Café Man

The man sitting two tables down from me is in trouble. I watch through the corner of my eye as he flicks through his newspaper, cursing under his breath at each article he passes over. He stops at once and abruptly reels away from the paper, swinging his gaze around the café, searching for another pair of eyes to share in his sense of bewildered indignity at what he has just read. Finding no one, he turns back to the paper and slaps it onto the bench beside him. He then picks up the Radio Times and slaps that on top of the main bulk, then the advertisement slip, finally the sport section is heaved onto the disordered pile which slides off the bench and onto the floor.

I flick my eyes around the café, trying not to move my head for fear of alerting the man to my awareness of his bizarre behaviour. No one else seems to have noticed him, though a couple of my fellow patrons are trying a little too hard to look nonplussed; they flick through their magazines just a touch too quickly.

The man slams his hands down onto the table and breaks out into song, but he can only remember two lines. He looks around himself again, hoping that someone remembers the next line; maybe they can help him, maybe they’ll join in.

A flick of the eyes reveals the same thing; no one even looks at the man.

The man rises from his seat, still singing the same two lines, caught in a desperate loop. He looks around, growing frantic, pleading for anyone to come and join him. He starts to dance, bobbing up and down in strange intervals, his legs not quite strong enough to give him a fluid motion. Everyone around me stares at their phones. I am transfixed through my peripherals.

There is a beautiful woman staring at her phone on the table beside mine (the reason for my choice of seat). The man spots her and life flashes across his vacant eyes. He starts bobbing towards her, half dancing, half staggering, half singing his half remembered song. She doesn’t even glance at him, just keeps her eyes fixed on the screen glowing in front of her face.

The man starts to lose his confidence and his dancing starts to waver, becomes even more erratic. With a swing of an arm he nearly knocks someone over. He instantly offers his most sincere apologies but the person doesn’t seem affected by him, they just keep staring at their phone.

I see a terrible transition of emotion wash across the man’s face; shame which turns to confusion, curdling into utter terror. I watch, no longer through my peripheral vision, as the man is gripped by an existential nightmare. Do these people even know he is there? Is he even there? Are they there or are they all insane? He couldn’t possibly be singing and dancing in a shit-arse café in the middle of the morning to no effect, could he? Someone would surely do something! At least look, or laugh, or tut or fucking anything! This was all wrong, his eyes cried. Was he gassed out on some operating table somewhere being opened up and scooped out? Or was he on the street, his heart having finally given out, approaching the end, caught in this awful limbo?

The people around me notice the man’s distress and turn their phones on him. Staring at him through the screens they start to film. The man shrieks and runs through the main doors but the barista is making the call on the café landline.

It’s too late for the man now, soon the others will be here to take him away and he’ll never be seen again. He should have just kept his head down, he should have just eaten it up and swallowed it down. Never make a scene, that’s how you get noticed.

The café returns to how it was before the man’s outburst. Sirens flash outside and I return to my coffee and book, the final two lines of his half remembered song on repeat inside my head.

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