In Conversation with the Coffee Shop Stalker
I was in Costa Coffee when the large middle-aged woman who I’d already christened my coffee shop stalker came in and sat down next to me on the long sofa up against the back wall.
For someone who seemed to be as much of an early-evening regular as myself I’d already previously identified her as a bit odd when I arrived one day to find her sitting at the oddly-positioned table that would have allowed her to look over my shoulder if I were to sit in my usual seat; on the days when I wasn’t relegated to sitting outside the toilet.
I decided that I’d go and sit there anyway, because there were students on the other side, and they’re always worth their money, such as the time when I got the low-down about how one girl had been arrested for shoplifting baby powder, whilst a boy across the table from me tried to finger her friend; this was before I got to examine the contents of her text messages, which were narrated, and she did seem to put it about1.
All my mental seating plans whilst still in the queue, however, were academic because before my very eyes the coffee shop stalker got up and moved the half-metre around the low partition wall and went and sat there herself. She knew what she was doing: she had her favourite seat, and I had my favourite seat, and although it didn’t have a blue plaque above it or anything, yet, it was still my seat.
After collecting my drink I walked straight past her and the students and went to sit in the window, like an Amsterdam hooker, but as soon as I’d put my drink down, and taken my coat off, she then upped and moved again across the room to her usual, highly-padded, chair. Whilst I responded, by moving tables myself to the one she’d vacated, I considered that either we were playing out some-sort of coffee shop chess, or that she was starting a territory turf-war.
And to think that most normal people go into a coffee shop, grab a drink, and think literally nothing of it.
Another notable incident with the coffee shop stalker was when she was ensconced in her usual chair and was joined by a man at the table, who I assumed to be her partner, with long straggly hair and his slow reactions as if he’d fried his mind with acid in the seventies and somehow lived to tell the tale. Costa must have been quiet that day as I started absorbing their entire conversation and realised it was as if they were work-shopping a Harold Pinter play and thought that someone should be writing this stuff down, as there are art-theatres in London that would lap this stuff up, and so I did.
Of course I did.
- To set the scene they were both sat, facing each other, in silence for several minutes, before she asked him what he was having for his tea.
- He said he didn’t know, picked up the coffee receipt, and exclaimed “twenty points” as if he were gaining insight from the words and being mentally nourished as if by the writings of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- A silence of several minutes.
- She then asked him what he was having for his tea again.
- He still didn’t know.
- She proclaimed that she liked wraps, but didn’t have any in, and stood up knocking over his Argos carrier bag which was propped up against the table.
- He said it didn’t matter.
- She took him at his word and stomped off to the counter, to try to buy a sandwich, where she explained to the Barista how she wasn’t hungry now and didn’t actually eat that much in a story that was not backed up by the size of her girth.
- He then got up and picked up his trampled belongings.
- He then sat down and picked up the Costa Coffee receipt and proclaimed “twenty points”.
- She returned with her sandwich and they ended with a big awkward-looking snog.
So finally, sitting next to my coffee shop stalker, I knew what to expect, but didn’t necessarily know what I was going to get.
I just looked straight ahead, and carried on with my writing, as if I hadn’t noticed, and she was eventually joined by a female friend who turned up with two hot drinks and sat down opposite her. Before she could hand one of them over she repeatedly sipped at both of them, testing them out, until she’d worked out which one was hers. She then slid the other across the table. The coffee shop stalker, with the leftover drink, just sat there with it for a moment before piping up: “What did I ask for? WHAT did I ask for?” as if she were chastising a small child or rubbing a dog’s nose in it. She then clarified to her friend that she actually couldn’t remember what it was that she had asked for, but added that if it helped she could remember what it was that she was thinking of ordering when she was outside.
That matter unresolved she then just sat there whilst her friend drank her drink, over a brief conversation about the fat-content of frozen potato wedges, before finally the coffee shop stalker took a first sip of her own. She then exclaimed that it didn’t taste of caramel, and then effectively complained that she thought it didn’t taste like what she thought she might have asked for.
I just raised an eyebrow and considered that, even though I was there writing Christmas monologues that day, about turkeys called Irene and the like, I somehow came off as the normal-sounding one.
Footnote 1 – Another time there were three new college students on a table opposite and the boy was being cocky, showing off in front of the two girls, and audibly declared: “I can tell you what size you are”. This’ll be good, I thought, metaphorically setting out my stall for some entertainment. Girl One said “Alright, what size is she?” gesturing to Girl Two. I didn’t have a clue what he was sizing up, or what he was going to say, but surely none of us expect him to say “Four”. As the girls exclaimed “Four?” he just nonchalantly shook it off in much the way any god awful child who knows nothing about the world might.