The No Drop Cafe - Straight Black
It was early one winter's morning, at about the time when mothers take their children to school.Â I was on a long stroll to appease my doctor, who foolishly had forgotten about not becoming involved with a patient.Â As a psychiatrist, she should have known better.
Not that I can blame her.Â It was perfectly understandable.Â After all, I was a struggling poet with no prospects.Â Who better for her to rescue and renew?Â For if her attentions could smite me with sufficient guilt to write a poem about her, such would bestow upon her an immortal place in the literature of the world.Â Likewise with a vitriolic piece about her bastard of a husband â€“ the unfeeling swine, who'd turned gay and walked out on her and their beautiful young daughter.Â Not that I'd ever clapped eyes on Miss Goodie Two Shoes!Â But my psychologist-come-psychiatrist and also doctor had sung her praises so highly that the girl was undoubtedly destined for sainthood.
Thus the lass surely was deserving of an ode or two by any poet worthy of the name.Â And so my continued health â€“ ill or otherwise â€“ was an investment by the lady doctor in garnering at least a modest sonnet about her precious angel.Â Perhaps even a heroic epic about a doctor mother and saintly daughter, cruelly stung by the slings and arrows of a brutal world â€“ perhaps set to weeping violins.
But all that presupposed that the poet was able to survive his struggling in the surgery.Â Naturally enough, what happens between a consenting patient and doctor struggling in the privacy of the consulting room is no business whatsoever of the Medical Board.Â Nor is my loathing and pathological dread of the hypodermics used to extract blood, to test my blood levels for this, that and other mysterious things.Â Quite rightly, such is of no ethical concern to the Board.Â And never would be.Â For although the good lady doctor was undoubtedly involved with the humbug scribblings of my pen, she was a fundamentalist Christian.Â And, recently, had become an enthusiastic convert to lesbianism.
If only she hadn't!Â Then I'd be sitting in her red Porsche sports car, instead of trudging in the drizzling rain.Â On the spur of the moment, I resolved to confess to her that I was a born again lesbian, even though I was a man.Â And that all men were unfeeling swine.Â With a notable exception - to remain modestly nameless, if needs be.
Such was my thinking as I decided to take a shortcut across the nearest car park of a sprawling shopping centre.Â It was only sanity to get out of the rain, and to escape the annoying wailing of an approaching ambulance.Â Thus it was timely to go and worship a skinny flat white coffee in a temple, newly opened: The No Drop CafÃ©, with Solomon Bros as proprietors.
I speculated from the oddity of the name that in this cafe it was ordained there were no budget priced skinny flat whites for the down trodden of the world.Â That either you paid the outrageous prices as a sacrifice to the god of caffeine or could go to hell in a fruit basket.Â With this being yet one more cross to bear as the innocent victim of poverty; and as a long-suffering patient of a doctor who'd found God and her lesbian true love â€“ and the devil take the rest.
As I ventured into this coffee emporium for the very first time, I cursed myself â€“ which was less painful than kicking myself.Â I'd forgotten to shave my head and to wear the saffron robe I'd retrieved from a bin behind a Buddhist temple.Â I'd even forgotten to bring the empty ice cream container that could double as a begging bowl.Â But then, it was unlikely that the Solomon brothers were Buddhists; or Christians devout enough to take pity on the poor, and with such empathy expressed in the guise of affordable skinny flat whites.
How foolish of me!Â In the fullness of time I learned that Isaac and Benjamin Solomon were committed atheists, with hearts of gold.Â Many a mug of my favourite brew were destined to come my way, paid for by my attentive attention to their passionate views on the burning Jewish issue of the ages â€“ circumcision!Â But not on this, the first of such mornings.
I walked into The No Drop CafÃ©, to be met by a beaming smile from the man behind the counter, who introduced himself as Isaac.Â Zac, for short.Â I was even more pleasantly surprised by the prices; and I made the executive decision to indulge myself with a refill, if the brew wasn't too foul.Â Leaving Isaac to busy himself with creating a skinny flat white triumph, I scanned the shallow depths of the establishment.Â The only one there was a little girl in a bright blue dress.Â She appeared to be sobbing quietly.Â I turned to ask Isaac about her, but he'd just picked up the telephone and seemed oblivious to all else.Â It left no alternative but to go and sit myself down opposite the crying girl.
"There, there," I said soothingly.Â "What's the matter?"
She glanced up at me, a big tear rolling down her cheek.Â "I've lost my Mummy."Â Her chest heaved out a big sob.Â "I can't find my Mummy."
"Well," I said, ever helpful, "Tell me your name and I'll go and ask everyone if they've seen your Mum."
The little girl shook her head firmly.Â "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers!"
I smiled encouragingly.Â "My name is Nicholas," I said to set an example.Â "And I'm a saint.Â Now that you know me, you can tell me your name."
"No!" she said, even more firmly.Â "I'm not allowed to talk to saints!"Â Then once more she dissolved into tears, sobbing, "Mummy, Mummy!"
It shot dead all conversation.Â Thus I rose and walked to the counter, but Isaac was still glued to the telephone.Â He rolled his eyes helplessly and shrugged an apology.Â At a loss for what else to do, I ambled to the front door, and stepped outside to look for signs of a frantically searching mother.Â Instead, I almost collided with an ashen faced woman, with horror in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," I murmured.Â "Forgive me, but are you all right?"
She shook her head.Â "There â€¦ there's been a terrible accident in the far car park," she said in a strangled voice.Â "Someone's been killed."
"A very young girl â€¦. in a blue dress," she answered, her voice breaking.Â "She was with her mother in a small red sports car.Â Some stupid, impatient idiot in one of those big four wheel drives â€“ a tank of a thing â€“ crashed into them.Â "It's terrible, terrible!"Â She shook her head.Â "But if there's a blessing in any of it, they've taken the mother to hospital.Â Smashed up, but alive."Â She shook her head again. Â "I need a coffee â€“ a strong black one!"
I ushered her into The No Drop CafÃ© where Isaac, now off the phone, was busy with pouring a skinny flat white coffee.Â To my astonishment, there was no sign of the weeping girl.
"Where'd she go?" I asked Isaac.
He gave me a puzzled look.Â "Who?"
"The little girl in the blue dress!" I replied.Â "She was sitting over there.Â Crying!"
Isaac shook his head, glancing first at me and then at the distraught woman - who now stood staring wide-eyed at me, her mouth gaping.
"There's been no little girl!" Isaac said emphatically.Â "You're my very first customer this morning.Â There's only been you and me!Â No one else!"
I turned to the woman.Â "The red sports car," I inquired.Â "Was it a Porsche?"
"I'm not sure.Â Perhaps it was.Â It looked very expensive."
I stared at Isaac.Â "Forget the skinny flat white.Â Make it two straight blacks!Â One for the lady and one for me.Â Strong, please!Â We need something to steady our nerves."
Much later, I told Isaac about the funeral of the doctor's daughter.Â I even read him the ode I'd written, and which had been recited at the eulogy.Â Perhaps that's why there's always a free skinny flat white for me at The No Drop CafÃ©.
Or perhaps because of the little ghost sobbing unseen in the corner, unable to talk to strangers and saints.
A little girl sowing doubts in Isaac's mind to shake his atheism.
Always, hers is the face that haunts my dreams.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes