In a station of the metropolis

A woman has come round the side of the counter to watch me make a latte.

I put the froth on the milk and then put the coffee in the milk very slowly. It is a good latte because the coffee and the milk are separated. I keep my eye off the woman and take the man’s money. He asks for a spoon. He stirs everything together and I tell him to have a nice day.

Peter walks slowly past me with his apron hanging down off his stomach. He looks at me and sighs. Sorry I’ve forgotten your name. Is it Ferdinand?

No it’s not Ferdinand.

Oh. I thought it was Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand, how could it possibly be Ferdinand?” says a man sitting by the till.

A group of five or six old men come down from the room upstairs and put on hats and coats and scarves. They leave in single file slowly.

A man with white hair wearing a collar from the church comes behind the counter and says the BBC are coming soon. Do we have enough skimmed milk because they’ll certainly want skinny lattes.

The BBC?

A woman with red hair, Charlotte, says there is no way she is doing an interview. “I get all nervous and then I can’t speak properly. I’ll just say a load of rubbish.”

I watch Peter decorating the children’s play area. He is slowly moving his brush backwards and forwards. He’s an ironic man. I can’t think of anything to say so I go back behind the counter.

The man sitting by the till sips from his mug. He says “You’d be good at guitar with them fingers.”

“I tried playing once but it hurt.”

“Yeah it hurts but you get hard skin.”

“Mm. Do you play?”

“I play the Spanish guitar.”

“Ah.”

“Don’t I play Spanish guitar Charlotte? She never believed me when I said I play it but I do.”

“If you look at him he doesn’t look like the kind of person who would play Spanish guitar does he. But one day he just brought it in and played all day. Proper serenaded me.”

The man raises his eyebrows and sips from his mug. He nods at me.

“Eh Charlotte don’t you think he’d be good at guitar with them fingers? Thin fingers. Do you find it hard to put on weight?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, classic hecktomorph.”

“What?”

“Hecktomorph. Body type. Three body types. Yours, long and thin, medium, medium, and fat,” he looks at Charlotte, “fat.”. He looks at me. “You’re a hecktomorph.”

“I haven’t introduced you two yet, sorry, this is Craig, and although he is a very mean man he does know what he’s talking about. He’s a PE teacher. In a prison.”

“Mhm.”

“But he is a mean man. He once called me an orangutan and made me cry. I used to be very fat. Much fatter than I am now.”

“Yeah,” Craig laughs. “I went to Chester zoo once with me kids and took a picture of an orangutan. Came back and said look who I saw at the zoo, it’s your sister!”

Someone says the people that were using the room upstairs for a creative writing session or something have made a mess.

Charlotte says she is fuming because she just spent two hours tidying upstairs the other day. She goes upstairs.

Dan comes in with Steve, and they ask where Charlotte is. I can’t remember. I try and think about where Charlotte is. She’s gone upstairs to see if they’ve left the room untidy says a woman with white hair.

The woman with white hair, who I think is called Mary, asks me if I have a big garden at my house. I say yes it’s quite big, and my mum likes planting things like bamboos.

“Ooh, a posh garden then!” says another woman with white hair called Patricia.

A woman and two men in suits come in and sit down at the table next to the window. “That’s them!” says the man from the church.

“Who?” says Mary.

“The BBC!” says Patricia.

“Ooh,” I say.

“Right, better get making some skinny lattes, for them media types!”

We all go back into the kitchen and look through the gap in the wall.

The woman from the BBC comes over. She sees four people hiding in the kitchen looking at her. My head is most visible, I am the youngest, and I have long hair. She asks me if I am Charlotte.

“No, I’m not Charlotte, Charlotte’s upstairs, do you want me to tell her you’re here?”

“Oh sorry, no it’s ok thank you, I’ll say hello when she comes down, can we just have two skinny lattes please?”

“Of course, I’ll bring them over.”

“Thank you so much.”

Peter sits down at a table with Dan and Steve. They look in pain, especially Peter, who sighs. Someone asks him how he’s keeping. He says he is bearing up under the strain of existence. Dan looks sad. Charlotte comes downstairs and says hello boys. Are you ok my love? Yes thanks Charly, I am fantastic.

Charlotte tells me to make Peter a tea and Dan a latte in a takeout cup.

When I put the lid on the cup some of the froth spurts out of the mouth hole and rests on the top of the cup. I think about wiping it away with the cloth but the cloth has dettol on it. I get another lid. The same thing happens.

I walk over to Peter and give him his tea.

“Oh, thank you.”

“Do you want any milk.”

“Yes please Sir.”

I bring him the milk.

I bring the cup with the froth on it over to Dan. I put it down on the table and leave.

I watch from behind the counter.

He looks down at the cup. He sees the froth. He scoops it up with his finger and licks it. He looks out the window.

I roll up my sleeves.

Mary is asking Patricia about her garden.

“Yes, when the children were small, and that’s ever such a long time ago now, we used to have a badminton court in the garden,” says Patricia.

“Oh, that must have been nice.”

“Yes, we have a very big lawn, so in the summer we would set up a court, and it was a good size, big enough for you to properly run back and go for the big shots.”

Patricia leans back and whacks an imaginary shuttlecock.

Peter walks through the kitchen with his empty cup of tea.

“Do you have an art degree?” he asks me.

“Not yet,” I say.

“You should be doing this.” He points at the paint in the children’s play area.

I thought he was talking about arts and humanities.

As I am about to leave Peter asks me if I’m back now.

“Yes, back from Germany, but I’m going back to Durham in a few days.”

“You know the pink panther went there?”

Dur-am, dur-am; dur-am, dur-am, dur-am

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