- November 6th, 2011
Written for my Maturaarbeit. If you have been made to come and listen to the presentation, please read this text beforehand.
Hazards of Trade
The first time Esca noticed the girl was on a dreary Monday morning, during the first, reluctant days of spring. She was nothing special, just one more kid in the usual crowd of sleepy university students and stressed out business men. She looked more or less average, a bit young maybe. There were bracelets all over her arms, and her earrings didn't match.
But when Esca took her money, handed her the change and a cup of coffee, this girl was the first one ever to say thanks and wish her a nice day. So when the same girl came back in the afternoon, looking tired and annoyed, ordering coffee with a tired smile, and thanked Esca and wished her a nice afternoon, Esca couldn't help it.
"You know you're not supposed to do that?"
The girl looked down at her coffee, up at Esca and blinked a few times. "Pardon?"
"You're not supposed to thank me. Or wish me a nice day. Those are my lines."
Esca was graced with a small but decidedly amused smile. "You made me coffee. Whatever other arguments you may have, this is the only one to count."
And with that the girl left, turning her cardboard cup between her hands and Esca wondered what had just happened.
The girl came back the next day, and the next one and the next after that, week after week, and slowly, Esca learned that the girl was still at grammar school and wanted to go to university and came here every morning by bus and that the coffee shop was on the way from the station to her school.
It was a few weeks of this, spring still reluctant and tentative, and Esca had remembered the coffee the girl ordered, milk but no sugar in the morning, whipped cream and vanilla syrup in the afternoon, before she asked for a name.
While this earned her a confused smile and then a few moments of profound apologising, in the end she still didn't have a name.
She decided to let it go. It was a pity, though. She couldn't refer to her as 'the girl' forever. Even more so as she was actually looking forward to seeing her again. And again.
But there was nothing to be done about that, she figured. She would just have to be patient. She was good at being patient, despite appearances to the contrary. Of course, some would claim she didn't have clear understanding of what that word even meant, having left school as soon as possible, but Esca knew. She knew what it meant to wait, calmly and patiently until what she wanted was within reach. And she knew to hold on.
It took until spring slowly turned to summer before she asked again. The girl hadn't been here for the last week and Esca was starting to worry about her.
When she finally showed up, once again on rainy Monday morning, it was almost nine o'clock and she looked pale and drawn, like she hadn't slept for days. She didn't seem to have the energy for small talk, which was a pity. For once, the morning crowd was already gone and it was not quite time for coffee break so now, they would have had time to exchange more than just two or three words.
Still, Esca made coffee. With whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top and all the bells and whistles she could think of. It was probably more of a breakfast than a cup of coffee in the end, but when she handed it to the girl in front of her, the smile she got in return was sufficient compensation for the indignity of producing such an abomination.
"Here you go, Miss…" she dared to say, hoping for a name without the other one noticing.
"I'm not Miss anything."
Esca flinched as if she had been hit. She hadn't expected to be snapped at like that. "I'm sorry", she started to say, just to be interrupted hastily.
"I'm Liz. I didn't mean to be quite this rude, sorry."
Esca smiled at her and then watched silently as Liz tried and failed at drinking her coffee. When she looked up with whipped cream on her nose, Esca took pity and handed her a garishly purple straw.
And then there was another customer, businessman, less interesting than Liz. But then again, Esca thought there are not many people more interesting than her.
She made a double espresso for the man in the suit and then turned back to Liz who was still valiantly battling a mountain of cream.
But she was smiling again, and that was almost good enough.
"Where have you been, anyway?" Esca asked carefully.
"I've been writing final exams. I didn't think they would be that stressful. But it's almost over, now. I was rather lucky with the time tables, so today will be the last of them." She sighed and rubbed her eyes before continuing. "It's French today, the last written exam. I hate French."
"Oh, vous parlez français?" Esca asked, grinning. Her pronunciation couldn't have been worse had she tried but Liz was surprisingly cute when she was trying to look murderous.
"Don't do that. The fact that you've brought this particular hell behind you years ago doesn't make it any less terrible."
And while Esca was reluctant to destroy this girl's illusions, she had little choice in the matter.
"I haven't. I left school as soon as I could. God, it was…" She trailed of as soon as she noticed Liz's horrified look.
"You mean you're not going to university? But everyone should go to university. You can't just stop going to school. You're clever, aren't you? You can still take evening classes, you won't even be the oldest in your class and then you don't have to sell coffee all day long and..."
And this was where Esca interrupted her. "As a matter of fact, I like selling coffee. I like it a lot more than school. And just because you're some suck up whose parents' think she'd make a good little lawyer or doctor or politician so that they can bask in your imagined glory, that doesn't mean everyone does so." She took a deep breath, trying to get herself back under control. "Just… go fuck yourself, please, will you?"
She watched Liz drain the last of her coffee, lick her lips clean of any whipped cream and chocolate and leave the coffee shop without a backwards glance. The door swung closed slowly and Esca wondered why it hurt so much to know that this was likely the last she would see of Liz.
Two weeks later, there was a postcard in the letter box of the coffee shop and Esca realised that for all she cared about Liz, they knew very little about each other. But it was a nice card and while there was no apology on it, the meaning was clear.
The picture showed a sandy beach in the midday sun, a logo of some holiday resort and a stickman with a moustache, courtesy of Liz. Esca laughed and stuck the card on the till so that everyone could see it. And then the waiting began.
It was almost a week before Liz returned, on a bright Friday evening, tanned and her hair bleached to an uneven dish-water colour. She looked too stressed for someone who had just come back from their holidays.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed you wanted to go to university," were the first words she said, before even saying hello or ordering her coffee. "I wish to study law, but I don't know if I'm still able to do so." And then she shook her head as if to get rid of that train of thought and ordered an ice coffee with hazelnut and vanilla syrup.
Esca shuddered at the idea. But she made the coffee, with extra whipped cream and then gathered her courage for what she hoped would be the last time.
"If you can wait, I'm off in about half an hour." She offered, carefully.
Liz looked up from her coffee, bright red straw still between her lips. She didn't take it out to talk. "Of course I can wait. I still have to tell you all about my holidays." Her smile was ever so slightly strained.
Esca wondered what had happened to make Liz look this tired.
Half an hour later she made her way over to Liz's table with two cups of coffee and a rather hesitant smile.
"So, you want to tell me what's wrong?"
Liz looked up from the book in her hands to nod slightly. Esca took the invitation for what it was and set the coffee cups on the table and then sat down. She was prepared to wait. Liz hadn't looked like this would be an easy topic to talk about.
And for the third time today, her answer was not only devoid of context but it also volunteered far more information than what Esca had been ready for.
"I told my parents I'm a lesbian. They didn't take it too well."
Esca stared. "You. What?" She was at a loss for words. She had known that Liz couldn't be as well-adjusted as she pretended to be, but this was rather unexpected. And rather nice, as well. She smiled slightly, trying to seem less shocked. "What brought that on? Girlfriend? Or do you want to move out in all undue haste?"
Liz smiled back. "I've known for a while. And I think I'm in love. And seeing as I'll be moving out at the end of this summer, I figured it couldn't hurt too much, letting them know."
"You're moving away? Where to?"
The laughter Esca got for that question was as deserved as it was enjoyable. "This is what you pick to ask about in all this mess? Your mind must be a truly impressive place." Liz turned back to her coffee. When she started talking again, she still had coffee on her lips, which she kept licking at distractedly. "I don't know yet. I thought I'd decided that once I know which universities accept me."
And just like that, the conversation turned to Liz's studies and Esca's lack thereof and how it was maybe for the best, seeing as Liz admitted she hadn't had coffee this good in ages. Esca was certain she had blushed at that.
It was another week, and summer was slow and sticky like molasses, when Liz came back with two letters, looking a strange mixture between confused and happy. She handed both letters to Esca in exchange for another ice coffee.
"I didn't even apply to one of these universities."
"Hello to you, too. How are you on this nice day?" Esca asked, trying not to laugh at Liz's stammered greeting and an even more mangled apology.
She didn't know what she should tell Liz. One of the universities was here in town, the other on the other side of the country. And Esca wanted Liz to stay. But telling her that might not have the results Esca hoped for, so once again, she settled for waiting.
They didn't talk much while Liz compared her universities and Esca tried to do her job without continuously thinking about how much more boring it would be without Liz around.
When Liz finally put her letters away a few days later, apparently having made her decision, Esca didn't ask. She was too afraid of the answer she might get. But at least they were talking again, about nothing and everything, getting to know each other better while outside, summer slowly, slowly came to an end.
Esca wanted to stop time. Or maybe just find a way to keep this summer for ever. It had been nice while it lasted and maybe, just maybe, they had both grown up just a little bit over the course of this few weeks. It would have to be enough, she decided.
She couldn't ask Liz to stay, just so that Esca wouldn't have to be alone once more.
On the last day of the summer holidays, Liz didn't come for coffee. And even though Esca hadn't let herself hope, she was rather disappointed.
It would have been nice to have been allowed to say good bye. But work was busy and she had better things to do than wait for a girl she had considered a friend but who apparently hadn't even returned that sentiment.
So when Monday morning came around, foggy and chill, she had made her peace with the situation. There had to be someone else who could be trained to be nice and polite to a barista. Liz couldn't have been the only one.
She barely registered the familiar voice ordering coffee. Or the bracelets on the wrist of the current customer. She was certain there were other girls with those kinds of bracelets.
"And to think I had wanted to ask you out for a coffee. I'm shocked. And heart broken. But mostly shocked." The amusement in the voice was clear as day and when Esca finally looked up, Liz smiled brightly at her.
"I have Friday night off." She offered, handing Liz her coffee and change. She watched her walk away and didn't even try to hide her smile.