The lampshades hang like delicious juicy, over-ripe cherries. I’ve never noticed before. It’s just a café in a department store, we’re not talking The Ivy here, but it’s clean and quiet and I can read in peace. No mocha/choca lattes, not even an espresso available,but as long as the café sells teacakes and a pot of tea for £1.50, I don’t think the customers care about anything much.
Chris is late. Not impressed. My routine has now been ruined for the rest of the day. I’ll miss my aqua aerobics class, which will mean I’ll lose no weight at Weight Watchers tonight – for the third week running – which will mean I’ll spend all day tomorrow on Facebook eating toast and the kids’ sweets instead of being at the gym, which will mean I’ll put weight on for next week. Terrific.
As I look around me, I notice that everyone here is old. Literally everyone. Even the staff. Especially the staff. I feel slightly suffocated by a sea of grey and polyester. Shaky hands buttering scones. Hunched backs on orange plastic chairs. Arthritic fingers dispensing sweeteners into teacups. But perhaps that’s why I like coming here. Approaching forty, this café is about the only place left where I still feel young.
The longer I wait, however, the more I get irritated by these old people. Losing my mother to a heart attack at sixty years old, I now resent everyone over pensionable age. My mum should be here, not them. I should hate myself for feeling this way but I don’t. They’re all too engrossed in trying not to spill their drinks to notice me starin anyway. All uniformly dressed in varying shades of brown: beige, taupe, mink, chocolate, brown check, brown stripe, brown flowers. What is it about old people and brown? Is it their idea of being colourful? Do they think brown is the best contrast to the near-death pallor of their skin?
Where is Chris?! Will these people be able to suck the little life I have left out of me in order to prolong theirs? A sudden vision of zombie OAP body-snatchers snaps into my mind and I hurriedly blink it away.
‘That’s Amore’ starts trickling through the café speakers and as I daydream about hitting Chris around the head with my cork wedges, my eyes begin to follow one of the waitresses. I’ve never noticed her before. She has pink streaks in her hair. She’s pushing sixty and has grey and pink hair.
It suits her.
The waitress caught a glimpse of her hair in the side of the silver tea urn as she walked past and winced. Trying to dye her grey hair red hadn’t proved as successful as she had hoped. The statutory black peaked hat all the waitresses wear didn’t hide it enough for her liking and as she walked past the young woman looking at the lampshades she noticed her look at her hair briefly before she went back to staring at the ceiling.
“I’ve seen her here before,” the waitress thought, admiring the woman’s red hair. “Her hair is the colour of a maple leaf, or is it the rust on her car? That’s what my hair used to look like.” The waitress inwardly sighed and moved on. A few strands of grey hair stuck up vertically from the young woman’s head that only the waitress was privy to as she collected teacups from the old ladies. “She’s tall,” the waitress thought, “and she carries a bit too much weight but she carries it well.”
The waitress pulled her peaked cap down firmly on her head and made her way back to the kitchen. “I should have left my hair well alone,” she said aloud to anyone listening. No one was. “I’m fifty eight for goodness sake – that’s no time to be dyeing my hair. What was I thinking? I look like a sad old clown.”