I won't have another coffee. The clock in the corner has already stalled. People have come and gone, queued, bought coffee and left, ordered lunch, chatted, eaten and paid. Another coffee means leaving my seat twice — once to acquire, once to relieve.
The rounded sweetness of iced buns, the savoury edge of ginger cake, the melted crunch of panini. Temptations for filling time. Something to occupy my hands and mouth in lieu of greeting and conversation. But I won't. I want to kill time not my appetite.
We arranged to meet at lunchtime, but nothing definite was said about having lunch. The café is similarly open and uncommitted. It caters as readily for the twenty-minute casual rendezvous as it does for the two-hour lunch of lost time and deeper companionship.
When I met her last week it was for coffee, here as before. Mid-morning, half an hour, one cappuccino large, one latte skinny, no lateness, no ambiguity. Today perhaps something different, something more.
When we first met two weeks ago it was pondering coffee in Sainsbury's. Overwhelming options... moral minefield... social status... the dilemma of modern coffee choice was all over her face.
"Not easy, is it?" I said. "Knowing what to choose, what not to choose."
"And how much, at what cost and whether or not I should be giving it up," she continued.
Her shopping basket spoke of conflict. Low-calorie soup versus choc chip cookies. Diet coke versus full-fat butter. Nicotine patches versus Rioja. Sweetener versus sugar. And now the peppermint tea was to be pitted against coffee. Either side could have won the 5 items or less category on its own but, as is so often the case in deep conflict, there were no real victors.
"It's not a habit I've ever wanted to kick," I said. "That first cup of coffee is the starting whistle of the day. A real upper." I pulled a packet of Fairtrade Macchu Pichu Organic down from the shelf.
"I know what you mean. I just feel I ought to. All the health and fitness columns have a real downer on coffee. Maybe it's just guilt on my part!" As she reached for a packet of Fairtrade Macchu Pichu Organic she gave a laugh of relief and cigarettes, of red wine and coffee.
"Guilt's overrated," I said. "I was overdosed on a steady supply from school and family before I acquired an immunity."
"Sounds very Catholic."
"Guilty. Once upon a time, at least."
"Ditto. Has a long aftertaste, doesn't it?"
"Yes, all the way to adulthood."
"And beyond." We laughed. "So they say."
From there it was the checkout, the coffee shop and then our separate ways, with the hope of reuniting through swapped numbers and a coffee. But perhaps not a lunch, which now appears lost.