It was a strange feeling of uneasiness that I first associated with this old lady with a drooling dog and a vague desire of what she really wanted, with a taciturn teenager sipping hot chocolate in the corner, with an Eastern foreigner coming at exactly the same time for over two weeks and ordering the very same apricot croissant.
I couldn’t see what it was until Bertie mentioned Paul. Paul, I thought? Ah yes. Paul. Hell, where was Paul?
Paul was someone you wouldn’t notice. In his navy blue tracksuit and with a look of disarming dimness, he was virtually nonexistent. And yet in a way – he was conspicuous. There was something about his awkward ways and quiet voice that did not spell central London. Paul would come every day. Normally, he would search for coins for what seemed like eternity and then order small tea. Or else I could offer him water (straight water) and he would accept it gladly.
After I placed the reason for my anxiety, I found it hard to concentrate on work, mixed up a few orders and Bertie did most of our job that day. Paul didn’t come that day. In fact, he hadn’t come in over a week. Bertie said she had no idea.
The next day I asked this strange Indian lady Paul sometimes talked to if she knew where he was. ‘Who?’ she asked. ‘Paul’, I said – slightly taken aback. And even when I described him to her, she still looked puzzled. It was raining heavily that day, and I thought I would go look for Paul after work. The old lady with a drooling dog wanted cappuccino and I made her one. She said she wanted regular, not big. She stared at me impatiently and I thought I would never find Paul in this rain. In central London.