I was sitting at a table in the Shopping Centre sipping my latte, trying to make it last an hour. My wife was traipsing around the stores doing her best to kick the economy along. She is the patron saint of shopkeepers. No wonder she always complains that there is more month than money.
Casting my eyes around the other coffee drinkers, a girl grabbed my attention. It was not her beauty that attracted me. No, she definitely was not pretty. It was obvious she had recently had an acne attack and it had left blots of pink on her sad, elfin face.
Some pieces of feral blonde hair poked out from under a pale blue cap, which she wore with the peak at the back. Her tatty jeans needed patches on both knees and her thin shoulders were hunched inside an almost new fawn jacket.
So that she would not catch me staring I kept my head down over my cup and peeped sideways. I wondered how she would react if I spoke to her. Had she been warned about speaking to strangers? Could I risk her making a scene? What price should I offer?
A middle-aged woman was looking at me from the next table. She was wearing a funny little pink hat with a piece of net down over eyes. Her sharp nose and squinty eyes made me feel I was looking at a parrot in a cage. I knew she had seen me eyeing the blonde.
She screwed up her eyes and gave me a glare that was meant to blow me away. Her lips were pursed as if to say ‘Why doesn’t the Management do something about these corrupt hang-abouts. Decent people shouldn’t have to put up with his type.’
Luckily for me the girl spoke first. ‘Can I borrow the sugar from you table?’
This was my chance. I was in a dilemma but I had to be actful.
‘Sure’, I mumbled. Breathing with difficulty, I eventually got the question out. ‘Did you get that jacket from the Smith Family?’
Her jaw went slack and her mouth fell open. I thought she was about to storm off so I blurted out: ‘That jacket was mine. It was a Christmas present from my wife. It was my favourite. It has my name “Bert” embroided on the inside pocket. My son donated it accidentally. I really would like to buy it back.’
She whipped the coat open and had a look inside. Then she took off, out of the food hall. She took the sugar with her.