I’ve only been at Costa for ten minutes, and I’m just about to write a really scathing attack on a well-known supermarket when I suddenly overhear:
“So, you wait until we’ve got four kids before you decide it’s her you want and not me.”
I don’t turn around. I sit back in my chair, very slowly, and put down the mocha I’d raised halfway to my lips.
Immediately, my mind scans back through the people I’ve seen arriving at Costa since I’ve been in my seat. This couple is obviously sitting just behind me, out of my sight, and there’s no way I’m turning around when they’re obviously about to have such a serious and painful discussion. I want to go and sit somewhere else, but the place is packed and the only other free chair will trigger my back problem.
So I stay seated….and I think. Immediately, I know which couple it is. I’m a people-watcher, and I distinctly remember them being two places behind me in the queue. I know this because the woman has a distinctive lilt to her voice which rather curiously makes her sound cheerful even when she’s saying things that must evidently be very difficult to say. She was also quite attractive (yes, I know, but I’m a guy and little Dave does a lot of my thinking for me) whereas her partner had a pinched sort of face, as if he was made of Playdough and someone had rolled out his head just to make the nose. If I had to guess, I’d say they were in their mid thirties…which is a bit impressive if they have four children.
All this runs through my head before she makes her next statement, in a much lower voice:
“I feel like I don’t matter to you at all.”
I suddenly get a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hate seeing people in pain, or hearing it. My mind tries to focus on the blog I’m writing, but I’m now officially grading this guy optimistically. I decide his name is Jim, and that he’s a good guy who has made a terrible mistake.
Then she says:
“Were you f*****g her while I was on the operating table?”
I’m really trying to root for Jim, but this new horror – coupled with the fact that he hasn’t said anything in reply – is quickly reclassifying him in my judgmental cortex as possibly a bit of a dick.
There’s a brief pause where neither of them say anything, and then she ploughs on.
“You were with her on my birthday, weren’t you? That’s the reason you got those theatre tickets for my mum and insisted I went with her. You filthy piece of s***.”
Part of my mind cannot believe they’re doing this at a Costa Coffee, but mostly I’m racing to alter my view of Jim, who has now slipped slightly below ‘not a nice guy‘ and is heading straight for ‘tosser’.
It’s then that I notice the old lady sitting opposite and slightly to the right of me. She has a coffee cup halfway to her mouth, and looks absolutely delighted. I mean, seriously delighted, by the whole situation. My jaw drops, and I just gawp at her. I can’t believe she is openly enjoying the misfortune of some poor couple she’s never even met, and I immediately decide she’s a wicked, cacky-fingered old crone who spends her nights stroking some tiny green iguana and writing poisonous letters to her grandchildren. I glare at her. I mean, really glare: teeth out and everything. She notices, offers me a strange half-smile and quickly returns her attention to the magazine she’d been reading (Spiteful Knitting Monthly).
The couple behind me haven’t said anything, and I’m guessing this means the situation is actually getting worse….something that turns out to be correct when she says:
“If I’m going to lose everything, I might as well just kill myself.”
The old woman looks up, and grins again. This is beyond belief. She can actually *see* them – she’s looking right at them – and she’s enjoying their pain. It’s just horrible. What’s WRONG with people in the world today? I stare her down, praying that Jim is about to make everything better for his poor, suffering partner, hoping against hope that she’s wrong and that he will say something, anything to save the situation for his children. Then she practically explodes:
“Aren’t you going to say ANYTHING? Seriously? Come ON: you’re obviously a terrific bloody actor, so SPEAK.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, finally. “I can’t really remember any of it…I just…”
Even from where I am, I feel her lean forward: I hear the coffee cups rattle as she hits the table. She says:
“Well you better start learning some of this stuff, because you were supposed to say ‘I still love you’ after I said the thing about the kids.”
I immediately spin round and look behind me. She has a book open. They’re rehearsing for a play. A play.
A f*****g play.
My heart is pounding, and I feel angry: actually, genuinely furious.
That’s when I look back at the old woman, who winks at me. It turns out she wasn’t enjoying a messy break up at all, she was enjoying the look on my face because she knew I thought it was all real.
I feel myself flush bright red, and I pick up my laptop.
I can’t write under this sort of pressure: that hideous old crone has made a complete fool out of me.