I knew it was Alexandra. I could feel her strong presence as she entered the cafe for our Monday morning chat. Even though I could not see it, I could tell, exactly, the moment that she stood still to take in the scene, unmoving by the doorway, gazing across the busy tables, her vision locking on to the spectacle . . .
I had worn the best of my suits. Following a purge of what turned out to be fourteen of them, I had three remaining, of which this plain blue travel suit was the best. It was freshly laundered and pressed. It felt strange to be back in it after three years of living the very opposite of the IT corporate life from which I had departed. Chinos and a good shirt were my usual ‘best dressed’ these days.
But she wasn’t looking at the unusual sight of me in a suit . . .
Around me was a circle of silent people. Despite the usual crush of Monday morningers, as we had come to know them (and us), there was an eerie quiet over several tables on either side. They were waiting, as people often do in this situation. They were waiting to find out why the usual emotional space in which they lived had been ‘stopped’.
You needed the eyes of good friends in a scene like this. Good friends need not be those you already know – in fact, they are often completely new to you; and hence of the moment, which is everything. My particular good friends of this moment of presence were a rotund couple, presumably grandparents of the two red-faced and excited children, both in stripey tops and clutching buckets and spades still in the post-purchase netting. Several minutes prior, the children had caught my conspiratorial wink, and had, gleefully, winked back at me, whispering to a silent and astonished Janet and John senior that there was a game being played . . . Children are wonderful accomplices, if you solicit their help at the right moment.
There is also, of course, the danger of a real madman, so people are cautious, too. But I wasn’t radiating the same sort of vibes you would get in that situation. I was making it comic, but unexplained, and that can be a powerful combination, as mime artists throughout history would attest.
There was a cough behind me.
“It deserved a response,” I said, looking at Janet and John senior but not talking to them. I winked again at the kids, who crushed together and waved their little legs in glee.
“It was that good?” Alexandra said to the back of my neck.
“It was better than that . . .”
“Will I need to help you drink your coffee?” she asked.
“No, but you might straighten my tie, if you would be so kind – I think it has twisted a bit.”
“It has,” she said, leaning over our usual small coffee table and adjusting the oversized, orange knot I had carefully tied an hour ago, before wresting myself into the suit jacket at the back of the car.
“The tie would be one of nine you have left, I take it?”
I laughed at the cleverness of that. “Yes, I used to have nine, but we have only one remaining.”
“Nine of nine?” she asked.
“Going out in style?”
“A suitable response to that magnificent performance of yours last week!”
I heard her chuckle. “Well, a girl’s gotta graduate some time . . .”
“Can you turn around and drink your coffee?” she asked.
“Can’t possibly,” I said, rolling my eyes at Janet junior who giggled and shook her head, certain that one couldn’t.
“Because the Nine has his head backwards by virtue of a jacket, shirt and tie that cover his back and not his front.”
“Nope,” said the reversed man. “Now, you’ve stopped trying and are getting piqued!”
I heard her sit down and drink some coffee. The whole cafe had dropped into silence. It can be like that, being creatively different or an idiot, depending on your perspective; but, if you stick with it, amazing things can happen.
There was an audible in-breath, the sort you’d take if you were a barrister and about to make your closing address. Then she let it out and giggled. “The suit isn’t turned around – you are!”
“Big difference?” the reversed man asked.
“Huge difference.” I could feel her neck straightening as the point of the charade came clear.
“He’s turned away . . . he’s fully equipped for the best of life if he were just to use it, but he’s turned away!”
“Metanoia.” I said.
“Greek. Metanoia was wrongly translated when the versions of the Bible we use today were being assembled.” I could feel her listening. “Metanoia was rendered as ‘repent’, but its root word means a turning around.”
“‘Unless ye turn around‘ . . .” said my clever and learned friend. “To face what?”
“To face where you came from – our shared divine origin. I looked at John junior’s shining eyes and smiled back, drawing a pretend halo over my head – something quite difficult in a backwards suit. He laughed with me and swung his feet again, enjoying the strangest Punch and Judy show he’d ever seen.
“I get it,” she said, much closer than she should have been. With a strength I didn’t know she possessed, she spun my chair around and I looked up into eyes which were shining every bit as much as John junior’s. “I get it,” she repeated, as I ground to a halt. “Now drink your bloody coffee and let all these people have their breakfast!”
There was spontaneous applause at her actions, as everyone returned to a normal Monday morning. There were tears in her eyes. “But someone from ‘in life’ had to swing you around didn’t they?” she said.
I looked back with tenderness into the tears. Shaking my head, I started to speak, “It’s a mirr. . .” But she hung her head and sniffed, speaking very low; really getting it.
“It wasn’t you that was turned around, was it . . . ” It was not a question.
“No,” I said softly. Leaning forward and planting a small kiss on the top of her head. “No.”
“And you did all this for me,” she looked up and around at a room returned to its normal state.
“For anyone who comes to the gate and asks,” I said softly.
It was a little while later. I had, at Alexandra’s insistence, put my jacket on correctly, and removed my tie. At least I now just looked like a vicar, she had said, leaving for her train.
Rose arrived at my table with a fresh coffee. She had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. I looked down at the coffee cup. She had placed the saucer upside down on the cup’s rim. On the top of the inverted saucer were a neatly folded bill and a delicately-balanced, heart-shaped chocolate from a Black Magic selection.
“Five coffees and two ice creams.” she barked, smiling into my open-mouthed response. “Three for you and the lady, and the rest for your backstage team behind – it’s the least you can do.”
I could only agree; and turned to smile at the four happy faces grinning at me, tucking into the additional course.
“And the chocolate?”
“Made me cry, too – you idiot; and I’ve no idea why . . .”
Behind me, John junior’s legs were swinging, happily, making the whole floor tremble.