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Peppermint Tea

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4:30pm. Monday afternoon. I saw her, as I did every Monday. She walked, still in her school uniform, across the square to the One Egg Café. It was the local hangout for youngsters and the elderly alike. It had second-hand books in one corner, sold the most delicious cupcakes known to man, and was owned by a middle-aged South African woman who told everyone she was a witch. She fascinated young children with her wild, magical stories, as their mothers laughed in the background. Every Monday, at 4:30pm, I saw her go into the One Egg Café across the square. She spent two hours there.

For two hours every Monday, I watched in wait.

She always sat down in the same seat. To the left, by the window. She did not sit next to anyone, nor did she order anything straight away from the counter. On this particular Monday, a couple of boys sat opposite her, looking her up and down, giggling. She ignored them. A waiter would come over.

“A peppermint tea please,” she would say. The waiter nodded, and retreated to the kitchen. Then, carefully, she got out an old copy of Wuthering Heights. It was damaged and near destroyed. It had a certain air to it; there was a history to that one copy.

She placed the book on the table, but didn’t open it. Instead, she would wait for her tea, and sip its entirety in a very ladylike manner, before reading a chapter of her book. Why she read it over and over again defeats me, but she did, and I watched.

As the church bells chimed 5:15pm, she would sit back in her chair, place the book in her school bag, and began to write in a notebook I have come to known as a journal. Her entries were roughly a page and a half. They varied: some consisted of the day’s events, others were short stories.

My favourite part was coming up. I smiled discreetly as I watched from a bench just outside the park. She chose her target: an unsuspecting unknown. Sometimes they were in the café with her, but most of the time, it was just a passer-by, a shopper, another student. She chose him or her randomly. Maybe it depended on what mood she was in. She would sketch them; she was an incredible artist. With a number 2 pencil, she would draw lines and shade the paper. Five minutes later, the drawing was complete, almost an exact replica of the original. Then, slowly and carefully, whilst drinking her second peppermint tea, she would create the character of her sketch. In five bullet points, she would invent an entire personality.

It would take her a while to complete this last step in her weekly routine. I would never be able to see what she drew or wrote until I looked at the CCTV footage of the café. The owner of the business was kind to me. She could see beneath my exterior. She understood what I was like. I hardly knew her, yet she accepted me enough to allow me, every Monday, to look at the footage.

Then, after paying the £2.30 she owed the One Egg Café, she would pick up her bag, flatten her skirt, and walk out. She went across the village green and caught the 6:32pm bus to Harrington Street thirteen minutes away. She walked up the 175m hill and turned left to number 73. There, she used the key under the latch to let herself in. The last thing I ever heard her say was “I’m home!” After that, the door was shut, and that was all I was able to observe.

Every Monday, I began to love life again. I loved her.

It was 8:20pm by the time I arrived back at the One Egg Café. I stopped at the local supermarket to get some milk and eggs. My mother’s birthday was next week and I had planned to bake a cake.

The café was about to close as I ran up to the door. I was just about to step in, when Mrs Coetzee stopped me in my tracks.

“Oh no, you don’t. I haven’t allowed you to step into my café for the last two years, and this week is no different. You can have the tape, but my courtesy extends no further. Goodbye,” she said handing me a cassette.

As I watched the video later that night, I wandered as to who her target could have been this week. I kept all of them documented in a photo album on the shelf. Suddenly, it appeared on the black and white poor-quality screen.

Slowly and with difficulty, I began to copy the inscriptions in her journal:
Target 17th November:
1.
Watches young girls, eyeing them as prey.
2.
Is an ex-inmate at the nearest jail.
3.
Has slight symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
4.
Reads the Independent newspaper every afternoon.
5.
Damaged soul.

I stared blankly at what I had just witnessed. Her target this week had been me. She had sketched me. She had created my personality.

This was my chance to see how precise she was in her assumptions and judgments. This was the first time I have been able to know if she really had a talent.

She did. She was 100% accurate.



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