Looking at how I set out my table when in a cafe, I will concede to the casual observer there is something evident to suggest behaviour akin to OCD. I rationalise this, by telling myself the layout is practical, logical, of good composition – easy on the eye and serving a good purpose in terms of energy efficiency.
By design, I also see it as cooperative. The waitress is able to glide my plate down in a gentle descent, sliding it gracefully into the landing area between the neatly laid out cutlery. She has no obstructions to manoeuvre around or over. Bottles of sauce, salt and pepper, a glass of water, a coffee cup and saucer are distributed evenly in order of height, on both forward flanks of the table. At this stage and in anticipation of her approach, the paper serviette is already opened up and resting across my lap, ensuring the minimisation of unhelpful distractions within the busy environment of a dining area.
It seems to work, no incidents have been recorded. I have yet to experience an upturned plate of food on my knees and so far, no coffee has been spilt. In point of fact, the waitress executes delivery to practised perfection.
I frequent an Italian-run, traditional cafe where the many variations of a fry-up breakfast dominate the brightly coloured laminated menu. Mercifully for me, with reference to my chronic shyness, food orders are taken at the counter rather than at the table. Naturally, I still have to speak, but at least not under the imagined spotlight of table-service. I wait at the counter for my coffee and I collect my own cutlery and condiments, before finding a table as far away as is possible from anyone present.
* * *
Mia, the waitress at Angelo’s Cafe, likes the colour black. Her hair, tied up in an immaculate bun on her head is a natural, dark shade of black. She usually wears a long-sleeved, black cotton top with matching colour leggings and high top trainers with a white trim. She is slight of frame and in possession of a refreshingly cheerful demeanour. I noticed her eighteen weeks ago, just as summer had started and the days were beginning to feel warmer.
As chance would have it, Mia often brought my food order over to me. It didn’t take her long to notice my table top layout, given away by just a hint of a smile as she approached. Over all this time, she’d never actually made mention of it and yet, I detected a light-humoured element of theatrical plate placement creep in, as she became familiar with my arrangement.
Today, Mia went further.
I have a tendency to watch her thumb as my food approaches, I can’t help myself. Subconsciously, I’m making sure the thumb doesn’t stray into the scrambled egg or baked beans – which if it were to, would make consumption impossible. I tend to become somewhat transfixed, with only sparing glances darting here and there around the table, checking everything is prepared and in its place. On this day, the plate swooped in and settled slightly off dead-centre between the cutlery.
As my eyes rested upon a decently produced breakfast, my peripheral vision gave information suggesting Mia had sat herself down in front of me. This was a first. I looked up, she had leant forward slightly in her chair, an elbow resting on the table and her perfectly understated chin resting in the delicate palm of her hand. Mia’s head was cocked slightly to the left, her large brown eyes staring into my own. With eyebrows raised slightly, a red lipstick smile widened pleasingly, showing-off a suggestion of perfectly shaped white teeth.
My attempt to reciprocate resulted in a smile twitching unconvincingly at both ends. In a self-conscious manner, I flattened out the paper serviette across my knees. Quickly, I abandoned the action, fearing this being construed as fiddling with my trousers. Meanwhile, Mia rested her head to the other side, bringing her other hand up and out across the table. I have no idea where she thought she was going with it, but before I could unravel the mystery, she’d knocked over the small, plastic topped, glass salt pot. As a result, I’d estimate several thousand grains of salt spilled out across the table.
“Oops!” She said, grimacing, “I’m so sorry, I’ll clear it up.” Drawing the side of her hand across surface, she began ushering the spillage towards the table edge. Although startled and confused by the antics, I knew in my heart she’d be unable to clear away the mess entirely.
“It’s okay,” I blurted out, “please don’t worry, it’s only some salt.” Mia ignored my intervention and continued with what she’d started, her other hand cupped ready to catch the wasted salt. What had started off as a miniature, snake shaped sand dune, soon became dispersed over a much wider area. “Honestly, please, it’s alright.” In a nervous reaction, I lifted up the paper serviette to my chin, only to realise I’d scrunched it into a tight ball while the drama had been unfolding.
“It was an accident, I’m sorry – I understand how particular and tidy you are. I’d noticed your fork needed straightening, I’d knocked it slightly when I brought down the plate, I hope I haven’t spoilt your meal.”
* * *
Was this woman a sadist? I wondered to myself, was she getting a kick out of this? I scanned her expression trying to decipher a clue to indicate self-satisfaction, but found none. Mia ceased with the clear up and rubbed her palms together to remove the salt, casting the grains into a free-fall descent towards the checkered, vinyl tiled floor. With an apologetic look upon her face, she finished off by slowly rubbing her hands backwards and forwards across the tops of her thighs.
I twitched a smile and blinked a few times, forcibly trying to remove a muscular tic I could feel in spasm underneath my left eye. “Would you mind?” Mia said, picking up the fork and twiddling it between her fingers before resting on a gentle grip midway along the stem of the implement. “I missed breakfast,” she whispered, “and I’m starving.” Without waiting for an acknowledgement, she plunged the shiny fork into the succulent, perfectly formed Cumberland sausage, which had been nestled neatly between two hash browns on the plate. Having established a firm hold, Mia rotated the sausage around slowly by use of her nimble fingers, before deftly dipping one end into a small pool of tomato juice, which had drained away from the main cluster of baked beans.
Having elevated her quarry up to mouth-level, she proceeded to blow short, cooling breaths through her pursed, red lips onto the very tip of the sausage. Although cross-eyed at this particular moment, I couldn’t help but notice how sweet and angelic she appeared. Having taken a delicate bite, Mia closed her eyes, let her head fall back ever-so slightly and chewed, while making sounds to indicate a mild sense of gratification.
Soon, she was ready for another mouthful, followed by another and another, until her lips pressed against the steel prongs of vertically held fork. “Do you want some?” A pointing hand gesture gave emphasis to her query. I dabbed at a bead of sweat tracing a line down my forehead using what had once been a paper serviette. Now melded with the sweat from my palm, it felt as hard as a golf ball.
The initial word of my reply emitted as a squeak, but after a short struggle, I succeeded in wrestling the intonation downwards in pitch for part of the second word “Yes… pl-ease.”. Without further ado, Mia proceeded to pick up the cutlery knife and cut a section of sausage off. This was then repositioned onto the fork, before squashing some hash brown and baked beans on for good measure. Her elbow and forearm swivelled into position and the prize presentation hovered temptingly in front of my mouth.
Raising her eyebrows at me, she said “Eat it!” Leaning towards her, I opened my mouth. Teasingly, she pulled away twice. On the third approach, I felt a warmth spread across my tongue and a taste I had been yearning for. Mia smiled and after a few seconds of delay, withdrew the fork from my mouth, returning it to the plate. “You’ve shared your food with me, now I want to share a story with you.”
* * *
This took me by surprise, “Really?” I said, politely holding my hand up in front of my mouth as I chewed on the food, savouring the flavour of the herbs in the sausage meat. My eyes moved between the plate of food and Mia’s face, if truth be known, I really wanted to eat rather than listen to a story. As I looked once again at my partially consumed breakfast, a brief telepathic connection occurred.
“It’s okay Mr. Brinkinfield,” Mia said, “you can keep on eating, just listen with your ears.” With a sense of relief sweeping down from my head to my toes I collected the cutlery into each hand eagerly and began cutting the food up into neat, modest-sized chunks suitable for ingestion. “I believe you are a Writer, I have heard your name mentioned around this town a few times and have come to recognise you.” Mia continued. “And, I know you write short stories.”
“And flash fiction – and poetry, or free-verse.” I interrupted, just before depositing another mishmash of sausage, mushrooms and baked beans into my mouth.
“Yes, that too.” She said, with just a hint of a dismissive tone in her voice. “But I read some of your ‘OCD Stories’ recently. These interest me in particular, because you come across as rather OCD yourself, if you don’t mind me saying.” Still with a mouthful of food, I shrugged my shoulders a little to indicate I didn’t mind her saying this and nodded my head to suggest agreement with her diagnosis. “Well, me too. I am affected by Obsessive, Compulsive Disorder. Although I reject the term disorder, as I don’t recognise anything disorderly about the condition – it’s quite the reverse, don’t you think?” I could see her point.
“I see your point.” I told her, before bringing the gradually cooling cup of cappuccino to my lips to take a sip. My mind wandered for a few moments as I contemplated how well coffee mixes with both sweet and savoury flavours. “So, Miss.” I said hesitantly, having brought the cup down harder onto the saucer than I had intended.
“No, I mean you can just call me Mia.”
“Right,” I said. My cheeks flushed pink and I cleared my throat, having read mild exasperation in her tone. “Mia, how does compulsive obsessive behaviour, affect you?” After repositioning the cup correctly into the indent on the saucer, I gave her my best ‘you have my full attention’ facial expression.
This had the desired effect, with eye contact established she proceeded to describe how her life had been dominated by OCD tendencies, up until relatively recently. Between mouthfuls of my remaining breakfast, gulps of coffee, sips of orange juice and dabs to my lips with a replacement serviette, I listened as intently as I knew how.
To Be Continued… (possibly)