It was that glare.
He didn’t even know how he got there in the first place. It wasn’t as if he planned it. It was a spontaneous decision to sit at that cafe, order a cup of coffee, and soak in the surroundings. What kind of coffee does one order when he doesn’t know what he wants to do? Because that was the one he ordered. Just something hot and strong to keep him company while he observed, something to make him feel like he belonged there with the other patrons.
The day was just nice. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. There was a soft breeze, the trees lazily swayed. It was an altogether lazy day in a lazy part of a lazy town. Just the nice sort of day to wander around aimlessly. Or sit at a random cafe and have a cup of one of those fancy Italian coffee that you don’t know how to pronounce properly but order anyway because it’s the cheapest one you could afford from the menu and it makes you feel sophisticated for drinking it. Frankly, a cup of Nescafe tarik would do the trick just the same, but uttering it here might get him ratted out as a poser. So he’d rather not take that chance for now.
So he sipped his cuppa slowly, one short sip every few minutes. He looked around. Watched the people walking around, not really in a hurry to get to anywhere. He watched that cat at the corner of the cafe curled up contentedly, deep asleep but not really. A few step in its direction and it would be wide awake almost instantaneously. He was so tempted to flick its ears… but not just yet.
He watched that small boy trying to pull his frazzled-looking mother towards the candy stall in the middle of the walkway. The boy was on the verge of throwing a tantrum, the mother was on the verge of going postal. It could’ve been a trick of the eye, but he taught saw a vein on her forehead pulsate with barely-contained fury. He found himself trying to predict the exact moment that she would snap and the boy would get his comeuppance.
“…and now. Aand… now. Damn. Aaand… now.”
The timing was all wrong. She seemed to be holding on for just a while longer than his predictions. “…and now. Dammit.” He was concentrating at the spectacle far more than he should. He was focusing at all the small details; the mother’s deathly grip on the boy, the boy’s obvious attempt to stomp his feet every step of the way to the candy stall and make everyone notice him, the mother trying very hard not to hurl profanities at the boy and the world, the candy stall operator watching the spectacle in horror, hoping it would just stop, please, stop, you’re making people stare at you la auntie.
Any telltale sign that would help his prediction be more precise. Suddenly that was all that mattered. Not the cat, not the beautiful weather, not that buxom lady who walked past him in that impossibly short skirt smelling of apricots (and yet he somehow noticed all that in a split second). No, what was the focus here was that boy and the hell he was about to unleash from within the depths of his mother’s psyche.
The waiter was walking around, serving other people who needed serving. He watched mother and son with bated breath, almost willing the meltdown to occur, a sadistic gleam in his eye, relishing the popcorn-worthy deliciousness of the public drama, when…
“Excuse me sir, do you want a refill of that coffee?” No reply from him.
The waiter cleared his throat. It broke his attention. He snapped around towards the waiter. “Huh? What?”
“Sir, would you like a refill of that coffee?”
Wow, they give refills here? he thought. He automatically looked at his cup. Then his mind started working on its own. A refill, eh. Hmm, I didn’t drink all that much but the coffee is pretty good but if I drink too much I might have to pee later lazy jugak wanna go to the toilet wait wait if I ask for a refill does that mean I’m trying too hard to look cool because cool people won’t keep asking for refills kan wait wait do they even have refills at Starbucks and shit wait what am I thinking now do I even want the coffee or not well ya la the coffee is kinda nice also but kalau ada Nescafe tarik pun best jugak oi you’re supposed to be sophisticated and shit sophisticated people don’t drink Nescafe la ahaha that Nescafe parody scene in Ouran Host Club was kinda funny so maybe sophisticated people are okay with Nescafe also eh so I want the refill or not think la yes or no yes or no wah this cafe not bad also the price is affordable and they have refills—
“Oh! Shit. Um… refill? I—”
And then he heard the sickening thwack of flesh hitting flesh that made him wince by reflex, followed by a stunned silence. He knew what had a happened. He realized, as he was turning his gaze from the waiter towards the mother and child, that he missed the moment. He knew he had missed that moment forever, that it would never ever happen again. All that prediction, that wait was all for naught. As he fixed the gaze upon the little boy, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The boy slowly cupped his now-red left cheek, but he didn’t realize what had happened just yet. His eyes were opening wider and wider as he slowly registered the pain. The candy stall operator had a defeated look on her face. This was the inevitable conclusion, one that she had hoped would never come to be. Up until that rude interruption, the candy stall operator was was having a pretty nice day. Business was surprisingly brisk, everyone was happy, the soft breeze cooled her down, she had a fairly healthy lunch, she was in high spirits. All that ended the moment the mother’s hand ended up on the boy’s left cheek.
He missed the moment of impact. He cursed under his breath, turned back to the waiter and glared. And glared. He glared until the waiter got the drift and walked away.
The waiter will never know why that particular customer glared at him on that nice, sunny, breezy day.
He turned back just in time to see the boy grasping the full magnitude of what had just happened to him, a split second before he delivered the proper response: an ear-piercing screamwailcry that destroyed the peace of that sunny, breezy afternoon for everyone in the nearby vicinity. Everyone, that is, except him. Was he glad that the boy got his comeuppance? Was he getting some kind of vicious glee from seeing that mother lose that thin veil of control and civility completely? He didn’t care. At that moment, he was completely enjoying the show.
He took another sip of that hard-to-pronounce coffee that came with free refills, never once taking his gaze off the two of them. He wasn’t about to miss whatever that might happen next. Indeed, he didn’t miss the horrible realization that came upon the mother when she regained her senses again. Nor did he miss the mother’s frantic and desperate attempt to calm the wailing boy with one of those over-sized spiral lollipops handed to her by the candy stall operator. He also didn’t miss the pouting and reluctant acceptance of the lollipop by the boy.
The boy stopped crying. The mother kissed him on the cheek, wiped the snot off his nose. He hugged her tight. She carried him up. That over-sized lollipop given to the boy was on the house. Everything was slowly coming back to normal. They slowly walked away from the candy stall, the operator waving at the boy who waved back, happy but oh-so-tired. And soon, everything was back to being sunny and breezy and lazy.
He felt cheated. He was expecting family-infused violence to go along with his cup of hard-to-pronounce coffee, but that sputtered and failed. He turned his attention back to the cafe. He thought of calling out for a refill, but his hand stopped moving, half-raised. He remembered the glare he gave the waiter minutes ago. He shouldn’t have done that. The waiter’s probably in there ranting to the other staff about the customer “yang kurang hajar nak mampus, aku tanya jer nak refill ke tak, dia jeling kat aku camtu buat apa, babi ar!”
But he wanted that refill. What would a sophisticated person do at a time like this? Swallow his pride and call out for a refill? What if that same waiter came out? Should he apologize? Pretend like nothing happened and thank him for the refill? Act nonchalant, disinterested? He still had half a cup left. Should he finish it, then call, or can he just call now? If he finished his current cup of coffee before calling out for a refill, he could get more with the refill. But if he drinks too much, he might have to look for the nearest toilet.
Where’s the toilet here anyway? Would there be one inside the cafe? If he heads inside, will he bump into that waiter? That would be awkward, right? He could just pretend like he doesn’t recognize the waiter he glared at and continue on the toilet, but he glared at the waiter too long. He recognized him. What if he heads inside to the toilet, and the staff mistakes that action as a customer leaving the cafe and takes away his cup and cleans up the table? That would be awkward as well. Would he have to order another cup? Sophisticated people don’t really bother explaining the whole situation to people, do they? That would be even more awkward, because people would be—
“Sir, would you like a refill?”
“—FUCK! Um!” He stopped. He went quiet for a few moments. He gathered his thoughts before softly muttering, “…yes, please.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Yes, a refill please.”
The robust, Italian aroma of that newly-replenished coffee calmed him down. A long sip cleared his head. He could once again hear the chatter of people, the clinking of cutlery, the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. He exhaled, a long one, audible. He reclined on his seat just a bit more. He closed his eyes and just listened to the world around him, fingers intertwined and resting on his tummy.
Perhaps he’ll just stay here a while more. Perhaps he’ll apologize to that waiter later. The coffee’s good enough, he might come here more often. Perhaps he’ll even learn how to pronounce the name properly. Then he could try out the other selections on the menu, maybe even the more expensive ones.
The waiter did smell nice. Or maybe it was the pot of coffee he was carrying? Nah, it was him. He was maybe 50% sure.
But he did have nice eyes. Mmm.
In a while, in a while. He just wanted to enjoy that sip of coffee warming his insides and the soft breeze and happy dogs barking in the distance and children laughing. Just for a while longer.