‘You’re late,’ huffed Lil.
‘I’m sorry but I didn’t realise we had an arrangement,’ I offered. I racked my memory as I couldn’t remember making a specific plan with Lil. Armando scowled at me from behind the counter.
I checked the time on the mounted monochrome wall clock and it was 10.15 which was slightly later than I had come in the previous week. There were a few other patrons in the café who were watching our situation unfold from behind their newspapers, tea cups and toast.
I took a seat at the table next to Lil and looked at her in an apologetic manner.
‘How’s your week been?’
‘Up and down – I fell over on Sunday and I’ve had pain in my arm. I thought you weren’t coming.’ Lil looked a little upset.
‘I am sorry on both counts Lil.’ I turned to Armando ‘Could I please have an Assam and a bowl of porridge with blueberries Armando?’
Armando nodded but was still not talking to me. I imagined he’d had 15 minutes of an unhappy and vocal Lil to contend with. I resolved to leave a generous tip. I do believe that a successful Boulevardier leaves a trail of satisfaction and warmth behind him wherever possible.
Lil looked a little more settled. She was wearing virtually the same outfit as the preceding week with the addition of a woolly hat with a faux fur trim to add a touch of glamour. She picked up a piece of buttered toast and dipped it in her egg. I smiled.
‘Do you have a big breakfast every day Lil?’
‘No. Only once a week when it’s discounted here.’
‘I thought the senior discount was Monday?’
‘It is but do you think I want to be here with all those old codgers.’ Lil broke out into the warm cackle I’d first heard the previous week. She was starting to soften.
Armando appeared with my tea. His facial demeanour suggested his flounce was abating.
‘Thanks. How’s everything Armando?’
‘Fine, but it could do with being a little busier. And it doesn’t help with customers moaning.’ He added the last part in a lower tone. Lil was too engrossed in the egg she had dripped on her dress to notice.
I smiled and raised my eyebrows in an understanding way. Crouch End rents were notoriously high and businesses regularly opened with promise only to close a few months later. I decided to make an effort to frequent more often.
‘I still want the discount though,’ Lil picked up where she left off, ‘I’ve been coming here every week for the last two years, since it opened in fact; anyway I looked at your blog.’
‘And?’ Lil had turned her attention back to the remaining items on her plate: half a sausage and a sliver of crispy bacon. She took her time and it felt like an age before she spoke.
‘You don’t arf bloody get around for a start.’
Armando spurted a laugh and almost dropped my creamy porridge.
‘I adore the arts Lil and it would be awful not go to lots when living in London. I saw Eve Ferret’s Fabaret at a cabaret bar in Piccadilly since I last saw you and it was great.’
‘I thought you’d already seen that?’
‘Yes. It was so good I wanted to go again, and it was different and fun with a few new songs to boot.’
‘The Finnish piece you wrote was all right too. I haven’t been there. I’ve only been to France. What’s the next blog about?’
‘I went to Hastings and interviewed the author VG Lee about what inspired her to start writing in her 40s.
‘Hmmm. Does she have inspiring ideas for writing when you’re 78?’ We both laughed.
Our rapport was increasing and I certainly felt drawn to this elderly lady who’d lived in my community a lot longer than me.
‘You might be inspired by what she says Lil. You’ll have to wait until next week to read it.’
Lil set down her cutlery and dabbed her mouth delicately with her white paper napkin and reached into the side pocket of her shopping trolley.
‘Here you go. Take one of these Club biscuits for later. I do love a Club biscuit.’ Lil was frantically poking the Club in my direction. I got up and took it.
‘I hope you’re going to be on time next week. I hate people being late.’
‘I promise I’ll be here at 10am Lil.’
‘Good. In that case Armando I’ll take a slice of the strawberry Swiss roll you just brought out. Will you wrap it for me? I’ll have it with tea this afternoon.’
Armando grinned as six new diners appeared at the door. Everything was looking up.