I found their skewed objectivity quite appealing. It was that time of the day when the streets were full of people returning after a full day of work. I saw literature in that. In the fine print of the greasy overalls and large work shoes of factory employees, the immaculately manicured hands and uniformly tanned skins of beautiful women whose hair were tied in high ponytails or buns as a sign of their officious and compulsive ambition, in the corporate ties and shiny shoes but sagging faces of the brilliant young gentleman. I loved every bit of it.
There was a cafe. Now, I wouldn’t want to tell you its name because my anonymity is too dear to me. Dearer than the thirst for fame. So I’m holding back on that little piece of information, if you will. Anyway, there was a cafe. It was quite disastrous too. The coffee was too weak, the music was the kind of international jazz that has stray notes of pop in it because that’s apparently what the young ‘uns listen to nowadays. The chairs were dilapidated and the floor was covered with a tattered brown carpet through which you could see the broken wooden paneling down under. But I went there because it was shady.
You wouldn’t know it. There are two things that are most important to a devil’s advocate writer like me. The first is anonymity and the second is shadiness. I deal with them both on a daily basis. I hunt out inspiration like others do money. I smell it and then I drink it. But I need shady place. And this place is the shadiest of ’em all. I notice I’ve used shady a lot. But its not time to go back to school yet. My anonymity protects me. I think you see what I mean to say now.
Anyway this shady cafe is on a busy junction but the delicious thing about it is that it’s kind of invisible. That’s because it’s got these huge and phony showrooms on either sides. The kinds that look like glittering palaces where only the really rich dare step. You might want to walk into one but I promise you, half an hour later when you walk out, you’ll feel small. Small and damaged because these places suck your identity and give you the kind of perception that makes you want to kill yourself.
But this keeps my little cafe safe, thank heavens. I wouldn’t walk into such showrooms myself but I’ve seen the expressions of people who’ve come out of there. They mask their horror and shabbiness and their poverty but their hearts are broken. Most poor folk don’t bother with my shady cafe when they’re done but then there are those who do. Oh sweet Lord, how I love those people.
Let me tell you about this couple for instance. I was in my regular spot, drinking the disgusting piss that seems to pass as coffee in this shady establishment, when they walked in and sat on the table next to mine. As you might have guessed if you have any sense about you, my table is right next to the giant glass window. It’s never clean but that just serves as an advantage. Everything I see outside is somewhat opaque but they can’t see me either.
So this couple came and sat on the only other window table in this cramped little slice of heaven. My brain starts to fizzle immediately. The details of their manners! The woman looks like a borderline prostitute. Dark lipstick is smudged untidily across her thin lips and her hair is in a net. She’s wearing something maroon but her body is quite deliciously curved. She looks like the kind of person who starves herself for days on end, eating nothing but lima beans for a month or two until every single bit of her oozing flesh is tucked right in. She has tacky rings on her fingers and her brown eyes look dazed. Drunk, maybe. I feel disgusted but that’s what I love. Disgust keeps me going. Without it I’d be like a car without engines. Wouldn’t know how to function.
I tear my eyes off her to observe her beau. Beau would be too fancy a word. I settle for philandering husband. He has on a dirty brown coat with sued patches and his checked shirt is tucked too high up into trousers that look like they haven’t been washed for days. His hands are greasy and his nails have dirt under them but his woman is leaning forward in animation. Whatever they see in each other, they seem quite aptly paired. I fall back and call over the waiter.
‘Yessir?’ he says in a bored voice. He knows me too well and he knows I know him too well too. We’re all peas of a pod in here.
‘I’ll have another one of these. And get me some bacon,’ I say, pointing towards my empty cup.
‘Yessir’ and he’s off.
I turn back to my couple and get ready to listen in.
Apparently the woman is chugging on about something. The man seems somewhat bored but also aware of his helplessness. Yup. He’s a definite philanderer. I smile. I love this breed. So much of dissatisfaction. So much of manhood. I make a bet to myself that his wife’s fat from childbirth, wrinkling from age and sickened by menopause. I win.
‘So it’s not about ya’ wife or ya’ kids or any of that,’ the woman is saying, quite loudly. Her voice is hoarse but it still has a husky sexiness about it. ‘I mean, I knew from the start that ya’ family comes first. Bu’ I just thought I knew you better. Y’know?’
The man grunted. I was surprised he bothered at all because she didn’t seem concerned with him at all and anything he would say would only spur her on. Trust me, I know pal, I told him in my head.
‘Bu’ what’s done’s done and now there’s no need’t regret. Y’know? If you’ll jus’ gimme them bucks, I’d leave you in jiffy. I know a clean place where they do this kinda stuff, no questions asked.’
Now the man leaned forward. ‘But you can’t do this to me!’ he said and I smiled. I could see what was happening here. ‘You know I don’t have any money! I’m in debt for heaven’s sake. I thought you knew the odds of somethin’ like this happening. I didn’t! I never expected this and I can’t raise a child now anyway. You’ll have to think of somethin’ else!’
The woman rose, her voice was shaking now and she was trembling. She clasped her hands together and I noticed how long and pointed her nails were. And they were painted deep green but it was the kind of green that shimmered ostensibly under the slightest light.
‘Thinka somethin’ else, he says!’ she exclaimed in anguish. Her eyes were starting to well up and her smoky eye makeup was getting smudged. ‘I’ll tell ya how to thinka somethin’ else, you bloody beast!’
She reached into an ugly grey purse and I leaned further in my seat, excited.
Just at that moment, my waiter returned with weak coffee and steaming, greasy bacon. He settled the plate in front of me with the same vacancy in his movements that utterly exhibited his boredom. By the time he cleared up my old cup and took off, the moment was gone. The woman was putting something back into her purse triumphantly and her guy was white as a sheet.
‘Take tha’, you unfaithful piece’a shit,’ she crooned. I cringed but I could take a guess about the contents of her purse. The man was leaning backwards now, defeated.
‘But I have no money,’ he repeated as though that ought to settle everything. There was a pause while they both looked at each other; at an impasse.
Then his shoulders lifted slightly. He seemed to have thought of something. His eyes sparkled a little but the woman couldn’t see it. ‘Fine.’ He said and his voice had a decisive edge to it. ‘We’ll do this tomorrow. But gimme a day to sort things out. I’ll come with you. Is that okay?’
I reached out for my coffee and took a sip, feeling my stomach turn.
The woman seemed happier now.
I phased out and picked up a spoon.
There seemed to be reconciliation underway at their table.
I dug a fork into my greasy bacon and swallowed the damn thing right up. It tasted like vomit and I felt my bile rising. I swallowed back and called the waiter over to settle my bill. My couple seemed to be doing the same.
They got up and left a minute before me. I took my time but I was done for the day. Then I got up and put on my overcoat. By the time I was out in the street, the couple was turning a bend, way ahead of me. They were holding hands. I turned the other way and walked off.
It was in the papers a week later. Her photo. Found murdered under a street lamp on a quiet street. I took a double take as I studied her features in the photograph they had fished out for the media. It said there that she was a theatre actress. An actress who slept with the director, perhaps?
But I’ve told you I love anonymity and shadiness. This was my print and the rest was up to the police. I don’t know why they never figured out who did the killing. Maybe that man was way to clever for them. He hadn’t seemed like a murderer to me, his features had been tired and burdened with age. But desperation makes people do weird things, right? Who knows. Certainly not me. Nor is it my job to know. I’ve done my duty and this story is out there now. You decide.
Gonzo journalism? Erm.You be the judge. Thanks for reading.