28 pages remained. 28 pages and 20 hours. 20 hours left in the City. I wanted to finish the book. I wanted to finish it, and then pass it on to a stranger. I wanted them to feel how the book made me feel. I wanted to sit in the same seat. I wanted the sun to be in shining into the cafe in exactly the same spot. The intensity of its heat to be the same. To feel the same warming of my bones. I was ready to hunker into the faux suede seat and clasp hot tea in one hand, rest the cup on my chest and feel the steam filming on my skin. With the other hand I was going to turn the pages in my lap. I was going to improve on yesterday and slip off my shoe. I wore shoes today. Not sneakers. The shoes would slip off, and I could then tuck my right leg underneath the left and rest it on the faux suede sofa. This would be better than yesterday. More relaxed. Ready to come to the end.
I thought about holding off. Not coming to the end but holding it, suspending their lives. I had fallen in love. Not romantically. But I cared. I watched them grow and change and had seen what they failed to see. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I thought about leaving the last few pages to remain within the closed covers. Huddling together. Holding the secret. Withholding the end. I would then leave it someplace. Someplace where I could return to. Where it would wait. Absorbing the smells that all books absorb. Waiting for me to return.
My spot in the sun was taken. No…. My spot in the sun was there, but it was different from the day before. A man sat up against the invisible line where my left leg had been. I bit my lip to recover from the alterations to the plan. I’d sit under the big perspex artwork that hung on the wall. I’d sit on the padded stool. Underneath it. I was in the sun. I would wait.
A girl. Aged 4 or 5, was sitting on the floor. She was humming to herself. Her hands worked steadily to build up a wall of interconnected bricks of primary colours. She was strategic in her method. No two identical colours sat together. To her, the outside world didn’t exist. A chocolate donut, sat on a white plate, on top of a low table. It was frosted with tiny sprinkles of coloured sugar. It had one bite out of it. The circumference of the bite was small. It was a child’s bite. It was barely detectable.
The man on the sofa, sidling up to my space, was in conversation with a lady whose hair was more grey than blonde. I worked my way down the page of my book. Not one word of their words penetrated my world.
I sensed a shift in the energy. The conversation beside me, between the man and the older woman was wrapping up. Sentence no longer tumbled after sentence. I felt excited. I was going to get my spot. The sun was still resting on the faux suede.
‘Boo’. The man called to the child. ‘It is time to leave, eat up your donut or we will have it’. The girl continued to build a turret.
‘Boo, (was that her name or a call of endearment?)…hurry up and eat it or you will not have it’. She carried on. She was surveying her wall.
‘Boo!’ The girl got up and bit a morsel from the ring of brown dough.
‘Eat it up’, he said, urging her.
‘Cut it into small pieces’, the woman sitting next to him suggested. ‘It’s far too much for her’.
‘Eat it all up’. he said. His insistence was affecting my breath.
The little girl used her hand to pull away a dark clump of hair from her face. She picked up a cube of donut and shoved it into her mouth. Her lips protruded over the baked confection, her face pressed into the air in the direction of the man. Defiance. Compliance.
‘Hurry up…we’ve got to go!’ he insisted again. The tension was rising in my chest. I wanted to look close into his face and say…’she isn’t hungry, she doesn’t want it’. I didn’t. Couldn’t.
The girl, pushed back the unruly clump of hair once more and passed the remaining pieces into her mouth whilst chewing furiously.
The man picked up a toy. He pressed the nose of a pink, tuxedo wearing pig, into her face and said…’that’s your reflection that is’.
Mortification took rise to anger in my chest. Horror. Disbelief. Would that moment of smiling, passive aggression hold in the little girl mind, or was it only witnessed by me?
The little girl took the mans hand and they left the spot on the sofa. The spot in the sun, clear for me to finish the book.
I moved over to the spot and the sun held me. I prayed the little girl would not have fallen under the spell of the man’s words. That she wouldn’t have a lifetime being bullied and confused. I prayed that he would see his own reflection…and change.
The words in the book soothed with the sun. When I got to the end. I happily passed them on.