The Coffee Shop

In a place where people come and go, he isn’t sure if he wants to bump into her

1652 words · 8 min read

A bustling crowd gathered in a coffee shop. On weekdays, customers came to this busy spot in the busiest street of the city centre to get their drinks and left in a hurry, but on this slow, summer, Saturday afternoon, many stayed with their company, enjoying their iced beverages and snacks. Simon, who wore a light blue shirt and grey suit jacket despite the day’s being a day-off, was the only customer without any of his friends around. He sat near the window, through which the warm sunshine shone through, and watched people strolling by outside of the window through his dark sunglasses. He wasn’t expecting to see anyone; in fact, he had work to do in the office, which was just two blocks away, and he was now taking a short break, after which he should return to the office to put some finishing touches to his work, though the lazy atmosphere there persuaded him to stay for longer than he had planned.

Outside of the glass window, a woman with long, brown hair strolled by. Her face looked familiar to Simon. His heart jumped, but as she approached him and walked past him, he noticed that she wasn’t Danielle.

Now that he thought about Danielle, he noticed how vague his memory of her had become. Although he could most certainly recognise her if he saw her, he could no longer paint her picture in his mind, her phone number was forgotten, and the only memory he could still hold on to was the final kiss they shared and the warmth of her presence inside his embrace.

As that woman outside left his sight, his heart rate returned to normal, but he was thinking: was she really not Danielle? She had the same long, brown hair, the same contour of face, the same attractive legs, which he always liked to touch and kiss, and the same way of walking, which was impossible to put into words: there was nothing peculiar or abnormal about Danielle’s way of walking, but it had always emit an aura of elegance and nonchalance, even during a state of urgency, that he had never seen in another woman of her age. It was the sort of charm of the bygone era, yet Danielle embodied that without having watched one single film from that time, as if she were born with the elegance of Audrey Hepburn, yet without that expressive eyes.

She wasn’t Danielle, he thought, because his heart only jumped once. Did he want to see Danielle again? That was hard to say, for they didn’t break up on good terms.

In fact, they didn’t break up on any terms.

The last thing he heard about her was that she had entered a new relationship months after she left him. He wrote to her, begging for forgiveness, but no one was under any illusion that the relationship was salvageable.

The realisation of her significance in his heart and the meaning of the newly unoccupied space of his place didn’t hit him on the day she left, nor the day after. For a while, he even cherished the freedom. Then he heard about her new relationship, which, to him, meant that his loss had just become irreversible, as if it weren’t so before. From then on, his empty bed would make him weep in the middle of the night: rolling from his usual side of the bed to the other, he would anticipate an obstacle that was Danielle, so that instead of rolling all the way across, he would end up putting his arm around her and sweeping her lovely back tenderly; but she was gone, and instead of coming across a body to embrace, he sunk to the other half of the bed as if falling into it, and that frightened him; he would then sink his face into the pillow and let his tears drain down from his eyes into the pillow as her last words to him—“we are not friends then”—echoed inside his mind.

“Don’t you know how annoying you are?” he said to her before her last words.

“We are not friends then.”

I’ve no time for that, he shrugged that off and thought. She should be able to figure it out herself.

She wasn’t the most intelligent person he’d ever known, while he was the most knowledgeable person she’d ever come across, and the fact that he had lived abroad for quite a long while made him the person she would go to for every kind of problems, particularly in relation to the trip she was planning with her friend.

“How do you get from Munich Airport to the train station?”

“Just look for the signs which say “Train Station.” Why are you asking me?”

“You’ve been there many times.”

“How am I supposed to remember?”

“You have good memories.”

She was not wrong, but she was getting his nerve, so he refused to answer her straight away without putting more obstacles.

“I look for signs to find my way! I don’t remember this kind of thing!”

“But you know German, I don’t.”

“There are English signs in the airport! And people speak English in München!”

In the end, he told her the answer and that she was annoying, and he felt righteous about that.

But it was all his faults, because she wasn’t the most irritating person he’d ever shared his life with, and, as one friend put it:

“Well, who do you think she should ask if she shouldn’t ask you?”

He remained unmoved in thinking that she should find out herself, and in seeking assistance from him at the time when he was working on what would turn out to be a massive failure—a large advertisement project that was later ridiculed by the public for being too avant garde—she simply got too much in his way. Upon his friend’s questioning, he only shrugged and raised his glass of wine and drank it.

A woman in a white embroidered dress appeared in front of the till to buy a cup of coffee. As she stood in front of the bar table waiting, she looked around and saw Simon. She gave him a timid smile before looking away, but when she turned her gaze to him again, she smiled at him again, which prompted him to smile back. But he didn’t know her.

Why is she smiling at me?

She had her dark hair hanging just above her shoulder, her face was glowing under the sunshine that penetrated window, and her gaze was soft. She had a slim figure, lengthened by the white high heels shoes, without any accentuated curve, the type of woman he’d always liked. Her face wasn’t the prettiest face he had beheld, but the loveliness of the smile from a stranger and his own loneliness negated the lack of depth of her features, a depth that April’s face possessed.

After Danielle had long left, he evaluated all kinds of love he had for all the women he had once loved, and he came to the conclusion that the person he had loved most was April.

He could have never foreseen April’s leaving, and despite his deep remorse, he recovered from the blow, unlike the last one, from which he had never quite recovered, making his conclusion that April was the person he loved most an unexpected one. Yet when he asked himself, out of all of whom he had loved, whom he would like to meet against most, there was little doubt who that would be.

April used to wear a pair of rimless glasses before switching to contact lenses. Her eyes were luminous and had a joyous light to them, which matched her lively and outgoing character, and she had the most beautiful face among all faces he had come to love. But she didn’t possess the classical elegance that Danielle was born with, which, in Danielle’s case, was more than enough to compensate for the lack of depth in her eyes and the darker tone of her skin.

His memory of all things April was now even more vague and indistinct than that of Danielle. The only thing he could still conjure up was the contour of her face. The circumstances surrounding their break-up had long been, in his imagination, transformed from a clear idea of who-did-what-to-whom to a mixture of true events, imagined actions, retroactive justifications for his wrongs, belated forgiveness, and idealisation of his youthful lover.

The woman in white dress had taken her ordered drink, turned to the door, and, as she tuned her eyes to Simon once more, smiled. She walked past him by the glass window and smiled again. After she had vanished from his sight, he stood up, left the cafe, and walked in the general direction to which she was headed.

By now, she had disappeared.

He wished he could talk to her, fall in love with her, and love her most among all he had loved. But who was to say the last person he ever loved would be the person he loved most? As he changed direction and headed back to his office, he came across a dress shop that he had never noticed despite having strode past it dozens of times. A young woman was trying a new dress in front of the mirror.

If only the search for true love was like trying out dresses: that one could change, try, change, and try again, and one didn’t have to stick with the last dress she’d tried. His realisation of who he loved most was ten years too late; a cruel joke from the God of love.

Right in front of the entrance of his office, he paused for a while and turned back. On the other side of the street, the woman in white dress was strolling by without seeing him. At that, he smiled.

 Short Stories    27 Jul, 2016
 Fiction    Short Stories    Love    Loss  
Copyright © Peter Y. Chuang 2019

Peter Y. Chuang


Peter Y. Chuang is a novelist, short story writer, and a music critic. When he’s not writing or reading, he’s probably listening to classical music or tinkering with his computers. He uses Linux (current distro of choice: Arch Linux). Read more about his Linux stuff.