23rd November

Café Limbo (3)

The child’s question was both wise and innocent. ‘What are we waiting for?’ And the waiter – he who waited upon us – granted her his most benevolent smile.

The murderous sounds from the street had ceased, and the waiter’s equanimity was returning. I remembered my first impression – that he was a man who was good at his job.

He’d said they could not kill Mr Brogan, but what had he meant? That they – whoever they were – could not kill him, or that Mr Brogan could not be killed? Who was Mr Brogan, and why had he been late in arriving, and for what? Who were we, our little group of strangers? How had the waiter come by our names, and why did he have them?

I scanned the faces of the other adult customers and I could see all those questions, and more besides, swirling in their eyes. And then I looked at the child, and heard again her question. And the waiter was grateful to her, because she was asking not so much about the purpose as about the delay. She did not want to postpone whatever was going to happen next.

What happened was that the waiter said, ‘If you would kindly follow me, I will show you to the other exit.’

There was no dissent. The waiter led, the child followed him, and we all followed the child. There was a counter behind which was all the apparatus of a café – coffee machines, bottles and jars, cutlery and crockery, stacked menus, serviettes and tablecloths, surfaces for food preparation, sinks, hobs and fridges. Everything was clean and cold. There was no food to prepare. No one was there except for us and our waiter.

Down a corridor we went, to a door with a fire escape sign on it, and a bar to release the door. The waiter stood aside. ‘Goodbye,’ he said. ‘Good luck.’

The old lady fumbled at her handbag. ‘What do we owe you?’ she said, but he shook his head, to show that there was nothing to pay.

Then the child pushed the bar, and the door swung open, and one after another we stepped out into the starry night.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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