“You’re a tall one!” The man said, catching my attention as I weaved my way through the crowded cafe dining area, busy with the lunch time rush hour. Acknowledging his comment, I smiled and sat down in a vacant seat at a small table next to his. Although struck by the broadness of his midriff, pronounced by the grubby tee-shirt stretched over his stomach, I noted he wasn’t so short himself. He beamed a smile over to me, before filling his mouth with a forkful of sausage and beans squashed together.
I made myself as comfortable as I could in a chair, which moved and creaked at each joint in the frame, challenged by my own eighty-two and a half kilograms. The queue at the front of the cafe extending from the service counter, had grown in the few minutes since my arrival. It’s August, the month when the locals who can afford to move out, as the visitors move in. I identified a high proportion of diners populating the cafe, as tourists. While confounded in thought, wondering why they came here, instead one of the popular high street establishments, my fellow diner delivered his second comment in my direction.
“I’d kill myself if I was short.” A simple statement delivered with nonchalance, but not one I’d ever heard said before, word-for-word.
“Really? You’d kill yourself?” I said.
“If I was short I would.” Without looking up from his plate, more English breakfast was eagerly consumed. “It’s the women, they all want a tall bloke, don’t they? Taller than themselves.” Juice from the baked beans ran down the knife he held and in a reflex action, he licked his fingers, drying them on a tissue-paper serviette laid on the table next to his plate. He gave me another large smile. “It’s true, don’t you reckon? Just look around.”
While undecided if I wanted responsibility for extending the conversation, I found myself saying “Why do you think that is?”
“Well…” leaning forward and lowering the volume of his voice a little, he said “It’s protection, they like to feel protected by their man.” His voice shrank to a whisper, “When I see a good-looking chap walking down the street who’s shorter than average, I always think, poor bloke! He’s got it right in one department and badly wrong in the other, that’s what I think.”
“But plenty of women are around five foot two, three, or four. A shortish man would still be taller than many women.” I said, feeling drawn into an ill-prepared analysis.
Taking a break from his main task, my dining colleague wiped his mouth with his forearm, finished chewing a mouthful of food, swallowed and hit a clenched fist hard against his chest, releasing a loud belch. “No, even small women want tall men, believe-you-me.” The waitress arrived with my flat white coffee, I thanked her, she gave a modest smile and returned to the kitchen. Watching her as she walked away, I noticed she was probably no more than five feet two inches. “Her man, he works here too, sometimes takes your order at the counter, other times brings the food out. Now, he’s taller than either one of us. Short and tall goes together, proves it, see?”
I sensed he wasn’t seeking an affirmation from me about his theory. I continued with stirring the sugar into my coffee, causing the liquid to spin around and form a small maelstrom inside the cup.