For eleven years now I've been sitting on this chair every day from 2 to 6 PM. I always order a cup of tea, but the waitress brings me the whole kettle, knowing that I like to stay here longer. It's not that I'm very fond of tea or gingerbread. This whole street means little to me, it's just like any other in this city.
Except that she told me she'd meet me here. And she did. It was a fine morning in July and I'd been waiting for her, as I've always been just a tad bit early for every meeting I ever had, and the first thing I saw of her was her flowery yellow dress. No woman can ever wear that color better than my Mary! She headed straight to me with her tell-tale smile of hers on her lips. What a smile! I'd recognize it out of a million smiles, even if I were blind, for she had the power to light any room with it. How I miss her!
She only came that one time. She stood in the seat right next to me, ordered a cup of tea and one gingerbread-man, crossed her feet at her ankles and smiled at me. We talked about everything. She told me about her family, how her older brother was enrolling in the army, how her little sister wouldn't let go of an old ragged doll, how her father liked to read the newspaper in the evening while sitting in the grand armchair with his feet propped on a little stool, how her mother chased her away when she baked anything out of fear that there wouldn't be anything left for the guests. I told her about the business I'd started, about Joe, the young enthusiastic boy who, because of his over-enthusiasm, chased most of my customers, about that book I thought she'd like, about the house around the corner that I wanted to buy. I told her I wanted to paint the kitchen green and she vehemently protested, declaring that blue, that particular color the summer sky has, was the best option. I smiled and said I'd do just as she wished.
I listened to every word she said to me, and even now I remember how she talked about her family. I could tell she wanted one of herself, too. Not in that very moment, but one day. I wasn't to be part of that family, though. I was too old for that. She only saw me as the nice old man her mother called 'father' and only visited once a year. It was all I was allowed. It took a lot of time to convince Sarah to let me meet her here. But it was so worth it!
I'll never forget her ponytails or the barely noticeable stain on her dress. She said it was strawberry jam, it had dropped one morning and her mother couldn't get rid of the little red mark on the hemline. That little stain made her more approachable, knowing that she wasn't a doll in a shop window, it let me know that she was real and that she was there, beside me.
I never bought that house around the corner. I did, however, paint my kitchen blue. It makes me think of her every time I enter that room.
That was the last time we ate gingerbread together.
She did tell me that this was her favorite place in the entire city, though. She loved sweats, gingerbread in particular, more than anything in the world.
That's why I'm sitting here, waiting for her to come greet me.
She never does.
For two years after that meeting I never saw her even once. Then, one day, I saw her together with a few girls from school, on her way home. They went right past me and entered the shop. She spared me a glance, the kind of glance one gives a stranger, and walked right past me. I had the urge then to call her, to tell her how I missed her, but I never did. What would she have thought if I'd went up to her and asked her if she remembered me? What would she think if I were to do that now?
We only ate gingerbread together once, although she walks down this street every day. The store is not far away from her apartment, and she passes by me when she returns from work and when she meets him. I don't especially like him, he seems too old for her, too sophisticated with that coat of his and that haircut. He looks like a politician. She'd never be happy with a man like that. She's a free spirit. She would never agree to be seen and not heard. He's not suitable for her.
But I say nothing, knowing that I have no right to. I lost that right years ago. What am I saying? I've never had that right. And you can't lose what you've never had, can you? So I keep quiet, waiting.
They meet often now, sometimes they leave together, sometimes they only see each other in passing. They always greet each other with a kiss. I've never heard them say hello before or afterwards. That's another reason I don't like him. A man is supposed to greet a woman first. It's a show of respect. He never does that. They kiss as soon as they're close enough to each other and sometimes leave without saying a word. In these cases, he's the one to leave in a hurry. She stops, waits a few seconds, reconstructs the smile on her face – a frown or pensive look usually takes its place – and walks away like nothing happened. Bu it did. She sees that something's not right. Now I wait for her to act up on it. I wait for her to end the relationship that's been eating her away since it began.
And sometimes I'm rewarded with a smile.