Monday, 15 April 2013

The wasps are angry. They know they're dying.

I lifted my coffee and put the small change in a tip jar.  Held by one hand, the cup rattled nervously on the saucer.  Better use two.  Coffee swirled across the lip as I turned around. 

Behind me, a woman in an electric wheelchair had just come in.  Her torso was upright and her arms only just mobile, a finger poised over a toggle button.  I felt embarrassed.  I clasped my arms to my body, coffee cup right by my chest, and pressed myself against chairs behind me to let her past.  Damn it, the chairs scraped the floor.

"Go on ahead," she said warmly, in a raspy voice.  "You'll get through easier than me."  Her neck didn't move as she looked up at me, and I saw lots of white in her eyes.  She had a slight frame and fine features, her hair long and straight and blonde.  The corners of her mouth flickered into a smile.

"Oh thanks," I said, and went to sit down.

This woman manoeuvred herself neatly to a table near mine, facing the wall where I saw her clearly.

"Usual is it, Heather?"  

The waitress walked over, put a hand on Heather's shoulder, turned and softened her knees to see her customer's face.  Heather nodded, barely perceptibly.  The waitress was off, busied herself behind the counter, foamed milk, cut a slice of pie, wrapped a fork in a paper napkin.

"Now.  There you are, love."  She took Heather's hand and set it around the napkin-clad fork.  "Two sugars, isn't it?"  She knew really, she didn't wait for an answer before tearing a sachet and tipping in the contents.  Heather's eyes strained over her shoulder in recognition.

I set my own cup down into its saucer.

Heather looked at hers.

"And there you go, pet," said the waitress, and popped a straw into the frothy cup, giving it a stir.  "Watch, now, it's hot."

With her wrist, Heather pushed the fork forward.  She concentrated on opening up the napkin with a forefinger.  Third time, it worked.  Then, she grabbed at the fork several times before she managed to clutch it up with all five fingers.

And so, slowly, she transported a piece of pie, just a few crumbs really, to her mouth and ate it.  She sucked as much as she chewed, obviously concentrating on the motion all the while.  When she stopped, she leaned forward for a sip of coffee through the straw.

A man walked in, late forties maybe, shiny shoes and a purple V-neck.  He was waving a newspaper all around him.

"Latte, please love, when you get a wee minute."  And he sat down by the window and opened his paper.  I noticed now why he's been waving it, a wasp had followed him in and was buzzing about his head.  Now reading, he flailed his arms.  The wasp careened past his ear and made him flinch.

Now it swooped past me and towards Heather.  It flew once around her head and landed in her long hair.  I noticed now it was greying blonde.  She put down her fork gently and took a sip of coffee.  The wasp flew off, circled her once, and landed back in the same spot, like it wanted the recognition it didn't get the first time.  It flew down onto the pie, danced about a bit, and flew across the room and out of sight.

Heather just sat there, and I didn't know if I should say anything.

The waitress appeared our side of the counter again, and carried a latte to the man who'd brought the wasp in.  It followed in her wake.

"There's that wee bugger after you again, love.  This place is wild for wasps, isn't it?"  He went to roll up his paper.

"End of the warm weather," replied the waitress.  "They're angry this time of year."

He slowly rolled up the sports section and raised it above his head.  He sat motionless, only his pupils moving right and left, tracking the wasp as it teased him.  It flew right past his ear.  He winced.  It flew round a single white flower on the table.  It skimmed right across the top of his latte, centimetres from it.

It landed on the table.


He missed, the flower and vase fell over.  He started waving his paper again like mad.  The wasp went wild.

He got up stealthily, ready to strike.  He raised the paper slowly.  Slowly.

Slam.  He hit the wall.  I couldn't see the wasp now, but I could hear it, all over the place, one end of the cafe to the next in a second.  He couldn't see it either - he cocked his head, motionless but for eyes flitting here and there.

"Shit!" he yelled.  "The bugger stung me!"

And it flew straight out the door.  The man's face was puce, he was holding the back of his hand tight, his cheeks swelled like balloons and neck veins bulged with him trying to keep further curses in.  He released his breath roughly and the redness calmed.

He sat down again.  He looked at the waitress, then at Heather, and at me.  He unrolled his sport section and started to read.

"Mister, do you want some lemon juice?  Or is it baking soda?  I can never remember which is for bees and which is for wasps."

"Leave it, darling, it'll be OK."

He read the sport.  The waitress wiped the counter with a cloth.  I looked at Heather.

She took another bite of pie.  It took her a long time to swallow it.  She sucked some coffee through a straw,  and she choked a little.

Heather saw me staring and smiled warmly.  I tried to look away, I felt my cheeks burn.

"It's the end of September," she said softly.  "The wasps are angry.  They know they're dying."

Her hand trembled a little as she put down the fork.

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