Two-way Street

Sidling into my usual corner outside the local café, fumbling the shag from its pouch onto the rolling paper. Quickly scanning the dark street, seeing nothing. My hands shake a little as I turn the small sheet into a cigarette, licking it to a wet close.

“What a lovely night, wouldn’t you say?”
I looked up from the bench, smiling at the dishevelled, aged man who had just appeared out of the quaint, little café. He appeared to be rolling a cigarette. How charming. So fitting for a resident of this lovely, old town. I had been right in agreeing to meet with Angela and Mark here, they would adore it. “I hope you don’t mind me waiting here. You see, I’m just here on holiday with some friends. We came here by boat a couple of days ago…”

Instantly regretting my decision to go outside, I stepped backwards furtively. How had I not seen this woman, why was she here, what did she want, did she know me, what did she just say, should I go? It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, is it ok, is it ok? Light the cigarette. Inhale, inhale, exhale. I desperately mumbled something in response.

“…and then we went to the dearest, titchy theatre. What’s that, love? It was somewhere near the church I think, beautifully decorated.” The man appeared to be listening intently from his little corner, quietly puffing away at that cigarette of his. Such a good listener, you didn’t find that in the big city anymore. It was all hustle and bustle there now, no time for chitchat anymore. I went on to tell him just that.

Inhaling more smoke, still trying to find out what she wanted. Was she here to distract me? Distract me from what? She was still talking and talking. Looking at the street, it was empty. Having my final scotch of the day, the good Glenlivet, had been a mistake. Imagining my room, closing the door, locking the door. Instead of solitude, I was now cornered.

The man smoked at an amazing pace. His one hand was stuck deep into the pocket of his black coat but the other, clenching the cigarette, never seemed to leave his wrinkled face. He had the face of someone who had truly lived. Perhaps when Angela and Mark arrived he could tell us something about his life? Oh, they would love that. What wisdom lay behind those twinkling eyes?

“Excuse me, but would you perhaps be so kind as to tell me and my friends, the ones I just told you about, something about your person? You seem to have truly experienced life, and we would be so grateful to hear some of it. They should be here any minute.”

I could just run for it. Hand chop the woman, as they did in the movies. Then run. Lock the door. They would never find me. Glancing at the street. This time I saw two people. Casting long shadows in the lamplight. See, it was a distraction, they were here. Too late. The woman had asked me something, didn’t matter. Flicking my cigarette at her bright face, I ran.

Pauw Vos

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