3. Learning the Lingo
Chad stood on the very edge of the grass with cup of coffee in one hand and a brown paper bag with a croissant inside. He was looking somewhat fearfully at the park. Was he sure he wanted to do this? Absolutely not! But was he serious about doing anything to please Terry? Yes. Was he so desperate to have his Fat Boy wall of a writer’s block brought down by a bulldozer? Most certainly, but Chad wasn’t fortunate enough to get carried away fantasising. He stood there, feeling the gust of wind push him towards the park, and pretended it was there for moral support, like a hand nudging him to go ahead. At least that’s how Chad took it that chilly early June morning, that he wasn’t treading unknown territory all by his lonesome.
Chad squared his shoulders and moved ahead, telling himself it was only a conversation he need to have, and Terry had never specified how long that conversation had to be to qualify. So his plan? He was going to approach the bench, knock twice and wait for response. If the homeless girl was there, he’d be civil and say hi, and give her the peace-offerings, wish her a good day and walk away. If she wasn’t there? Then he had at least tried and his conscience would be clear.
He walked up to the bench and looked around, seeing if he had any witnesses taking keen interest in what he was doing. There weren’t. He cleared his throat and spoke. “Hello! Are you there?”
He waited cautiously, thinking the girl was going to jump up at him again, but nothing. “Hello? The girl I almost hit with my bag the other week?” He felt silly calling out to no one. He walked around and peered down under the bench where the shrubbery had a nice little pocket in it to fit an adult human. It was empty, and oddly, Chad felt a slight pang of sadness. He wasn’t sure why.
He looked around the park and saw only people who seemed without a care in the world. He sat down on the bench and slowly ate the food he’d brought for her, and drank the coffee, staring towards the café, and towards the window seat he usually occupied. How long had he been going there? 2 years? Three? Why hadn’t he ever looked across the road at the park, to that bench?
That morning, Chad didn’t quite feel like writing and it had nothing to do with his writer’s block, and everything to do with his guilt that he had a home to go to, and some girl he barely knew, didn’t.
Chad stood up, threw the rubbish in the nearest bin and headed for the street, disappearing into the throng of office-goers, head hung low, wondering what happened to the girl with the beautiful brown eyes. That whole day, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Even when Setal rang later that afternoon, he was too distracted to care about what she was muttering on about. He’d hung up, and he wasn’t even sure whether he’d said bye before hanging up the call. Instead, he sat on his lonely couch, till the Sun set and he took himself to bed.
Next morning, he stood outside the café way before Tyler even got there. The whole time Tyler went about setting the café for start of business, Chad kept an eye out towards the fairly quiet park. “Pack two croissants and two coffees, will you Tyler?” he’d asked eventually.
“Found your muse elsewhere?” Tyler joked.
“I’m not sure.”
When Tyler had the machine ready, he quickly popped out Chad’s order and watched him leave as Laila entered, turning the ‘open’ sign as Chad passed her.
Tyler watched Chad cross the street towards Hyde Park and turned to Laila. “You know what’s gotten into him?” Laila simply shook her head and went about her work.
Chad stood with coffees in hand in front of the wooden park bench where he’d first had that chance meeting with the homeless girl. He peered under it and found it once again empty. He sat down, a little heart-broken, and kept glancing behind the bench every so often.
“Lost something, did ya?” a slurred, lazy voice asked, and suddenly Chad found himself looking into the face of a haggard old man hidden behind a bushy salt and peppered beard.
Chad shook his head. “Someone, actually.”
The man nodded, a certain foul stench coming off him as he stepped closer to Chad. He eyed the two coffees in Chad’s hands. “She hasn’t come around for a week now,” he offered.
“The girl that lives under there.”
“You know her?”
The man nodded. “Is that for her?”
Chad looked at his hands, and handed one coffee over to the man. “Do you know where she is?”
The homeless man gladly took sips of the coffee, savouring the taste, ignoring Chad’s question. Chad reached in his bag and brought out the brown pastry bag. “I also had these for her…” and before he knew it, the bag had somehow left his hands already.
Chad watched as the man sat down next to him and brought out a fresh croissant and within seconds, it had disappeared in a hungry attack. With a mouthful of pastry, he spoke, “We don’t always stay in the same place, you know.”
Chad nodded. “Do you know where she is?”
A bite into the second pastry. “Why you looking for her anyway?”
“I just wanted to apologise to her for the other day.”
The man suddenly laughed, choking on the food. “No one apologises to a homeless, mate.”
The old man looked long and hard at Chad, and once he’d finished his second croissant and his coffee in between the staring. He finally spoke again. “She’s at the shelter ‘cause she ain’t good you know. Cold does that.”
Chad remained seated, and as the man eyed the coffee in his hand, he handed that over too.
“You really want to see her, hey?”
Chad nodded, looking at the people who glanced at them as they walked past.
“You gonna come again and bring her food?”
Chad sighed, and nodded.
“She’ll be here tomorrow most probably,” and with that, the man left, walking down the park just as suddenly as he’d appeared.
To Chad, it felt like a déjà vu the next morning sitting in the park with no coffee nor breakfast left to himself, and yet no change in the company that gladly chowed down the food. “I thought you said she’d be here today.”
“What do I look like? Her PA?” the man huffed, and walked away. “Maybe she’ll be here tomorrow, or the next day, ya know!”
Chad groaned quietly, but for some reason or another he was back at Tyler’s the next morning, and the next, ordering 3 coffees and 3 croissants, really hoping against hope she’d be there today, and that he could finally cross her off the list of challenges. On this one morning, he walked out of the shop and stood at the lights, wondering how many more mornings he was going to be doing this, when he felt someone come and stand too close behind him. He was about to turn around and ask them for some space when the person spoke, a voice he’d heard before. “Bax really pulled one on you, didn’t he?”
He quickly turned around to find himself looking at the woman he’d been looking for the last week. Her face still half hidden behind scarf and beanie. Suddenly he found himself wondering what she looked like.
“So why are you looking for me?”
The crossing lights came on and the horde of people walked past them in a frenzy. They stood their ground. “I…” Chad, for once, was completely stumped for an opening line. So much for his reputation as a best-selling writer with an incredibly large fan base, instead he held the tray of coffees towards her. “I got you these…”
She looked down and laughed. “What is this? A peace-offering for almost bashing my brain in with your ‘valuable’ bag the other day?” Chad nodded. She took a coffee off the tray and clasped it with both hands. “Sorry about Bax as well.”
Chad just nodded.
“So was that it?” she asked, pulling down her scarf to take a sip of her coffee and a gentle smile spread across her lips. For a moment, it made Chad forget everything outwardly deterring about her. “Thank you,” she said kindly. “He told me what you’ve been doing for him.”
“I was… just looking for you,” he finally managed.
“I knew you could speak!” Chad nodded. “So what now?”
He suddenly remembered the croissants and fished them out of his bag, the same one that had fallen on her. “I forgot these.”
He shifted both the tray and the pastry bag in one hand, and extended the other towards her. “I’m Chad, by the way.”
The girl simply looked at him, astonished. “Who are you?!”
“I just told you,” Chad smiled, turned and pressed the button for the lights. “Bax is waiting for his breakfast. The man gets cranky, otherwise!” The girl followed him with a laugh.
Chad watched quietly as both Bax and the girl ate and drank their food he’d brought for them. Bax looked on, longingly at Chad’s bag. “You got anything else in there, mate?”
The girl turned sharply to him. “Bax! He’s already being kind and bringing you all this,” she scolded.
Bax shrugged and stood up. “Well, no harm in asking.” He slapped Chad’s back and walked away towards the other side of the park.
Chad stared at Bax a while. “Where does he go every morning?”
The girl shrugged. “He says he likes to chase the Sun,” and watched the area where Bax had disappeared. “It’s the only way to get some warmth. That, or running.”
Chad again felt a pang of guilt. Why? He wasn’t sure. Maybe it was to do with the fact that he had everything they didn’t in a way.
“Thank you, for breakfast.”
He half smiled at her. “It was the least I could do.”
“Why?” she asked flatly. “You don’t owe us anything.”
It was the bluntest and the most honest anyone had ever been with him. Not even Terry was as blunt, and he’d come to expect nothing less from her in the last 8 years she’d been his editor.
“Most people don’t even look our way…” she was saying, her voice getting small.
Chad shrugged as a way of saying it wasn’t a big deal to him. “I probably wouldn’t have ever come back looking for you if it wasn’t for someone telling me to do it,” he said as honestly as he could. “I usually keep to myself,” he finally turned to her.
“Well, I’m glad someone told you to find me, whatever their reason might have been.” She smiled, rising up from the seat, and looking towards Bax’s exit. “I should go check on him. He’s a bit upset about the whole thing.”
Chad immediately rose. His intention had been anything but to be kind. “What? Why? What did I do?”
She laughed. “You were kind, Chad.” She said his name so reverently that it sent him feeling highly conscious of himself. “We don’t get kindness in such abundance, and he just doesn’t know how to thank you for the last couple of days.”
“I only did it for two reasons,” he shifted his weight uncomfortably. “He could do with some breakfast, and I could only hope he’d show me where you were.”
She smiled. “It was very kind of you,” and suddenly, Chad’s phone interrupted them. He held up his hand politely and answered the call, and the girl felt odd hanging around, but she waited till his conversation ended. “I have to go find Bax. Have a great day, Chad.”
Chad nodded, and watched her walk away, feeling a little lonely. He’d done it, talked to the girl like Terry had asked, and now he could just walk away. Case closed. But that departure didn’t feel like a proper closure to him. He turned, and walked down to Elizabeth Street, lost in thoughts.
The next morning, Chad arrived much later at Tyler’s café and to his dismay, his corner seat was taken by a business pair. So he sat himself at another table and ordered his usual, and took out his notepad and pen. He opened the notepad to a new page and poised his pen on top. He hadn’t really found a topic to write about yet, and he’d wasted a week to do the thing that made him uncomfortable. He sat there with a blank page on his lap, a pen twirling in his hand and a fast draining cup of coffee in front of him, wishing really hard for words to find him. What did he want to write about? He wish he knew. The whole time he sat there, he stared towards the park, unable to get any work done. In fact, he couldn’t even eat his breakfast without seeing Bax’s shivering hands reaching for his coffee and chomping on his breakfast like a starved child.
That was it. That was the image he needed to get up, pack his things and approach Tyler at his counter, which he barely did now a days. He ordered what he’d been ordering the past week, and took himself across the park, towards the bench. When he got there, he saw to his relief Bax sitting there suddenly with a wide grin at the sight of Chad. However, Chad was sure Bax’s happiness had something to do with the fact that Chad brought food and drink with him.
“You’re late!” he cried out, reaching for the coffee tray Chad held out. Chad simply laughed and sat down on the other end of the bench.
“Where is she?”
Bax shrugged. “Lady business. Maybe she’ll be along in a bit, though she told me to stop waiting around for you.”
Bax busily took another bite of his croissant. “Oh, June’s like that, all practical and shit… telling me you owed us nothing, and I should stop making you feel guilty, blah blah.” He took a long sip of his coffee, slurping. “But, something told me you’d be here, so I bet her that if you turned up, she’ll have to share her next meal with me.”
Chad laughed. “June?”
Bax looked up, baffled. “You didn’t know her name?”
“Kinda funny, hey? You met June a month early!” Bax cracked up and Chad held a blank expression. “You know?!”
Chad shook his head.
“You met her in May, didn’t ya? Couple of weeks ago?” Bax laughed again, and it finally dawned on him that Bax meant months. He couldn’t help but laugh at the terrible joke.
“So what do you know about June?” he asked, curious to know her story.
Bax thought for a bit, eyeing the extra coffee that was getting cold. Chad handed the coffee over thinking he’d just buy June a fresh one when she came along.
“Well, I met her couple of months back when she was a newbie, ya know,” Bax stared, looking off into the morning light as he spoke.