He stood holding the door open for her as she came in from the pouring rain.  Her arms were full of bags of shopping and a wayward umbrella, and her raincoat was sodden.  Her hair hung in wavy wet strands across her forehead and she could imagine that steam was rising from her as she dumped the bags at the foot of the counter and searched for her purse.  A drip formed at the end of her nose and she used her tongue to lick it away, sniffing.

The man moved back behind the counter.  His presence was calm and silent, like a solitary warm bath.  Just what she would have wanted at that moment.  His hair was grey, quite short.  She put him in his late fifties.  He was wearing a fine woollen jumper and a checked shirt, open at the neck.  His skin was healthy looking.  He looked as if he had all the time in the world for himself.  Peace flowed out of him, seeping into her.  His movements were not hurried, nor sluggish.

“Can I help?”  he asked.

“I’ve ordered a book.  I wondered if it was in yet.”

She gave her surname and the title of the book, and rummaged in her bag until she found a screwed up slip which confirmed the details.  She put the slip on the counter.  Her hand left a wet mark afterwards.

He turned to the shelves behind the counter and returned with the book.

“Is it for you?” he asked.

“Yes – someone suggested that I read it.  Is it any good?”

“It all depends what you like.”  He smiled as he answered. There were smile lines at the outside of his eyes, like tiny fans that opened as the smile rose up his face.

She hummed her assent to what he had said, suddenly shy, and looked down at the ground. She handed over notes and received the change and went to pick up her bags.

“Would you like to browse, have a cup of coffee?  It’s still raining outside and the coffee is ready to go.”

Now it was her turn to smile.

“That would be good – if I can leave all these bags here.”

“Sure – I’ll look after them and bring you a coffee. How do you take it?”

“White … no sugar.  I mean, “Milk, no sugar”.”

And lightened by leaving her bags, she swept the strands away from her forehead and walked forward a few steps into the bookshop, searching out the subject titles at the top of each of the black shelves.  She hesitated, then, having decided, set off in search of ‘Poetry’, self-conscious, knowing that her choice mattered.  She felt strange, as if she was walking on cushions of air, as if nothing in the wet world outside the bookshop existed, as if she could rely on this man to look after her.  Which was, indeed, strange, because he had only offered her a cup of coffee.

She always made her own coffee, though.  That was it.  She was used to making her own coffee and was quite particular about how she liked it.  Generally she thought she was the only person who could make coffee just as she liked it.  It felt good to have the coffee made for her:  she found that she did not really mind if the coffee was terrible.  She had the same feeling when she went to the hairdressers and had her hair washed.  Best of all was when a head massage was thrown in for free.  She never wanted that to end: she could have grown old and died there in the plastic reclining chair.  Her body sunk into itself and her breathing slowed.

The coffee came and the rain stopped and she picked up her bags and the umbrella, tucked her new book inside one of the bags, and carried on her day.  He had held the door open for her when she left, and he had smiled again.

“I hope you enjoy the book.  There’s a group that meets here once a month, on Tuesday evenings, at seven.  I might choose that book in a couple of months.  You might like to come to the discussion.  I’ll put a poster up.  Keep an eye open for details.  The rain’s stopped now.  You should get home without getting wet again. Take care.”

Advertisements