Love and Loneliness are rarely separataed, but sometimes, with a bit of assistance, from a kindly cafe owner, love can win the day
“Your pot of coffee Sir, your toasted teacake
, butter, and a little pot of Jam?”
Mr Romano quietly looked at the red and white and green chequered tablecloths that covered the tabletops of his sun drenched home from home beloved little Italian coffee house. He whispered an imminent order to himself, and smiled.
It was nearly 9.00am. It was a Tuesday. Mr Redsocks always came in at 9.00am on Tuesdays and he always had an Americano, a teacake and some jam. Then Miss Sitalone, all prim and proper, would come in ten minutes later. She always came in exactly ten minutes later and she had a cream tea
. He knew what the two of them would order, where they would sit, and how they would discreetly look at each other.
Silent, still, and in total command of their lives, they were like two small self supporting islands rising up though a limitless ocean. To a casual observer they seemed to enjoy their solitude, yet Mr Romano, with his decades of catering experience, and his six long years of being a widower, thought differently.
He could see what really lay within their eyes. He could sense their loneliness, he could feel their longing, and as he pulled back the café
curtains, he wondered what their real names were, what lives they both led, and whereabouts their futures might lie.
Then he had no more time to wonder as the door bell softly tinkled. Mr Redsocks walked in through the door, and said good morning. That meant the working day had begun. Mr Romano had a plan though that might end their loneliness. As a widower of many years now, he could never see himself remarrying, but he was always happy to be a matchmaker. For his two favourite regulars a new dawn might be lighting up the horizon and, if he played his cards right, this faint sliver of sunlight might even turn into a glorious summers day.
Alan Devonshire, aged thirty eight and a confirmed bachelor, sat silently at his regular table in the cafe. He placed his carefully folded newspaper on the table beside him, laid out his pen in readiness to do the crossword, and then looked at the room that cosily surrounded him.
It was all there, just as it always had been since he had first come here ten years ago, and he enjoyed such continuity as order was important in his life.
The Café was safe, secure, and comfortable, and normally he would have welcomed such stability, but recently a small voice inside him has prodded him, and that voice wanted change.
Until now he had only found courage to wear his red socks. .
It was a start though, as in his mind those socks, although discreetly hidden, represented freedom.
A freedom of mind and body long gone now, but they had been there, very briefly, when he was at university. Late nights, pseudo-radicalism ,student union meetings, and a pretty lass called Jenny. It was wonderful, and for the first time in his sterile, ordinary life that had so far enslaved him, he was the owner of a new found freedom and of his inner dreams. Jenny, his Little Jenny Wren was also wonderful, until she found his membership card for the conservative party.
A cheat, a liar, and a tory lackey that’s what she had called him, as she packed her bags and left him; and a traitor the working class, as he had angrily walked out through the door. But then how could he be working class , when his Mum was an accountant, and his dad was a bank manager in Surbiton, and how could he be a traitor when he had never really understood or embraced Jenny’s deep rooted political dreams.
One girlfriend in 20 years, and after that nothing but a lifetime of cautious middle class respectability. Yet he never quite gave up such dreams of freedom. Such dreams still flickered inside him, but now they were but a soft low whisper buried within his red socks, whilst befiore they had been a rousing song
So it was that such dreams stayed inside him, and his desire for freedom always stayed rigidly under control.
He wanted to order a creamy chocolate topped cappuccino, but he wasn’t too sure how to pronounce it. He also wanted to go over and speak to the raven haired lady that always came in ten minutes after him. Yet she was always so silent and distant, as she sat in the opposite corner of the cafe, and he didn’t have the confidence to cross the room.
“Your coffee Sir. Your toasted teacake, butter, and a little pot of Jam?”
Alan looked at the items that the Mr Romano placed before him. A pot of coffee, at just the right temperature. A jug of cold skimmed, not semi skimmed milk, and a pristine white cup and saucer, and by their side some butter, a perfectly toasted teacake, and a little pot of strawberry jam .
It was beautifully presented, but he felt unhappy, for as he looked at them, he saw his whole life before him, and that made him feel very sad.
Clean, neat, and tidy, everything was just as it should be, but where was the joy in what was placed before him? Where was the spark of individuality, and where, after so many years of blameless yet sterile living, was the hope for the years to come?
Tucked away carefully inside him, his inner little voice fell silent, and an even older and deeper part of him began to cry.
It was strange, as Mr Romano had given him a much bigger portion of strawberry jam than normal, but he was both hungry and thirsty, and his pot of coffee and buttery teacake were calling so he put such matters to one side. Life, it seemed, was being kind to him, so with all that jam he might have a second teacake and even another pot of coffee on the side!
Soon he was cocooned in a happy little world of his own, so much so that he didn’t even notice the raven haired lady when she had slipped in through the door.
Sophie Trotter slipped inside the cafe doors and sat, as she always sat, over in her own special corner, so that the incoming sun would pick out her carefully cut and even more meticulously coloured hair. Nature was all very well for some animals she thought to herself, but gray hair was scarcely flattering, and as she was only thirty seven she still wanted, wherever possible, to live her life to the full.
That was hard when grey hair and spinsterhood overwhelmed you, and ever more visibly, life seemed to be passing her by.
She always enjoyed coming to the café on Tuesdays though. The tea was always hot, a little strawberry jam cream tea always waiting for her, and it gave her the chance to see her gentleman who always sat on the opposite side of the room. She didn’t know his name, for they had never plucked up the courage to speak to oneanother, but at least she could keep a friendly eye on him. One day, if the sun caught her hair correctly, he might even come over to her and say hello.
It was odd about his red socks though, as they seemed strangely out of character. Was he a socialist, she wondered, was he an anarchist, or was he even a mad scientist intent on destroying the world? None of these options seemed likely however, as, in her opinion; no such characters would eat toasted teacakes, or do the Daily Telegraph crossword. It was still very puzzling all the same.
Today, however, something was wrong.
When she had entered the café he had just been sitting there looking at his tea and teacake, and an air of desolation seemed to hang around his frame.
He seemed to be a little happier now but she still wanted to go over and comfort him but, as ever a barrier seemed to lie between them.
He was a man and she was a respectable lady. It was up to him to come over and see her, and it was his job to emerge, albeit shyly, from his shell.
She still couldn’t help smiling though as she watched him eating his teacake. It was like watching a little boy eating a jam doughnut. Glistening sticky jam oozed over his buttery and crummy fingers and as he ate his, face lit up in with a wicked yet seraphic grin.
“The older a man gets, the more he goes back to his childhood,” her mother had once told her, and as Sophie looked over towards Alan, she could just imagine him coming back from the bakers with a bag of fresh hot doughnuts, or joyfully running back home from school. Then she heard a gentle cough beside her, it was Mr Romano, the cafe owner, and, he was standing quietly by her side
“Your tea Madam, your cream tea, and a little pot of Jam?”
She smiled up at him and began to murmur a thank you, but he moved away quickly today, far more so than normal, but Sophie was glad that he did so, for he had interrupted her dream.
She wanted to be a little girl again, and she wanted a share of the doughnuts. If she was a little girl they could walk back from the bakers or from school together, then she could find out his name. Then, if she was really lucky he might even kiss her, and then tenderly take her by the hand.
Her cream tea was now in front of her though; she only had half an hour before an appointment, so with a gentle sigh of resignation, she put such dreams behind her, and prepared to eat her tea.
Softly, very softly, she swore.
The tea was hot, the scone was perfect, and a suitably large pot of clotted cream lay to one side, but then there was a problem.
The jam was green, it had dark brown seeds, and it tasted of gooseberries. Too many times in her life she had both forced to both eat gooseberries from the family gooseberry beds, and then to play gooseberry for her older sister, and neither were part of an English cream tea.
She wanted her jam to be red and to taste of strawberries, yet as she looked around to see Mr Romano for a replacement, he was nowhere to be seen. She glared at the empty counter in exasperation, and helplessly raised her arms, not knowing quite what she could do. Rising to her feet quickly, she stepped up to the counter and irritably called out his name.
Sipping his coffee slowly, Alan watched Sophie closely as she marched over to the counter. He had never really heard her speak before, except for a low murmur, and normally she seemed so serene and happy.
Today was different, she was angry, and it seemed odd that, for the second time that day, Mr Romano had done something wrong. He was always so sensitive to the needs of his regulars, and normally he stood working at his counter, but today the counter remained empty, Alan wondered what was going on. As she called out for Mr Romano Alan glanced at his now half-filled large pot of jam.
Maybe he could be of assistance to Sophie, and be a modern day knight in shining armour? Yet he stayed silent, and still hesitated, not knowing what to do.
In all the books he had ever seen such knights were never clad in tweed jackets and a pair of old dark brown trousers. They never had sticky chins, and he had never seen any knights with a pot of Jam in their hand.
He stared once more at his empty plate and the half-filled jam pot; and then looked back towards Sophie.
The morning sun was lighting up her hair and she looked beautiful.
He rose to his feet, picked up and cradled the pot of Jam; as if it were an offertory chalice or alchemists gold filled crucible, and began to cross the room.
Suddenly, Out of nowhere, he had found both self belief and confidence. Tomorrow he wouldn’t need to wear his red socks, or fill in the Daily Telegraph crossword, as now he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“Excuse me Madam, but would you like some Strawberry jam?”
Sophie turned slowly to see who stood behind her.
It was a man’s voice, it was a rude interruption, and normally, to a lady like herself, it would have been unwelcome, but as he spoke, his voice was very soft and gentle; and he had used the magical words of strawberry jam
She had a problem though, for as she looked at her donor she couldn’t help but smile. It was the man who always sat in the corner yet he stood there like a very courteous, yet apologetic and shambolic clown.
Short, balding, red socked and with slightly under length trousers, he didn’t quite seem to be the tall dark handsome stranger that her mother had always promised her; and he certainly wasn’t a rugged hero who would sweep her up in his arms. Somehow she couldn’t quite see the knight within him, but then her mother had also warned her about judging a book by its cover.
A lesson in life for everybody, thought Sophie, and in doing so she began to look at him with uncluttered vision and a pair of fresh clean sparkling eyes.
There was no knight, or a handsome stranger. He was just a quiet decent man as he stood before her, and she suddenly realised what it felt like to be a fool.
Such men always walk in the shadows, she thought to herself, as he stood before her, but does that mean they cannot bring forth any joy.
She thanked him quietly and invited him to sit at her table. Then they smiled, they exchanged names and they began to talk to one another.
As they talked a new realisation began to dawn on them.
Maybe there’d be no more for meals for one dinners, empty chairs across a table, no-one to talk to evenings, and singles occupancy hotel bedrooms. It was still too early to really make such assumptions, but now holidays for one might become history, and hot water bottles and electric blankets might, just might, be cast to one side!
A new book now lay quietly between them, and though they had done no more than opened the front cover, they both sensed that a new chapter in life had just begun.
There would be no knights, and no princesses; and there would be no dragons to set their world aflame. Yet both of their names would be written in that book now, and somehow appointments, shopping, crosswords and red socks didn’t matter now, as for both of them a new life had just opened up before them, and this life was going to be different, exciting, and fun!
Mr Romano watched Sophie and Alan affectionately, from behind a bead curtain that separated the Café from his cosy inner back parlour. His plan had worked to perfection. Too perfectly, if truth be told, as now he didn’t need the fresh tray of cream tea for two that quietly lay by his side.
“No charge, my pleasure”” he would have murmured to the pair of them, but neither he, nor the tray of goodies, was needed now.
It was odd how love and friendship could blossom so rapidly, he thought to himself, as he watched them talking, and it didn’t even need champagne, violins, or buckets of roses.
All it needed was a cup of cup of tea or coffee, a teacake, a fresh cream scone, and a little pot of bright red strawberry jam.
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