Stories to Stir your Soul...

Coffee-Shop Thing - rhea daniel


Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then. ~Katherine Hepburn

A man and woman sit in a nondescript outdoor café, one of the many that dot this bustling city. The café sits at the steps of one the city’s largest lifestyle stores, and it is yet early in the evening for the usual crowd to step in.

Both are in their late twenties and reasonably attractive. They fit into the current trend of young people whose lives have been planned well in advance to settle into a conflux of new-age, urban professionals. They seem comfortable in each other’s presence. She refers to a file of papers and takes notes, stopping every once in a while to look up thoughtfully. The young man leans back in his rickety café chair and enjoys the early evening breeze with blissful calm.

“This is great. I love this city. The weather’s amazing,” he says with a smile on his face. He runs his hands through his deliberately frowzled, highlighted hair, styled into place to give the boyish, rumpled look that somehow went well with his Friday shirt and tie.

“Hmm,” she agrees busily, scribbling something on a small notepad. Her black hair is cut neat and short, and tucked behind her ears, the bangs resting just above her thin, well-shaped eyebrows. Every once in a while the breeze blows her hair out of place and she unconsciously tucks it behind her ears again. Her make-up is barely there, bringing out and softening her features at the same time.

“You can do that at home, you know,” he says, glancing at the sheaf of papers. He picks up a saucer and gently lays it on the papers to prevent them from being blown off by the breeze.
“Thanks, almost done,” she mutters. She looks up and smiles briefly before gathering up her things and tucking them into an open leather bag on the empty chair beside her. She lets out a long breath.

“Done,” she said, “What a relief.”

“Another presentation?” he asks.

“Not for another two weeks,” she says, shaking her head.


“No, not really,” she rubs her eyes and stretches her arms, “Where’s that sandwich we ordered?”

“They’re still baking the bread I guess,” he said, turning to look at the counter. When he turns back to her his expression changes and he points to her face, trying to say something.

“Uh, um,” he manages.

“What?” she reacts worriedly, “Is it my eyeliner?”

“Yeah, its all over the place.”

She retrieves a small mirror from her bag to survey the damage and gasps at the black smudges around her eyes.

“I think it happened when you rubbed your eyes.”

“I realise that,” she replies tartly.

He grins with amusement at her hurried attempts to rub off the offending smirches. She looks at him angrily.

“I wish you wouldn’t gawk when I do that.”

“Its funny,” he laughs.

The waiter leans over his shoulders to put down a plate of freshly made chicken sandwiches.

“Finally,” he picks up one and begins to wolf it down. She picks up the other one and joins him with equal enthusiasm. He then picks up his mug of coffee and slurps noisily, catching her disapproving eye over the rim of the mug.

“You gulp coffee and eat at the same time it’ll go straight to your love-handles,” she said.

“Oh, man!” He put down the mug hurriedly, spilling the coffee on the browned plastic of the table.

“What? Oh…” she looks in the direction in which he’s facing and sees a girl approaching. The girl is casually clad in jeans and a t-shirt. Heads swivel for second looks in her direction as she walks by.

“Hey,” she greets them. She smiles sweetly and a small dimple appears visibly on her right cheek.

“Tina, hey. What’s up?” he half gets up, the enthusiasm clearly visible on his face. He shakes her small hand and sits back clumsily.

“Oh, nothing. Just looking for a birthday present. My mom’s birthday.”

“Okay!” he responds enthusiastically, the goofy grin doesn’t leave his face.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do about Monday’s presentation.”

“Oh, haha, don’t worry about it,” he waves his hands dismissively.

“I’ve done something…I hope it works,” Tina wrings her hands worriedly.

“Really, don’t worry about it, you’re still learning the ropes.”

“Okay. I’d better go. Bye Sid, bye Lily,” she says with a smile. She waves briefly at them both and then turns to enter the store. Sid gazes at her back until she goes out of sight.

Two seconds after Lily turns to Sid and says grimly, shaking her head, “You did it again.”

“Did what?”

“You fell for it again. You do it every time.”

“What?” he holds up his hands and shrugs.

“ ‘Learning the ropes’? She’s been learning the ropes for six months now!”

“What? Are you saying I have a crush on her?”

“I’m saying you fall for that-,” she flutters her hands and rolls her eyes, “-Every time.”

“All what?”

“Oh please. She’s always fluttering her hands helplessly and doesn’t know a fuck of what she’s talking about and believes sincerely the whole time that she does, and you fall for that and melt every time she does it, because she’s small and frail and childlike and delicate,” she makes a motion with her hands like she’s cupping something small, “And you know her work is crap…and --,” she shakes her head and shrugs, taking a sip of her coffee.

“I don’t fall for anything! She’s nice and she makes an effort. That’s it, end of story.”

Lily ignores him, “—I mean how can any sincere, hard-working woman expect to be emancipated in the workplace and be judged on the basis of her professionalism if dufusses like you are screwing us over for some ultra-feminine bimbo like that all the time?”

“When did I screw you over?” he asks innocently.

“I’m talking about womankind. And you did it right now.”


“You asked her not to worry incase she turns up with some crap like she did last time…and the time before that.”

“Lily, it’s okay.”

“What, ‘its okay’?”

“I understand if you’re insecure about your looks, but let me tell you, you’re a reasonably attractive person. Anything else you make up for with your shining personality.”

Lily sighs and gives him a withering look.

“Very funny. I’m not jealous of that.” She gestures towards the store Tina had just entered.

“Well, considering the fact that you might be right. That she does plan to…you know, use her way out of things, or use her way up, and you have to slog your ass off to get anywhere; who has the better deal?”


“How so?”

“Because she has only about ten years until eventually age catches up with her. I on the other hand, I’m a true professional. I would have the dignity of knowing I achieved everything fair and square, with integrity and perseverance at my side. And at the end of the day I’d actually have learnt something.”

“But she’ll have reached there already, in half the time you would have…and she won’t need to work as much anymore. Because she’ll be at the top,” he folded his arms with casual finality.

She considers this with discomfort clearly visible on her face.

“In fact,” he wheedled naughtily, “You would be working for her.”

“May be,” she said squaring her shoulders, refusing to give in, “At least I wouldn’t be chasing something I can’t have.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, the only reason you bother working and getting up in the morning to work is for the money and the car and house and the gadgets so you can impress women like her,” she nodded in the direction of the store, “Someone that you, don’t stand a chance in hell of getting.”

“I’m not…I don’t want her,” he said shaking his head, thumbing uncomfortably at the topic of discussion and shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

“Who are you kidding? It’s typical of men to chase women they can’t have. And smart women like that use it to their advantage.”


“What ‘aha’?”

“Aha, you admit she’s smart!”

Lily rolled her eyes.

“Yippee, that a significant contribution you’ve made to this argument. And anyways, if she’s smart enough to fool you into thinking she’s even mildly interested in you, good for her. Though, quite honestly, she doesn’t really have to make much of an effort. She’s already got you eating out of her hand.”

“You know, ten minutes ago you were condemning just that sort of behaviour and now you’re practically endorsing it.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s fun to watch you fall for that sort of thing and make a fool of yourself.”

“I’m not falling for anything!”

“That’s right,” she pats him on the head, “Keep telling yourself that.”

“You’re jealous.”

“Oh that’s so lame.”

“You’re jealous you don’t have the hot body and the hot looks and you have to work for a living.”

“I could say the same for you.”

“Not really, I don’t gaze at the mirror all day, chase every reflection like my life depended on it and spend all that money on the clothes and make-up and I hate to break it to you but it really makes little difference.”

“I hate to break it to you, but you spend all that money buying that fancy car and that fancy stereo obviously to make up for your other shortcomings.”

“Admit it, you’re vain, and I mean all of you. You with your hair and your nails and your…eyeliner and everything.”

“ I’m vain? You had this gigantic crumb stuck to your lips this whole time.”

“Oh fuck,” he hurriedly rubs the corner of his mouth.

“Other side. Here,” she says handing him her mirror.

“Aw damn.”


“What ‘aha’?”

“ ‘Aha’, you’re as vain as I am.”

“No, there’s a difference, we don’t assess our entire self worth on our looks the way you do.”

“The fact is, you wish the crumb had never gotten there in the first place, at least while she was there to see it.”

“It was there the whole time she was there?” he asks worriedly.

Lily gives him a sympathetic look.

“Some women like slobs,” she shrugs taking a sip of her coffee. “You might just appeal to some ancient…Neanderthal…genetic memory…” she waves her hand dismissively.

“Hey, stop talking like I’m some filthy truck-driver on a late shift, okay?”

“Alright. Sorry, apparently a crumb became a mountain.”

“And its not like people don’t let you off the hook ‘cause you’re a girl. I’ve seen it all the time.”

“Yes, well, if I play my cards right I might just rise to the top at super speed.”

“Too bad the boss is a woman, no?”

“Too bad,” she said wryly. Tired of the conversation, she removes the days rolled up newspaper from the bag.

“Oh that’s so sweet,” she comments on a front-page article.

“What’s it say?” he leans over to look at what she was reading.“ ‘Traitor sells plans to finance wife’s pickle factory’,” he reads aloud. “What’s so sweet about that?”

“He was so in love, he sold battle plans to pay for his wife’s pickle factory.”

“What ?! He betrayed his country to pay for his wife’s pickle factory? And for twenty thousand bucks? Oh Gawwwd, you think that’s sweet?! Jeeeezz…women!!!”

He slaps his hands over his eyes in frustration.

“Yes, I think it’s sweet,” she said firmly.

“I bet he’s not thinking that in jail right now.”

“It proves that he loves her.”

“He’s a traitor, he did a bad thing,” Sid said pointedly.

“Yes, he committed a crime, but for a good cause.”

“Lily, he didn’t exactly deserve a medal of honour for saving a pickle factory from extinction.”

“Oh, you don’t understand. Love deserves a chance in spite of war, even if it means you’re saving a lowly pickle factory.”

“You’re saying,” his eyes widening like he’s just realised something, “Pickle, can be a metaphor for love?”

“Sounds good to me,” she thought for a moment and said, “Pickled Love. In a bottle.”

“Off the shelf. Lasts for years.”

“Pickle can go sour too,” Lily pointed out.

“Depends on the expiry date. Preservatives. That sort of thing. Flowers, perfumes for her.”

“Shags for him.”

“Hey, we’re not all that shallow.”

“Neither are we,” she retorts.

He ignores her, “But its not really there in the end…love is intangible, you know…” he makes a motion with his fingers like he’s feeling something between them.

“Encapsulated love? You can swallow it, like medicine,” she says thoughtfully.

“But really, its not there. It’s intangible. So you can actually sell just a bottle marked ‘Love’,” he looks at her questioningly, ”With some value-added packaging, you think anyone will buy it?”

“Made under clinical conditions, after thousands of years of trial and error, thousands of formulae. Revised, discarded. Reformulated,” she chews the end of her pen, ”Yeah, people will buy anything, especially these days. It’s like.... like The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“That story was too deep for me to get at that age.”

“Me too.”

“What was your favourite?”

“The Little Mermaid.”

He nodded understandingly. “Sacrificial love. Pain, jealousy, lust, stupidity. Tragic.”

“No,” she shook her head, “I just liked the idea of sitting in the moonlight naked and combing my long blonde hair.”

He looked at her thoughtfully.

“You know what I like about you?”


“You’re honest.”

“Well at least we’ve agreed on something today.”


Pity all newlyweds. She cooks something nice for him, and he brings her flowers, and they kiss and think: How easy marriage is. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

(Author’s note: PART II will only emerge incase of popular demand.)
-rhea daniel

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