“So, what can I get you?” the barista guy asks.

“A mocha, please,” I’m saying, trying not to stare at the rash on his neck.

“To stay or to go?” He smiles.

“To go.”

He punches the keys on the till with panache, as though he’s playing keyboard in a jazz band; I always wanted to play an instrument, but…

“Okay, that’ll be—“

“NO SORRY!” I shout. “…to stay,” I whisper, but it’s too late; all eyes have turned to the crazy guy making the order.

“No problem,” he edges back, nervously showing his palms. I half-expect him to tell me he has a wife and kids waiting at home. He glances down to the counter, probably checking for possible weapons! Besides sachets of sugar and flimsy wooden stirrers, there’s no danger, unless you count diabetes and splinters.

“Coming up. Can I take your name?”

“My name?” I splutter before telling him my name is Charles, even though it isn’t. A coffee shop pseudonym. Who would have thought?

I wait as he does his thing, jamming steel gismos into other gismos; all in all, a cacophony of hissing and grinding and clattering. Throughout this racket, he keeps glancing over at me, smiling, though I couldn’t tell you why.

I scope out the best place to sit.

Near the window or at the back? Hmmm.

“Charles,” the barista calls out twice with no reply. “Mocha for Charles.”

I look around; where the hell is Charles?

Then back to the barista, and he’s looking at me. Oh!

“Sorry, I’m just a bit nervous, first date,” I splutter while taking the mocha. I don’t mention the aloe vera.

“Good luck,” he says.

“Thanks.” I take a seat. This mocha tastes like cement, not that I’ve ever drunk cement. It’s 7:35 pm and we’re not due to meet until 8:00 pm. I might as well take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, try and recoup some of the £2.80 spent on this sweetened mud.

I check Facebook, scrolling past one cat video after another. How many cat videos can I watch? The answer is none. Well, not today, anyway. I log into Twitter: boring. I’m not big on social media, which is why I don’t check it more than nine or ten times a day. I’m more into video games; speaking of which, there’s an expo coming up: bingo.

The minutes roll by. 7:45 pm. Clare should be here soon.  If she’s anything like me, she’ll turn up early. Actually, I hope she’s late. I mean, opposites attract, don’t they?

My stomach rumbles. I should have arranged somewhere to eat. Somewhere cheap and cheerful; after all, you don’t want to blow a fortune, not on a dud. We met in a bar when I was on a works-do. She with some friends celebrating a birthday, or was it a divorce? I took her number and sent her a text, asking if she fancied meeting up. She said yes.

My palms are sweaty. Don’t women hate men with sweaty palms? I think I’d hate a woman with sweaty palms.

To tell you the truth, I’m not 100 percent sure what she looks like. I have a vague recollection. She has brown hair and she’s quite slim. I think.

The door opens. Is this her? Wow. She’s hovering around the muffins. I hope she doesn’t actually eat those things, the dietary equivalent of pulling the cord on your life vest, though I won’t say any more about it. I don’t have an issue with women and their weight.  She’s obviously assessing the goods, blanking me in the process, her forefinger tapping her chin, pretending to deliberate, but what she doesn’t realise is that I’ve already checked the muffin counter; they only have blueberry. Boom! Her game is up; nobody could take this long. But then again, I suppose it is a big decision. I heard somewhere that those oversized cupcakes contain more than 500 calories each. I don’t suppose they call muffin tops muffin tops for nothing.

I lean to my right as someone wearing a horrid beige woollen overcoat is blocking my view. I lean to the left and then to the right again while I try to continue my reconnaissance, but it’s no use. Like glaucoma, this biscuit-coloured stain is following my line of vision. I look up annoyed at the owner, only to realise this is Clare. She’s staring at me, wide-eyed. She has a “What the hell are you doing checking out that girl?” expression on her face.  Which, I think is slightly presumptuous, especially as we haven’t even begun our date yet.  Technically, I’m still a free agent.

I stand up out of politeness, but in the drab surroundings, it feels ridiculous. I decide against leaning in for a kiss. Instead, I opt for a handshake, fumbling feebly like an octopus with Parkinson’s. I should have asserted myself with a firm handshake; three pumps, maybe. But that would be like a job interview, or even worse, an office meeting with I.T. We spend a couple of minutes talking about directions and locations. After the pleasantries, she orders herself a cappuccino.

While she’s at the counter, my peepers dart around seeking the muffin ogler. She seems to have vanished into thin air. Shame!

We start chatting, and somehow or another, she’s telling me how much she likes animals and movies and cooking and I tell her I like video games and all of a sudden, the conversation dries up; I notice we’ve been silent for what feels like an eternity. I have to say something, something aspirational.

“What would you like to do before you die?” I ask.

“Why? Are you going to kill me?”


“You know? Are you a nutter?”

“A nutter?”

“You know? Like a serial killer or something?”

“Shit no! I didn’t mean it like that! I just meant, before you die of old age, nothing premature.”


“I heard it was a good question to ask.”

“It isn’t,” she says.

“No shit.”

“Do you always swear?” she says.


“I don’t think it’s appropriate, all that effing and jeffing.”

I get the giggles. I try and smother it by clasping my fingers over my mouth, auto- asphyxiation over mocha. My body shudders, but it’s no use; I’m only delaying the inevitable. I burst out laughing, my eyes blurry with tears.

She isn’t laughing. Not even a smirk. I don’t remember her being so dour in the bar, but then again, she was downing jaeger bombs. After regaining my composure, I figure it’s best to change the subject.

“I really love this mocha,” I take a sip. “Yum, how’s yours?”

“My drink?”

“What else?”

“It’s alright, nothing to write home about.”

I look over her shoulder to the counter. The barista gives me two thumbs up.

After what seems like an awfully long time, the interview is over.

We make our way outside and stop to say goodbye.

“How are you getting home?” I ask.


“I’ll walk you to your stop.”

“Thanks, but it’s only there.” Her finger points to a platform some 30 metres away.

“So, what you doing this weekend?” I ask.

“Not much, washing my hair,” she says.

“Might be worth changing your shampoo.”


“You’ve got dandruff.”

“Have I now.”

“Yes.” I figure there’s no point delaying the inevitable. “Fancy going out again sometime?” A shot in the dark is better than not shooting in the dark.

After a few moments’ thought, she nods. “Okay,” she says.

Maybe next time, we could go to the cinema or the zoo.

Or even better…

The expo.