I saw him do it. Thin bloke with glasses. Greying hair. Green cords. Nothing to write home about. Except then you look properly and pick up on something kind round the eyes.
I’d finished my coffee and cake. The only person in the place. I was in a corner seat. You can find yourself in a corner. There are corner people and there are out-in-the-open people. To look at me, you might take me for an out-in-the-open person. I’m not. Anyway, I’d finished, but I needed the loo. I debated whether to leave my handbag and coat, decided not to. You can’t be too careful.
In the bathroom, the light was good and the mirror honest. Unusual, actually. It’s fashionable to have dimness and a mirror dotted over with rust – also, taps to go to war with and a toilet that sounds like a train coming in when you’re done. No, I’d sooner have a clear mirror. Okay, I’m speckled over with age, but that’s the truth. And I’m all for the truth. Afterwards, I freshened up my lipstick, touched some water on to my temples, brushed my hair out.
It’s strange to see someone in a seat you’ve just left. You feel put out. Well, that was my first thought, which got me to the middle of the room. But then I was about level with the table, my table, when he picked my cup up and, twisting it round, put his lips on it. I saw this. I also saw the lips he’d put his mouth on. Lips left by me. Lipstick. And seeing them, my lips tingled so much I had to press them together, sort of kiss myself, to take care of the tingle.
I had been making for the door; now I veered myself round and here I was back at the counter, as if I’d just come in. The waitress frowned, but said nothing. I ordered a cup of tea. And went to a table two down from him. I took off my coat and draped it over the opposite chair. I sat down and the coat looked like another person.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched. He was completely still. Then his drink, a frothy coffee, arrived and this was when I saw his smile and the niceness surrounding the eyes. The waitress didn’t see it – or if she did, she didn’t want anything to do with it. She took away the used crockery. And now he pulled out a book, which he opened. I was grateful to the book, since I needn’t rely on the corner of my eye any more; I could swing my sight right round.
My tea was brought. I sipped too early and burnt my lip. I didn’t care, I was gripped.
As he read, he slouched over, crossed his legs, became twisted about in his seat; he was getting into the story. And, convinced he was going to disappear into it, I flustered, panicked – so I said something. Told him I had seen what he did. Not with any accusation. I simply needed to tell him.
You seemed shocked at first. Even a little frightened. But then you smiled and your eyes lit up. Your back straightened and your legs undid themselves, and you appeared to be saying you were back in the world. And now – now I’m waiting for you to really say something. The cup is in front of you with my mouth on it. But you haven’t looked at it once, because – well, because you’ve been looking at this mouth. The real one.
Simon Howells was born in Wales in 1971.