The sun had called it a night a while ago. Its last rays had painted the café in fiery orange hues as the last of summer slipped away. As the cold winter night swept to fill the void between sunset and twilight, we were still sitting at our table. None of us wanted to leave. This was a fortuitous moment, one of those rare moments of magic where you look up to the heavens and mouth a silent “thank you.”
The whole day had been like this; small passages of time where I was so surprised by the easiness of her company I was in danger of having a permanent look of pleasure fixed on my face. We had met once before, but it was at one of those social occasions where we had to expertly divide our attention between remembering people’s names and keeping conversations witty and shallow enough to stop our calendars filling up with awkward social engagements.
We had exchanged some polite conversation for a while and then prepared to attend to our separate social commitments. However, through the strange machinations of fate and some forceful enterprise on her part, our contact details found each other. With the promise of tea and company, two of my weaknesses, we parted and went our separate ways.
I fully expected our meeting to come to naught; through personal experience I have learned that promises of tea and company usually come with an unhealthy supply of one and not the other. To find the two together would confirm the existence of certain sightings in Lochness. With the sad realities of life settled and accepted, I filed the meeting in the back of my mind in a cabinet called “Keep Dreaming” and went home.
Three days later, my BlackBerry vibrated as a message came through. Only as I write this does the writer inside appreciate the true effect of that message. As my phone vibrated on my study table, small ripples of fate rippled off into space, changing the normal occurrence of things. Time expanded as good luck altered the chain of causality.
It was her.
When I arrived at the café I was a bit anxious. Nonetheless, I asked the waiter for a table and begged the nervous voices in my head to keep their cool. We had gone from hello to meeting in such a short time I had to consciously stop myself from looking out of the window every two minutes, watching and waiting for the karma delivery truck I was sure would come crashing through the café, heading straight for me.
I did not notice her when she arrived. At the time, I happened to be engrossed in the criminal prosecution of a teabag which had shirked its divine duty to take its own life by drowning itself in my mug of hot water. After a brisk sentence it was given its last rites and sent to its scalding fate. When she sat down across me, I had to force myself to ignore the dying screams emanating from my mug and focus on her.
She had an easy beauty about her, like she had woken up and threw it on because it was the last thing in her wardrobe. It was not the glossy magazine beauty; it was the kind you try to look at secretly but wind up staring at for too long until you are caught in the act.
I was fully prepared for the exchange of pleasantries that is a staple at these kinds of meetings, but she skipped over them and went straight to the good stuff. I was caught off guard with the “how was your day” still hovering on my lips, and before my senses righted themselves, I was “it” in our conversational game of tag. I faltered for a minute at the unexpected change of pace, and suddenly giddy with the thrill of seeing where this would take me, I chased along.
Around tea and over books I chased. I finally caught her at friends. As I tagged her I ran away as fast as I could, but I only managed to make it as far as films and music before I was caught on food. We chased each other around for a bit through Cape Town, comic books and documentaries before we stopped, panting but elated, at traveling.
She, having traversed more of the world, told me about the tattoos in her passport. She had an enviable collection, each one with a different story to tell. As we sat sipping refills of our tea, we landed on the soft sands of Bali and visited the clamorous markets of India before jetting off to the UK and the US. As she spoke about traveling and her plans to ink more experiences in her adventure book, her eyes lit up and ignited the air around her. I sat and basked in the heat of her narration and her experiences.
My travel tattoos were more local than hers, yet she inspected them and nodded approvingly at each one. As we sat at the table, we traveled from one place to another, ticking off each wonder we had seen or wanted to see, already writing each other the “Wish You Were Here” postcards.
We spent the entire afternoon at the café. The topics ping-ponged from me to her and back to me again. As the evening eased into night, we became a small island of conversation in the sea of patrons that ebbed and flowed around us. Sometimes we talked with words, and when we ran out of those, we spoke with our minds.
Late into the night we talked, about younger and older days. For once, I spoke without reservation and she, either from politeness or from recognising that we had the same voices in our heads, listened. And we laughed too, in both voice and thought.
When the café owner came to tell us it was nearly closing time, the dream haze we were in evaporated, only to be replaced by the harsh lights of reality. Time began its steady tick, quietly telling us that there were other places we had to go. There were other people waiting for us.
We paid the bill and then walked out of the café.
Outside, the stars were twinkling and a cold breeze swept the quiet street. We stood and faced each other. And then we said goodbye. We walked off in different directions. I pulled my collar up to ward off the breeze and lengthened my gait to pull me away from the café and the conversation, but mostly from the tea, and the girl.
I don’t know whether she looked back.