“How long have you wanted to meet?” She asked the youth abruptly, carefully avoiding his eyes.
In her heart she knew it was too late…for both of them. But, here he was, and here she was. There was something deliberate about her whole persona… like it had been perfected. The way she stirred her spoon seemed intentionally rhythmical, emulating chimes gently swaying in a soft breeze. Samuel, although trying to pay full attention to the words that she spoke, could not help but become nostalgic of the sounds he heard in his childhood. After gaining control over his emotions, he allowed himself to imagine what his companion might look like twenty-five years younger before attempting an answer.
The doorbell to Carmel’s Café rang as a lady entered the dimly lit environment, ushering in a plume of cold air and city noise with her. Samuel’s attention returned to his own table.
“I’ve harboured a lot of resentment for a long time, you know. Growing up an orphan, learning about the world on your own… I’d never wish it upon any child. Once I let go of the anger, I realised I’d eventually have to come to terms with my past.” He neither inclined his head nor changed his expression. He didn’t owe her the satisfaction.
She surveyed her subject thoroughly with a glint of doubt flickering through her eyes before asking, “How did you find me?”
He felt the chill from the question hit hard against him. “All the guy at the agency said was, ‘Loose ends.’ He wasn’t sure if you were… well, you know… but he told me you’ve been waiting for me fifteen years; coming here every week, hoping I’d one day decide to find you.” He shuffled in his chair, nervously awaiting a consoling response. “Loose ends have to tie off at some point, right?” he said braving a slight half-smile. Although the café had an air of calm, it was an awkward, unrelenting silence that left them both feeling cold.
Their eyes locked. As much as she tried, he did not let her look away. The guitarist plucking Simon and Garfunkel in the darker corner of the café did nothing to recede the waves of anxiety thrashing against his senses. Consolation did not come. Samuel choked down his unease, took the upper hand and continued the two-way interrogation.
“Why did you… why did you give me up?” Samuel’s emotional restraint was wavering now and she could tell in his face as a twitch in his upper lip escaped his control. She held the silence for as long as she could.
“Please answer my question… Emily.” His words had authority this time.
She took a deep breath before the plunge, “That is a question I always knew I would have to answer, and have always wanted to answer, but… I can’t.”
The doorbell rang again, this time as the guitarist went outside and lit up a cigarette in the front porch of the café. The middle-aged woman sitting opposite Samuel lifted her head immediately. Her eyes watched the guitarist billowing out swirling patterns of grey fume in the cold winter air. Her head cocked sideways a little, “If you knew that man was going to get run over by a bus tomorrow, do you think it would be important to tell him that smoking kills, today?” Her eyes grew sincere with the thought.
Samuel traced the line of her focus and scoffed sarcastically, seeing the guitarist. She said nothing, just kept staring at the smoking guitarist with immense curiosity. She spoke again, still not dissuading her eyes from the silhouetted figure through the aged glass windows. He forced his cup onto the saucer in frustration. Samuel could no longer hold back the tsunami of anxiety rising in him.
“Emily, I don’t see how this is even remotely related to our conversation… or at least my intended conversation.” His brow closed in over his eyes with the heightened tension in his voice. As the doorbell rang once again, a patron exited and the guitarist re-entered the café, shyly smiling in the direction of Emily and Samuel after feeling the heat of their gaze during his break.
This time when she spoke, Emily looked directly into Samuel’s eyes, enunciating each word clearly. “Samuel, if I am to be of any consolation to you… or your past, then I need you to answer my question.” Her guarded expression ceased, and all that was left was an almost innocent look of sincerity.
After a strong exhale of breath, he repeated the question, more to himself than anyone else. He sat completely still for the first time in their meeting, and thought. “No. If I knew that man were to do die tomorrow I would not want to rob him of his last remaining pleasures.”
Her face softened and her eyes looked away, as if in shame. Samuel was not prepared for this change in dynamic and sat rigidly in his chair afraid to move in case of upsetting her. His unease was brief.
“Samuel, I’m afraid you’re not going to like what I’m going to say, so I will be quite plain…I’m sorry, I’m not your mother.”
She immediately averted her eyes away. Samuel watched as she shrunk into a smaller, frailer stature of a woman. She was defeated but certainly not by any means of his. He didn’t understand, and was unprepared for this unexpected reality.
Samuel knew he should be as mad as a meat-axe… How dare she… But it wasn’t anger, it was relief that he now felt. The relief swept over him like a blanket on a fire, quelling his heavy anger and frustration; relief that this somewhat arrogant, haughty woman was not his mother after all. His heart slowed to a steady tempo, his breathing deep, and his mind quiet. Though he’d met who he thought was his mother, he wasn’t comforted, sympathised or … loved. Deep down he knew he could never make up for 25 years of loss, but that didn’t stop him wanting to. She was still out there to find, and the adventure in him began again almost instantly.
The café doorbell rang as the older lady behind the counter raced after the owner of a forgotten shawl. She ran down the street in a flash intercepting the grateful owner. Samuel and Emily watched on, glad of distraction for the moment. The older lady pulled her coat tight around her as she fought against the biting wind back to the cafe.
As she entered, the doorbell again rang, and she shook off the debris from her shoes before making her way past Emily and Samuel. Emily looked up at the lady and smiled, “I see those legs of yours have still got some spring left in them, Carmel.”
The lady turned to face them, “Yes, there’s hope for us yet, Emily,” laughing quietly as she made her way back to her counter.
Samuel thought Carmel fitted into her café so well that she could easily melt into the background and become one with it all; the old leather seats, the aged wood bar, the 30’s lighting fixtures. Even the smell seemed befitting with a slight hint of vanilla covering the muskiness. Carmel leant over on her counter and watched the guitarist fill the air with gentle sound, just as Emily watched.
Samuel had no idea that Emily knew the owner of the café. But it made sense that she would want to meet her son in a place where she felt safe and comfortable… a little loved. That’s all Samuel wanted too. Perhaps they weren’t so different after all.
“You come here often.” Samuel stated more than asked.
“Yes, well, we yearn for things from our past.” She smiled softly for a moment before looking over again at the guitarist who’d now continued on to Don Mclean.
Samuel also looked at the guitarist, eager to find a point of comfort to talk about.
“Does he come here often?” nodding his head in the direction of the guitarist.
“Only for the last 5 years.” Emily, realising what Samuel was doing, turned to face him before she spoke again. “Samuel, please don’t feel obliged in keeping up our meeting. I am more than happy for you to go when you feel you need to. And please, I will pay for our table. I understand the loss you must feel by our meeting. Your mother is very fortunate to have you out there looking for her.” She smiled kindly and went on. “Though sometimes, dear, it’s okay to let go. Take it from me, she won’t think any less of you.”
Samuel got up from the table, collected his coat from behind his chair and went around to Emily, politely kissing her on the cheek.
“It was nice to have met you, Emily.” He smiled and took her hand.
She found it hard to hide her delight, holding his hand for just a few seconds longer. “And you, Samuel, and you.”
The doorbell sweetly rang as he made his way into the busy street. He put on his overcoat and made his way casually up the street, and out of Emily’s sight.
Emily breathed out heavily, then reached into her handbag and retrieved two letters. Opening them both and placing them on the table, she sat and gazed out of the café window. The letter on the left was addressed to her from a doctor’s surgery. It was an official transcript with the following recommendation:
Dear Ms Mathieson,
It is our regretful duty to inform you that your condition has become volatile. It is the practise’ strong recommendation that you order your finances and family affairs as soon as possible.
It went on, but Emily had read it before and needn’t injure her heart again. She did however spend some time reading every word of the other letter, over and over. It too was addressed to her, but this one was from a friend.
I have wonderful news: I’ve found your son! He grew up not far from where you’re living now, a small orphanage called Braxton’s. It’s since closed down, but I managed to get some information from the headmistress. He’s just completed his studies in law, a bright child from all accounts. Isn’t that wonderful? I haven’t found his address yet, but will let you know when I’ve tracked him down.
His name is Samuel.
Brendan Smith is a full-time university student, part-time musician, and wannabe-writer. He has taught in schools, conducted choirs and musicals, and now lives abroad whilst studiying Media Education. For more info visit Brendan at https://www.facebook.com/FiddleWren