Andrea Mara

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The Sour and the Sweet

My laptop and I are in a coffee shop for lunch. It’s a little bit because there’s no fresh bread at home, and a little bit because it’s good to get out. I’m grumpy, because my soup came with toasted sourdough. I could have toasted my not-fresh bread at home. Sourdough feels like an excuse for not-fresh bread. I butter it, thinking at least I’m out of the house.

Beside me, a man with headphones on is scribbling in a notebook. Transcribing an interview? Learning a language?

On my other side, a table of three women catch up – the conversation flits from the courts’ system to that guy from Dancing On Ice, or was it Dancing With The Stars, they wonder.

At the table opposite, a man with a wonderfully 1970’s moustache is reading a book. I try to see what it is but the cover is almost flat on the table and I can’t make it out.

At the table beside him, a young couple are in deep, deep conversation, heads together. He’s got the start of a beard, she is beautiful and possibly Spanish. They’re oblivious to the world around them.

An older man comes in – white hair, glasses, late sixties I think. He’s wearing a blue shirt and a suit, no tie. He sits and orders coffee, but he won’t order food yet – he’s meeting someone. He has a notebook and pen, but unlike my transcribing neighbour, he doesn’t write anything. He opens it and closes it and opens it again. He’s nervous.

The three women beside me are still talking, leaning in, pausing only for quick sips of latté.

Moustache-man is reading his book, still not letting me see the cover.

At the young couple’s table, there’s an empty chair – I look around, and see the girl behind a pillar, her hand to one ear, her phone to the other. Her expression is anxious, raw. I look away.

A young woman arrives in, early twenties, confident, warm. She greets the older man in the suit. She’s in charge. She’s talking, telling him about the job. He’s listening intently, and I can’t help feeling for him, this man who is at an informal interview with someone young enough to be his granddaughter. Please get the job.

The man beside me is still scribbling. Writing down lyrics from a song? Taking notes for an essay? I can’t see his screen. And I still can’t see the cover of moustache-man’s book.

The women beside me look warm and happy – their conversation and connection a tonic that’s visible on their faces.

The man in the suit is still listening intently, and I think he seems like the kind of man who will get the job.

The girl on the phone is back at the table. She walks over and hugs the guy. It’s the tightest hug I’ve ever seen. She’s tiny, completely wrapped in his arms. When they pull apart, I see they’re both smiling. The biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what the news is, but it’s the best news. And I suddenly, my throat is tight.

And the soup is good, and now it doesn’t matter that the bread is toasted.






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