Finn grabbed his cup from the counter and thanked the waitress, a smile and a nod. He dodged past a few incoming customers and navigated to the front of the cafe, where a large glass wall afforded an open view of the outside. Finn liked to people-watch, so he liked to sit here.
There was a long, solid board, more like a bench than a table, up against the glass. Behind it, rows of stools. He found one right in the corner and sat, cradling the hot cup in his hands. It was a cold and blustery day out.
He checked his phone: 6 notification groups, 2 of them from apps he could ignore out of hand. He swiped them off to the right. Of the 4 remaining, 1 could wait, and the other 3 were social alerts. He browsed through the latest reactions to his posts, replying to a few with fingers that flew over the buttons at a rapid-fire pace.
Then he sat back for a while, waiting for his drink to cool enough that he wouldn’t burn his tongue.
While sitting at the window, it was difficult, he had found, to look behind into the rest of the cafe. It was too obvious a motion. Everyone he glanced at tended to glance back, which made it awkward and uncomfortable. Instead, he was restricted to looking ahead.
He watched the people passing by on the street. Most were lost in their own world. Some walked slowly. Some rushed. Some strolled. Some ran, usually with headphones jammed in their ears. Some pushed baby buggies or held the hands of toddlers. Some walked hand in hand with a partner. Others walked alone. Some were old, some young. Most somewhere in-between. Some glanced up and looked back at him. Some were oblivious to his watching gaze.
Finn drew a small notebook from his bag along with a mechanical pencil, and flipped it open to a free page. He started his “5 second memorisation” exercise. This was one of his favourite exercises to do in the cafe window.
The way it worked was that he would wait for someone interesting to pass by. This required being alert for a long while, maybe 10 or 15 minutes sometimes. But as soon as he saw someone interesting, he would stare at them. Fully. Unflinchingly. Taking in every detail of their face before they passed out of sight. Most of the time, this gave him just 5 or so seconds.
Then as soon as they were gone, he would set to work. As quickly as possible, he would sketch out their face, or as close an approximation to it as he could. As much detail as possible was necessary. He would add their hair, their glasses, their hats, if they had any. Sometimes he could even remember the details of their shirt collars or coats. Most of the time it was only the basic facial features that stuck with him.
After drawing an elderly man with wrinkled, kind eyes and a long straggly beard like a wizard, Finn pulled his eyes to the streets again, taking a long sip from his drink. It was cool enough now.
He glanced up at the cafe across the road, a similar establishment with a matching glass window, and he froze.
Behind the matching glass window was a matching table.
Behind the matching table was a row of matching stools.
On one of the matching stools, staring coolly back at him, was a man who matched Finn - matched him in every way.
They both wore a dark shirt with a collar slightly open, and no tie. They had both worn a dark grey coat which was now slumped over the table next to them. They both had close-cropped dark hair, with one stubborn curl at the forehead which would not go away. They both had olive-toned skin and a pencil in their hands. They were both nursing a large white cup, and they both wore a silver watch with a dark brown leather strap.
Finn’s eyes near enough popped out of his head. Here was this man, the mirror image of himself. His doppelganger! He had heard of people meeting their doppelgangers, but like this? He was feeling faintly alarmed, but the man on the other side of the road had not reacted at all. With a prickling sensation, Finn realised it was possible that the man had been watching him for quite some time.
The other man picked up his cup and sipped from it, and it was only then that Finn was completely sure he was not staring at a reflection. He reached up and touched his own hair just to be doubly sure, which the man on the other side of the street did not repeat.
The other man glanced down suddenly, and started moving the pencil about on what must have been a piece of paper or a notebook. Every so often he would glance up again, looking at Finn. Finn watched back, captivated.
He fingered the pencil that was still resting in his right hand, and wet his tongue with his lips. Then he tentatively set to work. Just like the other man, he began to draw. He drew the other man drawing him. The other man continued to draw him drawing the other man. Like this, they passed perhaps half an hour. It was the longest Finn had ever spend on a single drawing in the cafe.
He concentrated on the last part, filling in the shading as much as he could.
When he looked up again, the man on the other side of the street was no longer there.
Finn glanced around hurriedly, even leaning forward, straining his eyes. But at last, he had to admit, he could no longer see the other man.
He glanced at his page.
“Nice self-portrait,” a waitress said, coming by to remove his empty cup.
“It’s not — ” Finn began, before realising that there was no way to prove his doppelganger had ever been there at all.
He stared across the other side of the road, feeling a crawling under his skin. The sensation of being watched, watching.