21st November

Café Limbo (1)

A bell above the door jingled as I entered. It was an unostentatious place, with red checked tablecloths and wooden chairs, and a scattering of customers.

A waiter wearing a black apron, black waistcoat and red bow tie approached me. His demeanour was very calm – I knew instantly that he was good at his job.

‘For one, sir?’ He led me to a small round table in a corner. I sat down. He brought over a menu, the laminated kind that indicates standard, unchanging fare.

‘Coffee, tea or chocolate, sir?’ he asked, and the odd thing was that I did suddenly want a hot drink, though I had not known it a moment before.

‘Coffee, please,’ I said. ‘Black, no sugar.’

‘Certainly, sir.’ But he lingered, producing a pad and pencil.

‘I haven’t had a chance to decide on food yet,’ I said.

‘That’s all right, sir. Take your time. Your name, please?’

‘My name? What for?’

He gazed at me with kindly eyes.

‘Would it be Brogan, sir?’

‘No, it’s Robson.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ He made a mark on his pad. I was about to remonstrate when the bell jingled and a fat, bald man, red in the face, came in. The waiter moved towards him as if on wheels.

‘For one, sir?’

The fat man allowed himself to be led to a table. I heard the waiter offer him a hot drink. He opted for tea. The waiter asked if his name was Brogan. The man shook his head and the waiter made a mark on his pad.

At that moment I realised that I had no idea why I had come into the café, or even what town I was in. I looked at the other customers. I recognised nobody. There was no reason why I should. Nevertheless . . .

‘Waiter!’ I called.

‘One moment, sir.’

He had gone to the door, and was peering out into the gathering dark. I saw him glance at his watch.

When he came to my table he seemed somewhat anxious.

‘Something wrong?’ I asked.

‘It’s Mr Brogan,’ he said. ‘He should be here by now. All the rest of you are.’

‘Where?’ I asked. ‘Where is here?’

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music