A Piece on Being Recognised

If you go out for lunch late enough, yes, the shops have run out of fresh food but the streets are quieter. The coffee shop had run out of most things, but still there were beans. I can no longer enter the premises without thinking of her, nor remembering the stack of ‘free coffee’ cards I have in my flat, placed in the spot where I put my keys every night, as well as my hayfever medicine, behind a limp houseplant. A man walked out, fist-pumped the woman behind the till – causing me to sneer – and she said—‘Make sure you’re in on time tomorrow.’ Then she turned back to me—‘You want it ground.’ Neither a question or a statement, but I reassured her—‘Yes, please… uh, ground, cafetiere… french press.’

‘Do you want a free coffee?’ ‘No thanks.’ She hands me another ‘free coffee’ card, which I placed into my wallet in preparation for armageddon, when it might well become currency.

Bishopsgate was a funnel of wind. The fist-pumping man – who had returned to pick up a sandwich – slammed the door in my face upon my exit, and apologised; I followed him down the street, paying keen attention to him as he adjusted the woolen hat on his head, until it snug just right. I tucked my chin into my coat.

There was no queue in the photo shop. The lighting inside blared. Perhaps the sweetshop round the corner would be worth a look, but save the money and the teeth. Barely had I got to the till to check what film they had in stock than a clerk swiftly ran to the till. She bowed in acknowledgement as I reached into a pocket of my backpack and pulled from it two exposed rolls of film. How many times had I used the till before I realized that it doubled as a lightbox? She pulled each thirty-six from their plastic cannisters and set them down.

(I thought of what was on them:

Tallinn, Estonia; pizza roads & wooden houses; cafes; boats of day-trippers; board games and fucking; cum; nudity sprawled across her sofa; the road beyond the bus-stop where the rain fell in slices; guests arriving to a house party.)

She wrote down my name. It was neat handwriting. It’s unusual for me to spot good handwriting when my father’s cursive is better than my mother’s and the building industry I work in is so tormented with illegible script in capitals. I was shocked she knew my name, but knew my name she did, and there it was. I have always found my surname – which is all she knew – quite a pleasure to trace with a pen; its shape flowing in swirls & delicacy.

She tore off each strip (one colour, one monochromatic) and handed them to me, wished me a good day, saying she would see me Friday—‘At sixteen, just to be sure.’

The lady took to me like one who occasionally brought in rolls of 35mm film, against the fray of folk seeking passport photos or digital prints. She smiled at me and began filling in the form, maybe saying something aloud as though she were unsure of my preferences; only—‘Matte.’ Neither a question or a statement, but I reassured her—‘Matte.’ She had good teeth and she smiled a lot. I liked to imagine that her university career was going terrifically, and when she left – which she would eventually end up doing – she would be so sad to tell the owners of the franchise – who were a very lovely & cute couple – that she was on to other things, and, of course, they would understand, thank her and hold no ill-will. Often she checked the time and the date, but with no wristwatch to speak of, she looked at the till – where she had pressed the ‘TIME/DATE’ button – and informed me that the black & white would take… Thursday…? No, maybe Friday… ‘Best come in Friday at sixteen…’ I said that was okay; I expected it to take that long.

The sun had come out; it blistered on puddles that took up the joints in paving slabs. I went to the supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner. It was quiet. There were people wearing face-masks. I sniggered and studied bags of coriander. Despite all my better judgements, I appreciated the American word: cilantro. It rolled off the tongue in a Mexican wonder of yellow and tall prisms. Yet still I pronounced it like an American, and scanned it; all those fragile leaves of deliciousness!

That evening I went to the shop and, having had my fill of a tough day that had gone unexpectedly well, stopped off to buy some cheap red wine. The bottle had been there so long that an amount of grey dust had accumulated on it. The till stated I need a member of staff confirm my age, and, no sooner had I scanned it through, than he appear at my shoulder! He smiled at me and said hello, then told the machine, with some perfect flicks of the wrist, that I was of age. The last time I had spoken to him was mid-February – before those two rolls of film – when he told me he had Valentine’s day off and was going to get laid—‘Got Valentines day off, bruv! You bet I’m getting laid!’ His jaw protruded as he placed his hand on my shoulder and sold me the bottle of wine. He didn’t look so happy. Was Valentine’s over? Maybe I could unfold to him my Valentine’s day and all its captures currently being developed. Instead I touched his shoulder and wished him a good-night. I liked that he recognised me, although it had been almost a month. I wondered if he remembered his Valentine’s day and how both of us had leaned toward it with such enthusiasm!

Back on Bishopsgate. I lit up and watched the rush-hour traffic pass me by. I stared at the colour of the traffic lights and how it spilled on everything, how it seemed so much like everything was the colour of traffic lights when traffic lights shone.