It’s past noon. I look at the stack of Chinese delivery menus & frown. Sichuan Savour has something like one hundred & fifty items on it, most of them dishes that you would never see in an actual Chinese restaurant back home, or China for that matter – pork lo mein, kung pao chicken, egg rolls, beef curry with chips – & none of them sound very appealing so I grab my coat & decide to walk the one & a half miles out to Sketty for some lunch.
It’s 6 degrees out & it rained in the morning, so by the time I reach the tiny cluster of shops my ears are stinging from the cold. I duck into the first cafe I see before I turn into a human popsicle. Dilly’s Kitchen.
The cafe is so small that it only has two tables & one of them is taken by a strapping Welsh man in construction boots, inhaling bacon & eggs & beans on toast. There is a 50-something year old lady (the eponymous Dilly, I presume) behind the glass counter arranging the bowls of raw salad greens & a teenager making some pies, up to her elbows in pastry dough. I order a cappuccino from Dilly, who smiles at me & says:
Do you want chocolate with that, sweetie?
…to which I reply, yes please, because you never say no to chocolate even if you’ve never heard of it being added to a cappuccino before. I take a seat at the second table that’s right next to the glass store front & Dilly serves the coffee a minute later, sprinkled with chocolate powder. I take a sip & sigh with pleasure as the welcome heat spreads across my chest. I take out my book & start reading & it’s another twenty minutes before the next customer wanders in. It’s an old man & immediately, Dilly greets him.
Hello dearie. How’s your wife?
She’s alright, thanks for asking. Last week she got a bit of a cold & it was quite hard for her to come out of it but she did.
Oh that’s a relief.
Though I must say that all in all, her health hasn’t been that good since the last scare…
They chat quite a bit & a third lady appears from the back kitchen & joins in the conversation. Did you get a second opinion? We’re working on that. Here’s something, a little extra to take home. He gets some pies & walks out of the cafe after a chorus of goodbyes & take cares.
I get back to reading my book & am just getting really wrapped up in it when suddenly I hear a shriek. I look up, startled. The three women are squealing because they’ve unplugged the dishwasher & dislodged something & the kitchen is flooding. Immediately, the guy at the other table gets up & asks:
Is everything alright?
Oh it’s fine, but it’s so funny isn’t it! Our kitchen is completely soaked.
Is there anything I can do?
Oh no, that’s sweet of you to ask, but we’ll just have to clean up & get it fixed in the morning…
We’re so spoiled – we don’t know how to do dishes without the dishwasher. That’s the biggest problem. What will become of us!
Everyone laughs, including me.
A while later, a woman who is even older than the last man shuffles into the cafe, walking stick in hand. She’s at least eighty, terribly hunched-back & dressed in a leopard print coat & a grand black hat. It takes her an excruciatingly long time to get from the front door to the counter & the third lady spots her & calls out:
Hello Patricia, how are you today?
Lovely, just lovely. What do you have today?
Well, we’ve got some good pies… a real nice three-fish pie if you’re in the mood for that. & we’ve also got the salad with ham or chicken…
Oh, could I get that please? With the ham.
Certainly, just take a seat & I’ll get that to you in a jiffy.
The big Welsh man gets up & leaves & the ancient woman sits down at the now empty table. I smile at her but she doesn’t respond & I realise that she’s blind.
We don’t have iceberg anymore, Patricia, only mixed greens, is that alright?
That’s perfectly fine. *pause* Is that lettuce though?
It’s lettuce, but in different colours.
I order a slab of mixed berry cake. It is warm & moist & wonderfully sour. Patricia & I eat in silence. I people watch for a bit, looking at the comings & goings of this small town where everyone knows everyone else’s names & their family members & who is ill & whose kid just went off for college & to where. Someone drops a plate in the kitchen, & then another.
She’s dropping the dishes on purpose so she doesn’t have to wash them. Ha!
School boys with cigarette trousers & skateboards. A few couples in sleek coats & beautiful haircuts. Mostly old people walking their old dogs. I feel like I am an outsider that has crept into an arcadian novel, made privy to the inner workings of this Star Hollow-esque family. The store front is the glass of a snow globe & I am holding the ornament up & seeing everything that is happening in this dream-like, homespun sphere.
How’s the salad?
It’s very nice, thank you.
You’re welcome, Patricia. Would you like some fruit?
Oh yes, if you have some.
It’s about 3 o’ clock. I read this passage from my novel:
“For now, I’m happy to be alone. I’ve spent my whole life with others – my parents, girlfriends, Jennifer. Maybe I want something different.”
“Aloneness isn’t loneliness.”
(Here I am – Jonathan Safran Foer)
The rest of the afternoon passes mostly in silence. A few more customers come in to get takeaway dinners, some just to get a coffee & say hello to one of the three ladies. Patricia finishes her fruit salad. She realises that she’s forgotten her wallet at home & apologises profusely but Dilly waves it off & says it’s no hurry & tells her to get home safe.
Next time, next time.
I’m so dreadfully sorry.
It’s okay, Patricia. Remember to check everywhere. Give me a ring if you still can’t find it.
I will. Thank you.
It’s 440pm. The flow of customers slows to a trickle. It’s time to go. I pack up & get a ham salad to go. It takes Dilly 15 minutes to assemble the salad because she’s asking me three questions between the addition of each ingredient, hardly pausing long enough to let me answer which I’m perfectly fine with.
Where are you from, then?
Your English is really excellent!
Do you want some sun-dried tomatoes?
The weather is a bit awful today, perhaps it’ll be better tomorrow, what do you think?
What kind of cheese would you like?
I suppose you’d want a nice paper bag to carry this in?
I pay my bill & we exchange the necessary “English” pleasantries & then I hold my breath as I exit the warmth of the cafe & step into the snow globe, into the biting wind. It’s only 5pm but already the sky is darkening, so I quicken my step to get home before the sun sets.
“Home, I’m making my way home
My mind’s already there
Yes, my mind is
Light, you’re with me in the dark
Light my way at night
Let your light shine”
(Going Home – Asgeir)
I have said less than 10 sentences the entire afternoon. It’s a casual lesson in slowing down, in listening. For what though? Nothing & everything. Sometimes that’s enough. I’m making my way home.