By Ali Whitelock
in the cafe with coffee cups for lampshades
and the sign that says please do not pee
in the sink we take an outside table
we have been coming here for years. We consider
this table to be ours. Today there is an unexpected
madman at the table nest to us he is leaping
to his feet every five minutes kneeling
in the middle of the footpath and praying
i tell my husband i think we should go
that the praying man int he unfashionable
blouson is-i will confess-scaring
me a little my husband tells me i’m being
ridiculous like four years ago when the spider
lay in wait for me in the toilet
and he had to remove it before
i could pee and every time since i have gone
i take a torch scan the front and back of the door the inside
of the toilet roll tubes and under the wicker
basket where i keep the earth choice toilet
cleanser and the eco friendly air freshener
we always bring our dog to this cafe
the internet tells us muslims
do not like dogs they make their prayers
impure it is their version of us peeing
in the sink our coffees have no sooner
arrived till the unexpected madman
is down on his knees again and i leak involuntary
squeals like air escaping from the mouth
of an over-inflated balloon and my imagination
made fertile b too frequent watering convinces me
his unfashionable blouson packed with explosives
and post-detonation there’ll be skimmed cappuccino
froth and body parts scattered the length of glebe point road.
In all the years we’ve been coming
here the daily special has never changed something
about fettucini in a mushroom sauce with pesto
and a hint of dijon-not dijon mustard– just dijon
as though the chef might wear a french beret
and cycle to work with a string of onions hanging
off the handlebars of his bicycle next time
we came to the cafe the unexpected madman
was there and the time after that and the time after that
and every five minutes he’d be down on his knees.
Months passed like this.
We kept coming.
He kept praying.
Eventually we came to enjoy watching mothers
with strollers wide berth him and dog walkers
drag reluctant puppies to the other side of the road
then one day he rose made eye contact pointed
at our dog said, ‘yoouurr dog verry beeg’
Next time we came he offered his hand we shook
it bought him coffee shared out fags
months passed like this.
sometimes when i’d come alone he’s ask-verr is hussbant?
i’d tell him he’s at work
buy him a coffee he’d smile point at hector
‘yourrr dog verry beeg’
more months passed like this.
More days drifted.
One day he tells me he is looking
forrr job asks me for two bucks i give him five in his country
he is accountant his english skills are poor i worry
how he will manage i’ve taken to minding
his stuff while he’s down on this knees i make sure
no one touches his unfashionable
blouson his lighter his fags his yale lock key yesterday
when i arrived he wasn’t there
i looked up glebe point road saw him in the distance
walking towards the cafe hair combed, high-vis vest
working boots he stopped at my table pressed a crumpled
five dollar note note into my palm cupped
his hands warmly around mine ‘forrr yoouu’
he said ‘i hefffff job now’ and he smiled
his charming middle eastern smile pointed
at hector ‘yoouurr dog verry beeg’ he said.
I couldn’t have agreed more.
(First published in Ali Whitelock’s debut poetry collection, ‘and my heart crumples like a coke can’ (Wakefield Press, 2018).)
Artwork by Kathryn Lamont.