and he whispers in her ear. He kisses the skin of her cheek. She turns pale. The man with the grey hair — he watches me. I turn away and I feel safer looking at the woman. Slowly, the waitress comes to my table. She is a little shaky and her face is the colour of ash. She looks as if something important has been taken away from her.
“Möchten Sie noch etwas?”
Then to the woman.
“Möchten Sie noch etwas?”
She lingers beside the table of the woman before she moves, and then she walks past me again and she seems to linger by me for a moment as if she is trying to catch my eye. Now that I have seen how pale and how fragile she can be, I am no longer interested in her and I do not make eye contact. She then disappears into the back room, where the kitchen and the toilets are.
The man with the white hair clicks his fingers.
My phone rings.
“Where are you? I hear him in the hall!” She is now very scared.
“I called the police and they told me to wait outside. They’re on their way. Stay where you are, baby. Everything will be fine. Promise.”
I wonder if the front door is open yet, but I do not think so. I sip my latte and I wonder just how many lattes I have drunk throughout my lifetime. I do not have much enthusiasm for this one and I feel like I have drunk at least two lattes every day for a thousand years or more. This one is quite bland and tepid.
The woman stands up and walks to the back, and I realise that I need to pee too. As I go to the toilet the men watch me. The man with the white hair watches me with more interest than the man with the grey hair. For a short moment the man with the grey hair looks sad, and then he looks like nothing. For a short moment I am not afraid of him, but the moment passes.
The woman is in the toilet for men. She looks unhappy.
“The waitress is in the women’s,” she says.
“That’s okay,” I say. “You can use the men’s.”
I do not leave. Her lips open slightly and she inhales. She is about to say something, but she stops.
“What is it?” I say.
“I don’t know,” she says.
From the front of the café I hear the click of fingers. The sound annoys me. The woman steps toward me. Rain splatters in tiny drops against the small, high window.
“I’ve done something terrible,” she says.
“We all have,” I say.
“I know. Please fuck me.”
I kiss her, but she does not know how to kiss me like my wife. We drop our trousers and our underwear and I push into her against the sink. She is wet and tight and I am harder than I have been in years, but our sex is clumsy and neither of us knows what the other wants. We end disappointed. She leaves first and I see her look with distaste at the floor outside the other toilet. A thin line of fresh, red blood snakes along the groove of the grimy tiles.
The man with the white hair is smiling. He knows what we have done and he sees in us our dissatisfaction.
“Why don’t you ever hold me back?” he says.
“What you do has no consequences. There is no need for me to hold you back.”
My phone rings.
“You can go home now,” a voice I do not know.
I do not want to.
I sip my latte again but I cannot enjoy it. I leave it. The front door will be open now. The men are almost done with their game and it looks like somebody will win, but I have to go home. I glance at the woman. She does not look at me. She looks at nothing, chews on her cake.
I nod to the men. They nod back. I leave.
The weather is nice but quite windy and cloudy and the air is cold, and soon it will be raining. I have some time to kill and I am expecting a phone call. I cannot return home until I receive the phone call. I would like to drink a latte, and I am standing in front of a café. I open the front door and enter and a few brown leaves blow in with me.
William Alan McNeice writes mostly comedy, but sometimes depressing stuff, too. Here are some more things for you to browse, depending on whether you want funny or depressing:
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