There are never any ends, just a multitude of beginnings.
I'm thinking back to the first time I stood together with my two best friends.
It's 1992. Wednesday. Probably. After work finishes, I walk into town with iDifficult. We've worked together for almost two years since we received an honourable discharge from our boarding school. In this time, 'Difficult has denied on many occasions that he is my boss. Yet still he guides me, as he always has; randomly, anarchically, and occasionally with dazzling wisdom.
As boss-deniers go, he's pretty cool.
We stop into our local coffee house.
Aaah, Café Nehru! I exclaim as we walk in the door, inhaling the rich aroma.
The great taste of Indian Coffee! sighs ‘Difficult. We do this a lot, finishing each others sentences. Mostly because we lose our train of thought on a regular basis.
As we peruse the board above the counter, I’m aware that there’s just one person ahead of us in the queue. Though in fact, I’m not sure if she’s in the queue. The young lady is perched on a high stool as she argues some point with the barista behind the counter.
Her legs dangle a clear two feet above the floor.
Good grief, I whisper, pointing, she's tiny! How did she get up there?
My friend considers this engineering feat for a moment. Somewhere, a slide rule is screaming.
Sheer bloody-mindedness? he finally ventures, with uncharacteristic uncertainty.
Ahead of us, the woman offers a loud torrent of colourful metaphors at the guy serving her. She spins in the swivel-topped chair and regards us, fuming. She’s an attractive redhead in a jumper, jeans and tennis shoes.
The son of a bitch cut me off! she wails at us, I wanted just one more treble espresso! But no! Her hands wave expressively, frantically. He says I’ve had enough!
The barista stands nervously at the counter. She gives him The Bird over her shoulder. I exchange a glance with ‘Difficult and we nod in unison. I extend a hand towards her.
Perhaps you’d care to join us, miss...?
Petite. she says, taking my hand and hopping down. She’s almost two feet shorter than me. Eolist Petite. Mrs. And thank you.
Our pleasure Our pleasure we chorus, as ‘Difficult steps up to order.
Five minutes later, we’re in a circular booth with a single padded seat, as ‘Difficult distributes our scalding-hot beverages of choice. Eolist reaches forward to sip hers immediately, either oblivious or impervious to the heat. I can’t even touch my cup. While she drinks, she explains to us that she’s visiting from America on a Caffeine Exchange Programme.
Yeah, right now there’s some wired, neurotic twenty-something drinking a pint of espresso with my husband back in the States. She chuckles darkly. She’s pretty cute, and he probably thought it sounded like a sweet deal, but he has no idea.
Been married long? asks ‘Difficult as he sizes up an almond croissant. Like all public schoolboys, we’re not well versed with talking to women.
Sure. Though one of these days I’m gonna get me a woodchipper, and it’s hasta la vista, meester.
We both laugh, and wonder if she’s joking.
Gentlemen, bless you for your chivalry and this coffee fix. She smiles easily, So, how about you tell me your names?
My part-time evil genius amigo puts aside the half eaten croissant, creates an avalanche of crumbs and sugar as he stands, and pats his pocket for his monacle. Not finding it, he produces and eye patch from a trouser pocket and fixes it over his left eye. His voice projects beautifully.
A rag, a bone, a hank of hair, a scientist who dreams and dares. He blushes slightly. Dammit, he beat me to the punch - I was going to misquote Kipling. But my friends and the taxman call me iDifficult.
Eolist snorts happily across the top of her cup, and dampens his black velvet suit jacket with a highly-caffeinated mist. She looks apologetic. Sorry. What does the I stand for? My friend squirrels the eyepatch away again and grins.
Oh, more than you’d think.
They shake hands and exchange smiles. She turns to me as I straighten my necktie.
And how about you?
Roth. Indigo Roth. I try to put some Bond-ish swagger in it, but as I’m new to Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I don’t quite catch it right. She doesn’t seem to notice, and we shake.
That’s a very nice tie, by the way. Be careful a lion doesn’t steal it.
I blink and think. Nope, that’s lost on me.
I’m afraid I don’t follow. Eolist shakes her head.
Never mind, it probably loses something in translation. A frown crosses her brow a moment later, and she begins to rummage in her bag, muttering quietly to herself. Roth. Difficult. Roth. Difficult. She produces a piece of white cardboard and stares at it. From my seat I can see that one corner is torn and slightly charred. It seems to be an old photo. Wow, that’s weird.
We shuffle round either side of her and gaze at the image.
My friend takes it gently and turns it over, while Eolist explains that she’s been hunting down lost relatives in England. He reads the legend on the rear with growing amazement.
Masters Difficult and Roth with Mistress Petite, 1892. He scratches his chin thoughtfully. Exactly one hundred years ago. Good grief.
I don’t recognise the young Roth seated in the middle, but judging by the date and the setting, he might well be Orlando Roth or his twin brother Hugo. Perhaps both; we’re an unusual family. I notice ‘Difficult shaking his head bemusedly; clearly he has no clue either.
We all chat briefly about some possibilities, but then a comfortable silence falls as we attend to our cooling drinks.
There really are a multitude of beginnings.
Eolist finally breaks the silence.
Well, this is all rather surprising and charming, but perhaps it's merely a good sign. We have bigger fish to fry - I have a serious question for you. She squares her narrow shoulders as we hold our breath in mid-slurp. Can you boys recommend a decent curry house?
We heave a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, more familiar territory.
Yes indeed. Only the finest establishment in this world or any other adjacent ones. Eolist raises her eyebrows appreciatively.
Sounds intriguing. Where is it?
Standing, ‘Difficult tries unsuccessfully to dust the icing sugar and almonds from his velvet jacket. He resembles a partially wiped blackboard.
That’s a simple question with a complicated answer. He consults a compass, a pocket barometer, and a bus timetable writen on a turquoise napkin. Let’s just say it’s nearby if we're quick and leave it at that.
Eolist slips from the booth and looks marginally shorter than she did at the table.
Okay, definitely intriguing. Shall we?
I rise and join my two friends. This sounds like fun.
We head off to another beginning, and wherever it will take us.
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