by Rose Kelland
“The young people of today!” We’ve all tut-tutted at some time or other! But they’re probably not much different to when we were ‘young’ – whenever that was! The important thing now is being there for them; the quiet love and concern, and simply being there that leaves a lasting memory, and often a happier future – for someone – for Jessie.
She walked quickly out onto the Monday morning city pavement, the lanky young man loping close beside. She was desperately trying to remember the intricacies and intimacies of the past six hours. She didn’t say a word to her companion, but quickened her pace as he leant his tall, wiry frame down to her 5ft 2in and tried to kiss her forehead. Remember! Remember! What happened? Who is this? What did I do?
It was midsummer and the temperature was already 20 degrees. His knee length black flared coat looked elegant, but out of place on this beautiful summer morning. His size twelve black shoes flopped chuck-like at 45-degree angles with his ankles constantly exposed three inches below his trouser hems. She wore an orange and yellow flouncy dress underneath a slightly shabby man’s blazer, and yellow strappy high heels hampering her escaping stride on the crowded pavement. Her hair hadn’t seen much of the hairbrush before leaving the room.
Jessie and the young man reached the intersection and he aimed one last kiss she couldn’t dodge, before she dashed across the road ignoring the red pedestrian light. Why was her head so confused? I’m not drunk. Am I? I didn’t do drugs. Did I?
As the rush-hour crowds thinned on the pavement around her, she slowed her pace, suddenly aware that she didn’t know where she was going. A shop door opened next to her and a cardboard sign was flipped over to read ‘Open’. The table in the corner was far enough away from the window and the cashier’s counter to give her space to think through the past night hours.
Carla’s birthday party had been planned months ago. It was to be the biggest bash of the year. Her current boyfriend had money to spare and had booked out the entire Crown Inn from 8pm until 11am the next day. Jessie and the girls had decorated every inch downstairs – streamers in the doorway, over the bar, along the walls, even the mirrors in the girls and guys toilets. Steve and the boys had agreed to organise the music, the activities and the two groups had put together a surprise guest list. The result was a screamingly good time with old school friends, the entire office staff and even bus stop acquaintances.
The music was pumping through the building’s pillars, strobe lights were working their magic and a few flamboyant guests were showing off their dancing skills, to the delight and applaud of high-spirited fans. The dancing between pillars, tables and chairs, and the live entertainment rocked the partygoers as anything containing alcohol constantly filled the waiting glasses.
Jessie was thrilled with the success of the party. Carla couldn’t thank everyone enough. This was a birthday she wouldn’t ever forget! By midnight the girls were on the improvised stage of pub tables, singing and dancing to whoops from the guys encouraging them not to stop at anything. Then the guys had their turn with the girls screaming their appreciation of the provocative moves.
Jessie took another gulp from the extra large coffee and desperately tried to think if the lanky young man she’d walked down the street with just half an hour ago, was one of those tabletop figures. She remembered feeling moved by the music, happy and laughing…….
By 3am the music had changed to mellow, seductive, mesmerising melodies and all but a few who were still smooching around the tables or shuffling around the make-shift dance floor, had found their way to the rooms above.
Jessie suddenly coughed into her coffee. She saw herself flirting up those stairs with … who? The picture in her mind was misty, blurred. Her heart pounded and her eyes reflected a deep fear and a dawning realisation of the frivolities of the night before.
The coffee shop owner appeared at her table. “Everything all right, love?” he asked, “Can I get you something to eat? English Breakfast? Toast? Another coffee?” Jessie shook her head and he walked away.
Concentrate, she told herself. What happened after the stairs? She saw other partygoers sprawled half naked across the stairs and on the landing, and saw herself laughing as she tripped and fell over someone’s hairy legs. Her fingers were still entwined with the blurred figure she pulled along with her to the end of the landing.
As the caffeine settled through her body, Jessie’s mind became clearer, but less able to remember whose hand, whose legs, whose lips.
She watched a young girl breeze into Lulu’s Coffee shop, don a sparkling white apron and cheerfully greet Lulu, planting a kiss firmly on his cheek leaving him rubbing the raspberry lipstick mark!
Jessie looked at her mug of coffee. It was empty. Dark dregs clung to the edges at the bottom and dirty foamy smudges drooped down the inside. The girl was still smiling while busily filling cutlery containers and salt & pepper pots, and all the time chattering to Lulu about her weekend with her nieces. Jessie could see the morning shoppers outside enjoying the sunshine, the shops and the smell of coffee. She saw them look at the big red letters spelling “LULU’s Coffee” and smile to themselves as they walked in.
They’re all so happy, thought Jessie. Why aren’t I? They’re bright. I’m dull. She saw the grubby mark on her orange and yellow party dress and noticed a tear in the hem. And then she looked at the scruffy blazer. Whose was it? It wasn’t hers! As Lulu and the girl served the customers with professionalism and smiles, Jessie saw herself as empty as the coffee mug, with stains and dirt blotting her short life. Her eyes felt tingly. She bit her lip but nothing she did could stop the salty tears escaping. Lulu appeared in front of her, blocking her face from the rest of the shop. He looked kindly at her and quietly said, “D’you want to come out back, love? I’ll show you, and leave you?”
Jessie nodded almost imperceptibly and took Lulu’s offered hand. He led her to a beautiful room, furnished with a sofa, a large comfy armchair, a coffee table, and white muslin curtains gently twirling in the summer breeze.
“Take your time, love.” Lulu said putting a fresh mug of coffee on the table.
Jessie sank into the armchair, curled up and cried. The box of tissues on the windowsill told comforting tales that somebody cared.
When she opened her eyes, it was just after noon. The second coffee mug was gone and there were sweet smelling freesias in a vase, a magazine on the table, and a tray with a kettle and tea things set out. And on the table was a ‘Visitor’s Book’. As she flipped the kettle switch, she started reading comments from past visitors to this room. Some gave first names, some just pseudonyms, but they all thanked Lulu for the opportunity to escape for a while, and for his love and care.
Jessie sat with the cup of tea, aimlessly paging through the comments, very aware of an aura of peace. She took a deep breath, and the edges of her mouth lifted into a tiny smile as she felt the burden of sadness, guilt and fear fade away.
The girl from the shop peeped around the door. “Hello!” she said quietly, not bubbly as before. “Hello!” said Jessie a little embarrassed, and started to collect her things to go.“That’s Ok! You can stay a little.” The girl gently closed the door. “Thank you for letting me sleep!” Jessie felt very unsure what she should be doing or saying.
“That’s what this room is for. Lulu is the most caring man I have ever met. He’s so concerned for others. He sees people hurting and he offers them a little …” the girl hesitated as if searching for the right word, “…peace!”
“I appreciate it. Thank you!” Jessie didn’t know how to fully express her genuine appreciation for the few hours she’d been granted in this magical room.
She picked up her little evening bag, smiled at the girl and hugged her before walking through to the coffee shop. She smiled at Lulu as he carried a gleaming tray of ice-cream sundaes to a family sitting near the window. He smiled back, their eyes lingering for just a moment sharing wordless gratefulness.
Jessie stepped out of the coffee shop smiling, still dressed in her orange-yellow party dress, but now her face mirrored the happy colours as she made her way home, knowing she would never forget a place called ‘Lulu’s’!