We sat drinking coffee. We sat on cane chairs at a table overlooking the river – and the river ran by beneath, black and filled with stories. The bustle of ‘The Troc’, the little café where the young of our town would congregate on those Saturday mornings, flowed around us unnoticed. We were two at a single table, and the river made a third.
You and I, we talked, I guess, of many things; none of which I will remember now. Of work, maybe, or art, or song. Words were unimportant: matters that were vital to us then are faded like thread grown old in the tapestry of time. Our truths passed by us unremarked; but we smiled, and we laughed, and if there were turnings we should have taken, choices we should have made, we scarcely saw them. We were sitting by the river, drinking coffee in the sun.
I remember Turbot behind the counter, the irascible Saturday help whose flat, featureless countenance and flesh tinged with a hint of purple spawned his nickname: Turbot to whom Espresso was a mystery and a Still boiler a thing of great danger. Then there was the art student with long hair and hirsute beard we knew as ‘J.C.’; and a swarthy, well-rounded humorist called Bob, whose only true claim to notoriety was his oft-repeated offer ‘I can get you Purple Hearts’ ( relatively innocuous ‘uppers’ that were popular then).
There was Daffy, who arrived punctually each morning at eleven with Bella, her Hungarian boyfriend. Daffy always brought a bag of breadcrumbs for the waterfowl. The ducks in the river learned the hour from Daffy, because they crowded the wall below her table for at least ten minutes in anticipation of her arrival. Daffy drank her coffee and cast her bread upon the waters, while Bella looked on benignly from behind round spectacles, rarely speaking but always smiling as if he had a secret joke that was in Hungarian, maybe, and did not translate. When her bread ran out Daffy would often go to the counter to buy a scone from Turbot.
That close and intimate weave of Trocadero society passed from our town long since: the people we knew at tables to our right and left have scattered, no more to me now than chaff upon the wind. Those cane chairs and tables that were theirs by right were stacked for the last time almost half a century ago, forced into oblivion by expensive business rates and the grunting, desensitized leviathan of the corporation.
A furniture warehouse stands where The Trocadero once stood, hiding the river behind a wall lest its melodious waters should distract from the sofas of Chinese leather it has to sell. There is a coffee house still, but it is a High Street edifice of glaring light and shining steel: there is no room for Turbot in its dream of marketing efficiency – a well-scrubbed youth stands in his place, smartly aproned and plastic, with a bland smile to greet you:
“How can I help you today?”
There is coffee in three sizes and a catalogue of flavours, savours, strengths and toppings. There are stools, not cane, to sit on: a little too high for comfort, because they want you to buy; not to stay, and talk, and pass the time. Descendants of Daffy, ‘J.C.’ and Bob may be among the clientele who posture as the young have always done, but the vibration, the chill, the effervescence is missing: the soul has gone.
You and I? We lost touch, moved on, found different lives…would I know you now?
We drifted, each, into the weft.
Our colours will never be seen again.