The cafe was nearly deserted. The chilly autumn breeze lent a quiet charm to the fading twilight. Only one table stood occupied.
“Another cup sir?” the waiter addressed a gentleman in a black overcoat.
“No.”, he replied.” We will be leaving soon”, he spoke to the two women sitting with him.
“And for the ladies?” the waiter pressed on. He was determined to be of service.
Must be a new fellow on the job, mused the overcoat. Hell I was optimistic too, once. That was a long time ago.
As if on cue, one of the girls said, “yes, bring me a cappuccino.”
The overcoat gave her a disdainful look. She was always contradicting him.
“I’ll finish quickly. Then we will be off. Happy?”
“No. You fuelled the waiter’s optimism. That’s criminal.”
“Oh hell. Stop being miserable. And try a bit of optimism for a chance, you godless heathen”, she spoke sarcastically.
The overcoat looked away. All his movements were gentle, like everything had been planned and yet was effortless. He was a poet. He was also dying. Cancer.
She was young, with dark eyes that shone prettily when the dimming sun caught her features. The other lady looked thoughtful, she stared at the overcoat frequently, waiting for him to speak.
Finally, he broke the stubborn silence.
“Are you done with your novel?”
He addressed the younger girl, the one with the dark eyes.
“No, It’s getting on slowly. That’s another way of saying it’s getting on horribly.” She spoke in an upset voice.
“And you? she inquired.
“Sporadically. The perils of being a poet and not a writer, I suppose.”
“I wish I had been a poet, she sighed. She eyed him thoughtfully. “A successful poet at that.”
“You’d never make a good poet Rita. You are way too cynical. Stick to writing.
She looked clearly affronted.
“I will, she said haughtily. But I still say I’d have made a damn good poet if I wanted to.
“So be it.” The overcoat pulled out a writing pad and tore of a page. He tore it in two and handed one half to Rita.
“You write down the most beautiful thing you can think of. I’ll do the same. Then ‘she’…he nodded in the direction of the lady sitting alongside them, “can judge the more beautiful work.”
“My name is Beatrice” she said a bit rustily.
“I couldn’t care less “replied the overcoat sullenly.
“You are a miserable egoist and I think it is a stupid idea. I refuse.” said Rita with a dismissive air about her.
“Rita, I’m sick and I’m dying. I insist.”
She was furious. She shrugged, “okay, have it your own way then,” she said reluctantly. “You always have it your way” she added in an undertone.
And in a few moment two strips of parchment rested in front of Miss. Beatrice, who looked on disdainfully.
And now Madame, shall we?” the Overcoat seemed anxious for the result.
Beatrice took a look at the works. Her brooding face relaxed and for the first time that evening, or perhaps that year, or perhaps that decade, she smiled- a sad smile. A smile nevertheless. A smile that came without her knowing it.
“She glanced at dark eyes and said,” I’m afraid you’ve lost Rita.”
Rita stretched out a hand, “Okay, let’s have a look.”
She was too late. The poet had snatched it out of Bea’s hand. He shredded it with all the malice that had characterized his works. He scattered the pieces into the wind.
“What was that for?” Rita demanded.
“I’m sorry Rita” he said simply. “Some things we just have to keep to ourselves right? I should go.”
“Will you travel alone? How will you manage?
The poet smiled. “I will”. They did not know. He had been travelling alone for a long time.
When he had left, Rita turned to Bea.
“What did he write?”
Rita looked away. She left hurriedly.
The other remained sitting, watching her fade into the gathering darkness.