Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Regency Cafe

First published 'Memes' 1991

I always returned to the Regency Cafe. There was nowhere else like it.

Many of my friends said they didn't know where it was and even after I'd given them exhaustive directions to meet me there after dark, none of them arrived, later telling me that they had searched high and low, turned right where I'd said, and equally left where I'd also said, but no sign of the Regency Cafe.

This was quite beyond me because, of an evening, its music (usually Edith Piaf) echoed loudly down the surrounding side-streets. Its lights shone out and yellowed the wet cobblestones like old-fashioned diseases. How could you miss it, I wondered.

Still, there were times when even I found it more difficult to locate. I put this down to the weather - because the elements often alter the way the land lies as well as one's own frame of mind. But I always did find it in the end. Those were usually the evenings when a big football match was being held in the city, with the consequent lack of customers drinking black coffee.

The city was ever full of mist. One wondered if the floodlights penetrated sufficiently to pick out the players and the ball.

The air could be seen to coil upwards at street corners. This was indeed a feature of our city, something to do with disused underground railways, I'd always thought.

My mind was wandering. I had no set goal in life. The visits to the cafe were, believe it or not, the highlights of each dark afternoon which imperceptibly turned into night. When my friends didn't turn up, I began to suspect they were not friends any longer or, even, that I never had any friends at all.

The steaming coffee urns were a comfort to watch, however, as was the waitress who tended them. They had a beautiful shape. I'd never seen urns like them. The steam hissed gently, the tenebrous fluid gurgled, as the whole of my life scried before my very eyes within the dissolving coffee grounds.

One day, the waitress looked beautiful herself. I'd never really examined her closely. I knew her general demeanour was one of the positive things of life. But there it had ended. So, on a particularly misty afternoon, with the street thermals more than a little active, I turned my eyes towards her, as towards a recently polarised magnet. The other customers had already become shadowy glimpses bent over lonely cups in every corner. She became the fixation: a paramount image of one I should have loved all these months, rather than ignored. I needed to speak to her: and she opened her mouth as if to speak to me just as kindly...

There were hearty slaps on my back. My so-called friends had at last discovered the Regency Cafe and I spent the rest of the night entertaining them amid the loud French music. I hoped none of them would ever come again.

The following dark afternoon, there was a waiter on duty. He told me that the waitress had left the cafe ... for good.

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