The green plastic chairs outside the café are all empty, as if waiting for someone with a sad somnolence. The coffee-cigarette aroma hangs listlessly in the desolate rooms, filling the normally redolent air with a damp heaviness. The man at the counter tells him that it is just too hot, and they are closing in five minutes. He picks up his daily cup, walks into the smoking room, and is immediately thrown out.
He is thrown out by the sheer power of what he sees inside. Empty room, dark, dank – with only a woman with hair falling across her face, looking straight at him with piercing eyes, and the only thing moving being the thick grey plume arising from the bright orange between her fingers. The same vision. Déjà vu.
He realises that he cannot step out of the room like that. We do not know whether it was the desire to snatch this opportunity to resume his once-broken conversation with her or it was his remaining social sense that told him that such a rushing out is impolite to the point of being insulting – he decided to retrace his steps, but with the trepidation of a fell beast, certain of the inevitable death, but hoping against hope for some miracle to happen.
When alone, he had researched a lot of opening lines. He actually had a problem of plenty. He could ask her her name. He could ask her what she did. He could ask her why she was there, or tell her why he was there. He could make it look like an accident that they met again. Or he could tell her the truth (what was
the truth?). Above all, he had told himself a million times – if such an opportunity (as now) would ever proffer itself to him, he should not repeat the mistake the he committed the last time. Be positive, be forthright, be forceful, be out there – he had reproached himself. Say something. Let your conviction, your education, your Kundera, your Derrida speak. No confusion. Clarity. Yo.
So he walks up to her with a forced menace in his steps, offers a sweaty, shaky hand and says, in a half-audible, hollow voice, the first sentence that comes to his mind: I love you
, and chokes.
LOVE? Nothing could be further from the truth. He is not even sure what that word signifies, apart from a lot of kitsch. It could be obsession, infatuation, madness, desperation or pure self-absorbed delusion – anything but love. So he corrects himself before she can react – Don’t mean it though.
She takes her time. Giggles, high-pitched, to fight her stupefaction. The giggle turns from embarrassment to sarcasm, and she asks: So, what DO you mean?
Thankfully, the cafe owner was closing the shop - and this time it was him who crossed the road and melted into traffic.