Kermit in the Kardomah
“Kermit,” the young woman said. Then towards me, “Sorry it just slipped out.”
She was referring to the American guy by the window making a call home on his cell phone.
Luckily he didn't hear. “Yeah, I'm fine…. Yup, Helen's fine…. Yeah, we're having a great time!”
I involuntarily grinned. She was right of course. He sounded just like Kermit. But when I looked I saw that she was dressed all in green and yellow and I couldn't help but think she was one to talk.
She was one to talk. “I got a job today,” she continued seeing that I'd smiled.
“Congratulations” I said and looked away.
“Selling solar panels as part of the government's new scheme.”
“Well done you.”
I shovelled a forkful of coffee cake into my mouth. Sipped at my tea. Admired the fifties style décor, the gleaming mirrors and panelling, the Chinaman by the door.
“Yes. I was just coming out of a bad relationship and I got this interview this morning and now I have a flat, a job and everything.”
“Things are looking up then,” I remarked and I tried to smile.
My husband blew at the froth on his cappuccino and gave me a look: don't encourage her. There were few people in at that time of the day and I wished I had taken more care in choosing a table but I hadn't immediately noticed her there, sequestered under the stairwell.
“Now I can make a home for me and the kids.”
“I see. Well good luck with that.” One can't simply be rude, I implied in an answering glance.
She poked about a bit in her oversized handbag, produced a pen and began scribbling things down onto a note pad from a magazine she'd been flicking through. She had an odd way of writing with her hand twisted inwards as if shielding the page from unwanted viewers. “I'm looking into interior design,” she said “because I have this new flat.”
The manager, a tall dark haired Italian flitted past our table. “Everything okay?”
“Yes this cake is gorgeous,” I said, though I had the feeling he didn't mean the food. He nodded then and went about his business. We only had to say the word.
“Oh, look at these!” she darted over to our table, magazine in hand to show us some colourful glass kitchen panels. “Aren't they great?”
I was somewhat startled by the sudden movement and I could smell alcohol on her breath but she was just being over-friendly I knew, and I suddenly realised how vulnerable she was.
“Of course I haven't phoned yet to find out the price,” she giggled and went back to her table. She pulled her green coat closer. It was waist length; the casual type that had a zip and hood and not at all what you'd wear to an interview and I'd noticed she was wearing jeans. Close-up she'd looked older; pale and drawn. I glanced at my watch – 4pm – schools would be out now if she had any kids but I doubted it.
After rummaging again through another bag, she set to with a pair of nail scissors, cutting pictures from the magazine, frantically writing notes and shoving them into each of several bags she had occupying another seat.
A waitress came to clear his table. I saw her have a word with the manager and approached the stairwell. “You can take that magazine with you if you like,” he told the girl.
“Can I? Thanks.” It was a broad enough hint but she made no move to leave even though they were cleaning up around her.
We wished her well with the new job on our way out.
“I wonder where she goes to when they close?” I said outside.
“Oh she's okay.” my husband said. “Probably a hostel or a B&B. She's clean and tidy and she'll muddle through. They do you know.”
And I knew he was right but I was glad I hadn't ignored her. I suppose that's always been one of the things I like most about the Kardomah. It's always been a place where misfits fit.