City days

Three bald men, bespectacled, in well-fitting suits, and shoes that cut a sharp profile.

It’s 7:45 am, and it would appear they are meeting for coffee before the official work day begins.

It is a French cafe I frequent, where the owners have heavy French accents and are meticulous about the authenticity of their pastries. Their prices have skyrocketed, and a breakfast croissant with egg and spinach and tomato, an Americano, and a pain au chocolat for later comes to twenty dollars. There is a jovial clarinet soundtrack in the background, and an old, sepia-toned movie projected onto the back wall. Dark bentwood chairs wait beside small, marble-topped bistro tables on slender iron bases. The young man who serves me is Korean, with a heavy accent and a haircut resembling a shiny, dark brown bowl around his head. It is perfectly circular and smooth.

The men choose to sit outside, away from the din of conversation and coffee being pulled, closer instead to the din of traffic. Taxis and cyclists and people rushing to work.

They are smiling, laughing between sips of coffee. Are they colleagues? Friends? Is this fake? A sordid business deal?

I glance up at the movie on the wall and it plays what appears to be a sexual assault of a young woman while her presumed suitor paces in a reading room the level below. It is entirely what I would not want to see in a cafe first thing in the morning. I’m not sure they’ve vetted these films. No one else seems to notice this.

Months ago, I was at this same cafe and a man with a camel-coloured coat was having his coffee. He was tall, slim, and so well groomed it made me think of those show dogs where their hair has to be blow-dried. Oh, what are they? Afghan hounds. The perfect goatee. A vest. Brown pointy-toed shoes, laces in a perfect bow. Slim pants with a perfect pleat. A scarf. All the lines and outlines on his person were sharp and straight, like he was sketched out in bold ink by a fashion designer and brought to life. I only wish I had a chance to hear him speak, to be sure he was congruous through and through. What could he possibly be up to? Maybe he works the perfume counter and is trying to learn English. Maybe he has a sugarmama. Perhaps he is pitching his art gallery idea to a potential investor.

I scarf down my breakfast croissant and coffee, because in all my musings, time has disappeared. In an abrupt and thoroughly unpleasant change of pace, I am seated in a too-warm office wearing a dress shirt that does not allow full shoulder range of movement and will inevitably accrue armpit stains.
What must they think of me? Plain ponytail, no make-up, and a feeble attempt at dressing like a grownup. I’ve forgotten my dress shoes, so my staid blue dress shirt and black dress pants end with a pair of Birkenstocks. But no matter, no one is looking at my feet. If they were, they would see that there are no bunions or blisters or callouses, because I don’t wear dress shoes. I tuck my feet under my chair.

And so begins another day.

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