Anna leaned back in her chair, shielding her eyes with a hand as she cast them up to the sky. It was a fine day in June, with only wisps of cloud between her and the glare of the sun. Not for the first time, she regretted not having brought any sunglasses with her, odd with her smart pinstripe grey jacket and matching trousers as they might have looked. She’d added a splash of colour with a pink blouse. Denner were an important client, so she’d wanted to make a good impression, as always. But it somehow didn’t seem right for a designer not to have a little something about them.
The briefing meeting had gone well, she’d thought. Designing posters for their next seasonal advertising campaign was, perhaps, not one of the most inventive assignments she’d had, but it was regular work, and she couldn’t really complain about that. She’d had to take the bus to get here, though, and the meeting had conveniently finished just late enough that she’d missed the one she’d hoped to get. Narrowly missing it was particularly frustrating when the next bus wouldn’t be along for another hour, but it would have been inappropriate to cut the meeting short. At least there wasn’t much reason to get home early, since Monika had mentioned that she was going to be out today too.
Anna had decided to get a coffee and spend some time thinking about ideas for the brief she’d just received rather than standing around on the street. She’d seen a small cafe just across the road from the bus stop, so she could keep an eye out for the bus in case it came early. The place was clean but a little tired-looking, strewn with white round tables and plastic chairs. It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon, and it hadn’t taken her long to buy her coffee and sit down at one of the three tables outside - not only the better to watch out for her bus, but also to enjoy the breeze.
She pulled out her notepad and a pencil, placing the former beside her coffee on the table and biting the end of the latter. Gazing around the street, she hoped to spot something that might give her an idea, but nothing about the office buildings or cars around here seemed to help. Putting down the pencil, she drank some of her no-longer-scalding coffee, then picked it up again and doodled a pattern on her pad in lieu of coming up with any ideas.
A rather petulant woman’s voice interrupted her from her faux-concentration. “I guess it will do. We’ve been walking for long enough already.” Anna turned in the direction of the sound, and saw a tall, tanned woman in a billowy floral dress and a large floppy hat, her blonde hair hanging down the sides of her face. It looked like she was in her thirties. She was accompanied by a harried-looking man perhaps a decade her senior wearing a sharp, dark suit without a tie, his brow glistening with sweat between his neatly-parted dark hair and his half-rimmed glasses. The woman had the air of someone rather wealthy and spoiled, while her companion seemed none too pleased with how his day was going. Anna didn’t particularly care to attract the attention of either. They walked past her into the cafe, and she turned back to her musing.
Before long, though, it was interrupted by raised voices coming out of the door, a few metres behind her. With the road noise outside, she couldn’t pick out exactly what they were saying, but the odd word filtered out. It sounded like the man was apologising for something, and the woman was complaining about a soy milk cappuccino. A minute later the couple emerged and approached the table furthest from hers. The woman drew up a chair, scraping it along the pavement, and sat down heavily, while her beleaguered companion sat down beside her after placing two cups on the table.
Anna once again attempted to turn her attention back to her impending work. She opened a flap on her bag and pulled out one of the documents she’d been handed an hour earlier which listed the products that they wanted to feature in their promotional materials. Even though it was routine work, she hoped to come up with something a little different to make an impression. That might be a challenge with this material, though…
“Why are you looking at her?” demanded the woman, suddenly and loudly. Anna looked up again and saw the woman gesturing in her direction. She looked back in puzzlement.
The man shook his head vigorously. “I was just looking down the road,” he replied with a resigned sigh, and took a drink from his cup.
“Don’t lie to me! You were looking at her over there! And on our anniversary!” she hissed. “You promised me a day out, and so far we’ve gotten lost, wound up at this crummy little cafe, and you’re eyeing up some tart over there!”
Anna bristled inwardly and pointedly turned her chair away, picking up her pencil again and starting to aggressively fill in the doodling that she’d started earlier. She didn’t know if the man had actually been looking at her, and while she had felt a little sorry for him, she certainly didn’t want any part of this. She couldn’t help continuing to hear the argument that was going on two tables away, though.
“No! No, I wasn’t! Look, I’m sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here, and I forgot to take the map, I thought -”
“You didn’t think, that’s right! You never think! What are you going to forget next? I’m surprised you even remembered it was our anniversary!”
The man’s reply sounded even more defensive. “I did! I booked -” He paused, and sounded more conflicted when he continued. “I didn’t want to say, it’s supposed to be a surprise.”
There was the clinking sound of a cup being placed on a saucer. “Oh, a surprise?” The woman now seemed sarcastic. “Well, this is quite a surprise! I didn’t expect to spend my afternoon walking around, in these heels, and getting the worst latte I’ve had in weeks!”
Anna stole a glance at her watch. The bus was due to be along in fifteen minutes. Reminded of her own unfinished coffee, she turned back a little towards her table so she could drink some more. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that the man had placed his head in both hands, with his elbows placed on the table, while his wife ranted at him.
“Where are we going next? The rubbish dump, perhaps? Or the sewage works?” Anna wondered if the woman was, on some level, enjoying this argument - she certainly seemed to be laying into her husband enthusiastically.
“Look,” he interjected, briefly lifting his head from his hands. “I did book a show for later, all right?”
“I don’t suppose it matters, as we’re never going to get there.” His floral adversary folded her arms and glared at him from over her coffee.
He sighed once again. “I’ll see if I can phone for a taxi.” The man got up and walked into the cafe, where he was presumably hoping to solicit help. This left Anna and the disgruntled woman alone outside, separated by the empty table between them.
Feeling uncomfortable, Anna hurriedly drained the last of her coffee and put away her papers and notebook, standing up and leaving the cafe while trying to avoid eye contact with the woman, fearful that she might address or accuse her. She walked off in the opposite direction to avoid passing by her, forcing her to loop around to a further crossing before she could reach the other side of the road and her bus stop. She was still a little early, but standing here was better than sitting over there, especially on her own.
Waiting there, she relaxed a little, suddenly noticing how tense and uncomfortable she had become. The couple sitting across from her had certainly had a rather dysfunctional relationship, or so it seemed from the outside. She wondered why they put up with each other? Admittedly, the man did seem rather disorganised, but his wife’s response seemed totally unreasonable too. She knew she was more particular about some things than Monika, so she hoped that she wasn’t as bad as that - or at least, she hoped to ensure she wasn’t. And she was certainly very glad that Monika wasn’t likely to start ranting at her in a cafe even when they did have reason to disagree about something.
She leaned against the bus shelter. It would be good to be home.
Written by mithent