“It’s all I ever think about, it’s all I ever think about.” That’s what she said, she kept repeating it, over and over, like some mantra, like a prayer, a quiet cry for help as she walked away. She was tall, attractive, troubled and I was intrigued. Those within earshot could not understand this mumbling, slowly ranting woman. None of us knew quite what she meant or understood. I was fascinated, briefly, eternally, questioning so I followed. Not something I was used to doing, not my normal behaviour, tracking a strange, disturbed woman, on the edge and striding away to deal with or confront that mysterious purpose. I kept what I considered to be safe distance, I let the crowds part before her, the lights change and the barrage of traffic get between us. I borrowed a technique I’d seen in a hundred movies, change pace, stop occasionally, look away. As if aware of my inexperience she steadfastly walked on, not looking back, not turning, allowing me the luxury of this temporary moving bubble. I was closing in, may be something would happen, a sudden stop, a meeting and perhaps I’d understand.
Fifteen long minutes passed and we were out of the business district, through a shopping centre and into an area of bars, cafes, street vendors and more shifting crowds. Her brown hair bobbed ahead of me, above, below, hidden as the Red Sea gaggle of pedestrians shifted, parted and closed in. I was still in the hunt. Left down a side street, right onto a busier one and then abruptly stopping, looking at her phone and sitting down quickly on a silver chair outside of a sprawling restaurant that opened onto the street. I stood still looking blankly into an opaque pub window, I stepped to the right and began to read a wall poster, she was still on the seat, now talking on the phone, her back to me, unaware. I moved carefully and as far as I was aware naturally towards where she sat. I noticed an empty seat in a table opposite and made a bee-line. Just as I crossed the pedestrian barrier a couple laden with shopping and embroiled in a vigorous conversation beat me to it and sat, absorbed in there discussion. I prepared to turn on my heels and retire, then I saw another space, vacated by a young suit, three tables away and facing her, perfect.
A waiter was by now at her table and she ordered something. Another waiter was now by my table, “coffee, a pot and a ginger cookie please.” An automatic order made as I looked across. Both our orders arrived a few minutes later, she had tea and water, I supped my coffee, she was still oblivious of me, her faithful and unfamiliar follower. Then from nowhere (well from the street ) another woman appeared and sat down quickly at her table, it was it some electric spark flashed between them and as I watched they seemed like a pair of some sort. Both were dressed smartly, business suits, one blue one grey, skirts and heels, both from the same office or business possibly. Handbags were strategically placed on the tabletop, they then both began to lean back, creating a battle space it seemed, staring at one another, like rival sisters about to quarrel over a lover or some long running family dispute.
I cupped my coffee with both hands and leaned as far forward across the table as I dared, straining for some snippet of conversation or vital word to be borne across to me, above the street noise and café chat but there was nothing recognisable that I could sift from the babble. Now they were speaking taking turns, animation seemed to be bristling, slowly building, even without the essential key of words I could unlock that much. Suddenly the other woman stood up and squarely slapped the other, the one I’d followed, rudely across the cheek. A shriek followed and an abrupt silence…every head turned their way, as you would expect. She stayed in her seat and bowed her head, the other woman took a step back and with a stiff back straightened up. Her voice rose up from the table, she sniffed and with a trembling and whispering tone said “But I’m wearing it better…”