Pleasures of the Ticket Office

Thursdays roll around quickly, and for that I am thankful. Invariably I work late into Wednesday evening, making sure everything I’m responsible for will run smoothly for the remainder of the week in my absence. Breakfast Club revitalises me and sets me up for my long weekend.

All was in order as I opened the café door; Armando was behind his trusty counter, wearing an open-neck linen shirt and working his charm on some anonymous patrons paying their bill. Lil was seated. She looked up and switched her focus from her china cup to me. Her curls were exposed and looking purpler than last week; I suspected a re-dye. She was wearing a faux-silk, cream blouse. I hoped this symbolised neutrality after last week’s political advertising.

The Andrews Sisters were harmonising as the background music filled my ears. ‘Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me…’

‘Morning my dear,’ Lil said as I greeted her with a kiss on the cheek.

‘Everything OK Lil?’ I asked.

‘So-so but more importantly have you noticed a spring in a certain someone’s step? I wager they’ll be news…’ answered Lil. We were instantly connected in purpose. If there was gossip to be wheedled out of Armando I would play my part in the extraction.

‘New menus – you like?’ said Armando as he proudly waggled plastic encased documents in front of us.

‘Lovely,’ said Lil, ‘but I suspect there’s more to that Cheshire Cat grin than an improved shiny menu.’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Armando. I wasn’t sure he’d understood the Cheshire reference.

‘Let’s have a look at this fresh menu,’ said Lil ignoring Armando’s request for clarification.

‘Oooooo what shall I have…. Hmmmmmm…. A full English please,’ said Lil and exhaled a cackle which was as vibrant as her newly-fashioned do. The menu, irrespective of its age, was redundant to Lil. She never wavered from her regular order.

‘Ha-’ I said, ‘predictable Lil. I think I’ll try the porridge with summer berries.’

‘Are you joking Boulevardier – that’s exactly what you frequently have,’ said Lil with mischief in her tone. She missed the irony that she’d ordered the same too.

‘No I don’t.’ I played along.

‘Yes – you – do. Armando are blueberries included as part of your summer berry ensemble?’ asked Lil.

‘Yes, along with – ‘

Lil interrupted Armando’s response. ‘Thank you, blueberries and don’t you often have porridge with blueberries Monsieur Boulevardier?’

I wanted to exclaim ‘objection’ as Armando was not being given sufficient opportunity to complete his evidence.

Lil roared and Armando joined in. Thanks Armando, I thought. Lil didn’t help and she’s not that funny.

‘Been hanging out with Gisela this week Lil?’ I asked.

Lil’s composure returned and she folder her arms. ‘Yes I’ve seen her. She invited to me for dinner at her place on Monday.’

‘That’s nice,’ said Armando.

‘Well yes, yes, but she is a little odd,’ said Lil.

‘Why so?’ I asked.

‘She served up breaded chicken and kept referring to it as Schnit, something or other. She said it was German. I pointed out that breaded chicken isn’t German and it’s easier to call it breaded chicken. She wouldn’t agree,’ said Lil.

‘Schnitzel you mean,’ I said. Lil nodded slowly and looked at me with pursed lips. She was not impressed that I knew the Deutsch word. ‘There’s no need to fall out over breaded Schnitzels Lillian.’ I laughed.

Lil went to speak, and thought better of it as the breakfasts arrived.

She picked up her cutlery and delicately folded back the skin protecting her fried egg yolk with the prongs on her fork. It was conducted with the same gracefulness as open heart surgery.

She still didn’t respond to my jibe.

I watched her as she sliced the butter with her knife and smeared it across a piece of toasted bread.

I knew I was pushing my luck calling her Lillian as I’d only previously heard Mavis address her thus. I wasn’t sure whether she was simply focussing on her breakfast or ignoring me so I decided to reunite our goal of probing Armando. This would set aside any potential irritation.

‘You do look jolly Armando. Anything other than the menus different in your life?’ I asked.

Lil allowed her cutlery to rest on the side of her plate and looked directly at Armando. She had accepted my white flag and we allied in purpose. She meant business and wasn’t taking prisoners in her quest for information. Armando had been rather reluctant to release personal information before and Lil’s patience wasn’t abundant today.

Armando surrendered his own cutlery to his plate and leant in. We were about to be taken into his inner world. We followed suit and sat forward.

‘Yes there is. I went on two dates in the last week – with the same guy. His name is Jason, he is 38, works at the ticket office in Hampstead tube and lives in Camden.’

Armando paused and looked at Lil and me to validate positive, responsive expressions.

He continued, ‘we had lovely drink and dinner and at the end of the second date we kissed.’ Armando looked a little embarrassed and busied his hands, clutched his fork again and chased a slippery mushroom around his plate.

‘Wooohoooo,’ said Lil, ‘it’s about bloody time you had a fella.’

Lil raised her cup aloft and Armando and I mirrored her action. Our teacups clunked together in celebration. We’d used more enthusiasm than was necessary and were fortunate not to be surrounded by broken china covered in spilled Assam.

‘When’s your next date?’ I asked.

‘He has odd shifts but we’re hoping for lunch on Saturday,’ said Armando.

‘Excellent. We now have to sort out Lil and Bill,’ I said.

I’d got too excited by all the positivity and let my filter evaporate. The joyous atmosphere had been breached.

‘I should update you both actually,’ said Lil. She placed her now redundant cutlery on the empty plate and continued, ‘Bill had his GP appointment and has to go to the hospital for tests. They’re not saying it out loud but I know the dreaded ‘D’ word is suspected.’

‘’D’ word?’ asked Armando.

‘Dementia,’ said Lil.

My and Armando’s mouths dropped open.  I went to speak as Lil scraped her chair back and excused herself and disappeared to the lavatory.

‘Shit,’ exclaimed Armando.

‘Scheiße indeed,’ I responded.

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