She was peering blankly into her cup of coffee, idly twisting her spoon around, doing what she should have avoided, cooling the drink to the point of it becoming bland, tasteless. She stared into its depths, willing a glimpse into her future, hoping the muddy mass could portend what her swirling feelings hinted at.
Always aware of her accent and afraid of looking a fool, she had learnt a simple technique: to look people in the eye. The cruel gaze of the city and its inhabitants was masked by an affected nonchalance, a penetrating glimpse into origins and picked-up habits, not fooled by the odd twang of labouring pronunciation. She walked up to the counter and looking straight, ordered her meal, with the sauces she wanted, the bread she liked, and the dressing she preferred, not an easy task if you haven't done it before. She looked to be doing it with ease, while her stomach clenched and hands sweated in feverish anticipation of a slip in her performance.
Her ears suddenly picked up familiar sounds. The tittering of female voices, a profusion of clicking sounds and the implied confidence; it was intended for effect which it invariably created. She smiled to herself at the quality of performance, an unfailing attempt at tackling everyday life, with everyday rivals and everyday inanities. She turned to confirm her guess and was stopped by a tap on the opposite shoulder.
'Alone again?' he smiled, shaking his head in mild amusement.
She smiled in response, took his hand, and guided him to the seat opposite her derelict coffee. Looking across at him, she asked him about the meeting she had missed due to an illness. He rattled off the details and entertained her with an account of a colleague's faux pas of having mixed up the statistics tables and hurried to correct them during his presentation. Laughing, she took a sip of her coffee, grimaced, and pushed it away.
Turning around to look at the counter, she spotted her colleagues with their handbags perched on their arms like heavy birds, a languid air enveloping their gaze and pursing their lips while they took a quick look around. Spotting her, they waved enthusiastically, in their 'social-butterfly' way, she thought and shuddered to accept the air kissing and hugging. She threw a quick glance at him and was immediately aware that the air was not packed tight around him. Wistfully, she smiled back in return and invited them to her table. Not in any mood to discuss office intrigues and foiled by circumstance, she let herself be dragged to an afternoon of boredom.