Sunday 23 December 2018

Very Little Helps by Clare Weze

Normally, the café is too busy to overhear customers’ conversations, but today is deathly quiet. 
There’s a craft festival in St John Street. His workmates have been sent there to man a pop-up café and most of his regular customers have defected too, so Markus can hear every word the only two punters in the place utter. Every. Sodding. Word. They’re in their sixties – or maybe their seventies, it’s hard to tell – and they’re ladies dressed to lunch, even though it’s late in the day. A talker and a listener. The talker, who’s white, is well curled into the chat, like such types always are, and the listener – a black woman – is taking it like it’s medicine. 

The words roll over him at first, but then something in the monotony of her tone makes him tune in. Just to see what could be that dry. Dry, yet pulsing. Pressing. And Jesus. It’s all about her oil-fired central heating boiler. The listening one can’t steer the conversation. She has a feeble try every so often, but BOILER. BOILER MAN. SERVICE AGREEMENT. BOILER just steamrolls her.

Markus wipes the counter down in rough, zig-zagging sweeps and wonders why the boring one wants an audience when a wall would do. He shoves the cloth onwards to the sink sloppily, thinking of his colleagues, Doog and Mali, who will be well underway by now. They were chosen to run the pop-up café at the festival because they out-hipster him. Jacob, the manager, has left Markus in charge – yet again – because he says he’s solid and dependable. It wasn’t his ambition to be dependable. Jacob says something about dependable Hungarians, but that’s bullshit, because Markus’s British Hungarian mum lost touch with the Hungarian side of the family, so he knows embarrassingly little about Hungary. He just pictures the Danube and all the lights in Budapest, like everyone else.

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