Jaine Hannath

Hard boiled


The woman sat outside at a pavement table smoking a menthol cigarette. Snug in her fleecy brown coat she had avoided the tightly packed coffee shop where heavy fug trounced the air conditioner. She preferred to take her chances with the elements and watch the passing parade of shoppers, stallholders and street kids.

Still drowsy from therapeutic massage, she blew smoke from between pale lips. The white swirls merge with the steam rising from the glass of hot chocolate, briefly clouding and softening the harsh reality of daytime Main Street. 

She felt sensuous, limbs like liquid and in a reverie felt herself basking in the sun while Tom, trying to get lucky, rubbed Coppertone across her midriff, his long fingers easing up towards her loose bikini top.  “Beam me up Scotty” she thought as lifting her glass, she caught sight of the well-dressed man hurrying into the vacuumed entrance of the bank. Snapped back to reality she hastily dabbed at chocolate dripping from beneath her glass onto her corduroy trousers and glared at the waitress – there is NO intelligent life on earth! – What is THAT girl thinking?Delores the waitress had served the drink hastily, causing the hot liquid to spill over and soak the paper coaster – damn! I’m not going back inside for a clean saucer. She fished in her apron and placed a few serviettes under the sugar bowl in case the woman needed to mop up the spill. With a desultory air she stepped back and tried to get shelter from the blasts of cold air and rain that gusted in under the flimsy yellow awning. She wasn’t dressed for the cold. Across the wet car park, she watched the man in his black Driazabone coat, briefcase in hand, step into the Bank. A scowl fell from Delores’s face and was replaced with derision; Pompous ass scuppered my travel plans. I needed that loan.

Irritated, Delores thought about her customers and their small, boring lives. She detested them all. The old When We’s- “from Rhodesia my dear”. True blue pensioners, just like her folks, who through greed or folly had lost their money on Kubus or some silly “get rich quick” scheme. Now they could hardly leave the suburb let alone return to England. Glancing bitterly at the older woman deftly mopping up the spill, she imagined her turning the hard times over and over in her mind like a boiled sweet, savoring every tacky bit of it until the last shard of memory pierced her tongue and pain jolted her back into reality.

No big bucks now auntie thought Delores as she watched the woman inhale on her cigarette and only after keeping the smoke in her lungs for the longest time release it in a long soft stream. She seemed loathe to let it go – stingy bugger.

Stingy? Absolutely. Never had Delores found more than the usual two five rand coins left on the yellow oil skin tablecloth- which was always sticky no matter how often she wiped it down. She supposed it was the nature of oilcloth -if a tablecloth ever had a nature- to be sticky or viscid.
Viscid. She had found the larney word in the dictionary and had tried to use it but it didn’t roll off her tongue easily or sound right. Sticky stuck and the word sounded gooey – onomatopoeic, right? Yeh, another larney word!

Cupping her hands around the still warm glass, the woman looked at Delores with concern. She had seen it all before. Judgmental youth – the girl’s cynicism, aloof manner and arrogance masking fear for what might be and naturally – projections deluxe. Thank God always an unexpected chink in the armour, a crack in the ice and at last their vulnerability shines through. Let it go girl, let it go. Let go of your fears and inhibitions. Just hang onto yourself. I did- although she still missed Tom terribly; Money in the bank does not award happiness – which reminded her she had to go and see that young bank manager – better get going.

Having learned one lesson long ago, (She had generously left a R10 note on a table and then watched it fly away on a coastal breeze) she dug into her pocket and casually placed two five rand coins on the table. It included the obligatory ten percent tip – more than the girl deserved actually, but a show of good will and small daily investment into the girl’s future.

Delores could not leave her cold windswept post. Soon the stingy bugger would lick the last chocolate suds from the rim of the glass, rummage in her pocket and begrudgingly leave two five rand coins on the sticky table top. Delores really didn’t want the light-fingered and fast-footed street kids to grab it again before she did.