He passed his right hand and sleeve across the steamed-up glass again leaving a jagged and distorted porthole to another steamy world outside. It was still raining. People were rushing back and forth with their collars turned up or sheltering under their daily papers. Others were walking, soaked to the skin, too wet to worry any more. The buses pulled regularly into the station: emptied, filled and backed out of the stands.
He wrapped both his hands round the mug of steaming tea. His hair was still dripping ice-cold drops down the nape of his neck and back. He shuddered. The glass steamed up again. He rubbed his unshaven faced and noticed the dirt on the side of his hand from wiping it across the window. He grunted and wiped his hand on a crumpled paper napkin he found on the table. He put it in his pocket for later.
He studied his neighbours in the cafe. Every table had at least one occupant. Nobody spoke. The only noise was the regular coughing or snorting and the rush of steam from the coffee machine. Next to him was an old lady with a whiskery, dark grey beard, mumbling into her mug. He watched her from the corner of his eye for a while noticing that she was wearing several layers of cloths, making her shoulders look enormous and hunched. He became aware of a warm, musky smell that radiated from her. “Not unpleasant”, he reflected.
Suddenly, she sensed that she was being watched and turned her head and shouted something at him. He caught the stark white face and shapeless, gaping, toothless mouth, and rejected, returned to the steamed-up window, his head sunk deeper between his shoulders.
He passed his right hand and sleeve across the steamed-up window, again. “Damn”, he thought as he noticed he’d dirtied his hand, again. The woman mumbled abuse under her breath for a while, the volume and venom slowly subsiding. She stuck a grimy finger into her mug and studied the sugar and grouts before sticking her finger in her mouth.
He watched his bus leave the station, without emotion. There will be another. The last.
He got up and went to the counter. He asked for two mugs of tea. He paid, and walking back to the table, he left one of the mugs in front of the old lady. She said nothing, but raised the mug to her lips and took a long and noisy slurp. This time he sat on the other side of the table so that she was diagonally opposite. He realized that he couldn’t watch the coming and going of the buses, so piqued, he moved back noisily to his first seat.
He buttoned up his coat, mentally shutting out his surroundings. He sat and steamed. Determined to take the next bus, he sipped his tea and found it was cold. He realized, with a start, that the woman had gone. He looked around the room and noticed all the tables were empty. The owner was sweeping the floor and placing chairs on the tables.
“We are closing now, John”, he said affably, “See you tomorrow?”
“No, Bill. I’m going home tomorrow.”
Fragment by Boz