I remember the moment, the exact moment the feeling rushed through me, as though lightning had struck me headfirst and overreaching below; She walked into the cafe on a sunny winter’s mid-morning, a café that stood cuddled between apartment buildings, and the only café quiet enough to think in. Sunday’s for most were for churchgoers, and many shops and restaurants would only open their doors in the late afternoon, but not this café. She was quint and comfortable and bold enough to keep its arms open to the public, but small enough to welcome only those who knew its serenity - The owner knew that his café did not entirely belong to him, but to everyone who walked through those doors, to those who ordered their beverages and baked meals, to those who sat quietly, calmly – The café stood alone but it was never lonely.
Sunday’s were my days mostly. I ordered the usual, freshly brewed black coffee and a plate served with croissants, jams and the most divine homemade butter the owner took pride in churning. Most of what the café offered, from crockery to coffee were either homemade or perfectly selected. This Sunday morning was no different, the doors were open (as I knew they would be) and inside, the air laced with freshly baked bread and coffee - divine treats that filtered through the streets like the seduction of a beautiful woman – you couldn’t resist her, The Café with Curls.
That day was as good as any; I could sit comfortably at the back, in view of the entrance and simply float into space where time slowed itself down. Then at the pinnacle point of a good book, that I had picked up at a garage sale, a presence, unlike anyone who had entered before, stood at the glass display of pastries. She loosened her scarf slightly while walking sideways across the display, carefully observing, absorbing the divine pastries and cakes that are on display; A particularly well to do looking woman by the looks of it. Her coat certainly looked expensive, her hair deep brown that almost touched her shoulders (had it not been for the slight curls on its ends.) She is slender but short and most definitely shorter than I, and I stood at five-foot-seven. Five-foot two thought I to myself. She must be from out of town. She certainly did not look like she belonged here -
I was not what you called a wealthy woman, from Monday’s to Friday’s, from eight am to two pm I worked at a bookstore downtown and then raced back uptown where from three pm to five pm I typed out court case proceedings, making sense from the notes the typist took during the court cases - I learned to understand certain word codes and abbreviations that were made up daily. The two jobs kept me busy, paid my bills and allowed me the freedom on weekends to rest or do leisurely things. I lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment, a reasonably sized kitchen (I hardly spent time in) a wonderfully sized living area that ran onto a balcony, overlooking nothing but other apartments, all well stacked together, not unlike the building I resided in, but I felt safe and knew my neighbours only by greetings (when we happened upon each other along the stairway.)
A good friend of mine lived a few blocks away from me. We had been friends since we were eight years old. She married her high school sweetheart straight out of college and five years into their marriage had become a mother to four. Two sets of twins, one identical and the other not. All girls. Her husband, who I too knew well, since we all went to the same high school, had joined the army not to fight a particular cause, but to further his education and provide well for his wife and kids. Anjel and I hardly spoke to each other in over two years, something I could not hold against her. Our efforts were not exactly one hundred percent and we both had live's - hers just slightly full to the brim where there had almost existed no time for herself. I understood this and she knew I did. What are good friends for if we did not comprehend this and love each other no less than before? We were there for each other when needed, and that served us well. Nothing high maintenance between us.
I sat motionless for a few seconds watching her before reclining into my chair. My book still in hand and still on the same page and my coffee in the other, sipping slowly studying her. The barista noticed my glance above the page of the book I held and smiled at me, then winked - The coffee and book were hiding spots in case she turned around and noticed my eyes fixed on her, which at one point she did but she did not look at me, instead she turned her attention to the chalkboard against the wall for specials. Reaching for my page to hide my eyes behind, I got to see the full view of her face as she looked over her shoulder; when there is something beautiful to be seen, especially if there is only one around, you must gaze - Beauty is a gravitational pull, you cannot deny its existence nor resist its control, and in many cases, you aren’t aware of yourself for a few moments until something drops - And you need something to drop so that time may continue.
In my case, something dropped. My brain, I think, stopped sending signals to the rest of my body and had I been standing, I would have felt weak at the knees, but I lost my grip instead; my book slipped out of my hand, hit the side of my coffee cup saucer that flung off the table, spilling out already spilt coffee onto my shirt (the shirt that I had bought three years ago for fifty cents from a clothing store - that had closed down.) - I love it not for its tailored fit or colour, but for its texture; I preferred the texture of things such as clothing and food and when it came to books, like perfume, I loved to smell the pages. For some reason the scent of books made me feel a part of the writer’s journey.
I scooted back and stood up quickly from my seat, wiping off the residue of coffee to avoid further staining and then, I got offered several serviettes to help soak up the wet spots and had I not looked up, I would not have noticed that it was she who had brought the serviettes over; “Thank you”, I replied to her kind gesture, “Don’t mention it. It happens to me all the time.” She smiled and went back to her station. Dabbing away at the wet spots, I wondered what she meant by what she said; It happens to her all the time. What does? Spilling or dropping things in the face of something beautiful?
“If you are deciding to sit and eat here, the eggs benedict is a winner. Tony makes his hollandaise sauce from scratch,” I advised. She turned to face me, “The coffee is fresh and if I were you, those salted pretzels are to die for," I continued, “I mean, the pretzels are a winner if you are ordering a take away”. - “Thank you,” she replied; We had kept eye contact for a few moments more when she turned and ordered. “I’ll have what she said,” smiling at the barista, "Take away or sit down Ma’am?” he asked,
“I’ll have it here, please," The barista nodded in response.
“Orlando,” she said standing in front of me, “Are you a fan of Virginia Woolf’s work?” - “Indeed!” I smiled, “May I accompany you or do you prefer sitting alone?” she asked, “No! Please take a seat.” I piped up, nervous, wishing she would go away, but thankful she isn't. She removed her expensive coat and flung it across the vacant seat, “Do you live around here?” she asked while removing her scarf and flung that over her coat, “I do actually; around the corner in fact,” An awkward moment of silence passed, when at last her coffee arrived, rescuing us and I ordered a second, the second cup of coffee that meant to say, stay with me for as long as you possibly can and then longer, “I’m sorry,” I said extending my hand to greet her, “My name is Michelle Bellevue”, She took my hand in hers, smiled and replied, “Amy Greene. A pleasure”.