Ali says: “He started coming in a few weeks ago, and after a few days I assumed he was going to be a regular customer, and that he was going to buy the same thing every time. We smile at each other, and he tells me about simple things, like the weather.”
This is reminding her of when they first met, when he would talk while they waited for infrequent late-night buses to take them home. He would deliver accounts of the events that pressed on his mind, talking hotly, and close to her ear at times, while around them the clamour of the city fell into a muted hum. On-board the crowded bus, they would find seats as close together as possible, and if she tried to pursue something that they had been talking about earlier, he would mouth a “shush” to her, and place a finger to his lips. In those close, observed confines, he was conscious, she knew, of sounding different. It bothered him. So, she’d have to wait. Thus captivated, her journey would relentlessly drag.
She watches him spear a piece of lamb: he looks at it, and turns it on the fork. He’s always eaten this way, examining what he’s about to put into his mouth. Once, after arguing, they ate dinner in a sour mood, and she thought about how difficult it would be to poison his food, how he’d sniff it on his fork, pull a face, ask what was in it, then lay it down uneaten.
“Do you know what he buys each day?” he says, scrutinising a pile of rice grains that he’s shovelled up, as if trying to count them.
“Let me try to guess,” she says. She enjoys this kind of game. “First though, what does he wear?”
He holds an index finger up in the air as a hang-on-a-minute, while he chews his mouthful. He swallows the food. “He wears office clothes,” he says. “Shirt and tie, black shoes. His trousers have creases from sitting for long periods. At a desk, probably. He comes in at about the same time every day: around four o’clock.” He thinks, then says, “I say every day, but that’s not quite true. Almost every day. When he doesn’t come in, I notice.”
© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2013.