The phone rang and she was invited for coffee.
Her mephistophelian mentor, in whatever form, was in the habit of extending such civil invitations. Today's meeting was at three o'clock and she was not to be late: he looked upon the dilatory with the same unforgiving contempt normally reserved for the mentally torpid -- worthless prey, too easy. But he had not been clear as to the location: the coffee place downtown on Kirkgate, he said, just before hanging up. But there are many coffee places on Kirkgate, and she could think of no particular place that stood out.
She decided to leave early and walk quickly, and when she arrived at the top of the street, she looked down, self-aware, and saw a dark figure amidst the fashion-conscious money-spenders and loitering onlookers. He stood up and held his cigarette in his left hand, delicately. Around him there was a circle of space which people managed to avoid without knowing it, and this emptiness shone like a spotlight. Of course: it didn't matter which café. She'd find him -- or he her -- before the location would become apparent.
They sat down. He crossed his legs quietly, and looked pristine and fine like a Greek statue.
'Your nonchalance frightens me sometimes.'
'You never seem to be worried. Do you care about anything at all?'
'Eager for some intense conversation, aren't we?'
'No. Just frustrated.'
'Perhaps you should relax, indulge in a little "nonchalance", as you call it.'
She eyed him with uneasy admiration, trying to pass it off as contempt, and bowed her head slightly towards the cup before her.
'Drink. You'll feel better.'
The coffee was, as it always is, smooth, hot, black, and welcome.
'You speak like a novice. I do wonder sometimes whether you've learned anything at all.'
She didn't know how to respond effectively and so waited for him to continue. An awkward moment (for one party) passed, and she realised that the burden of silence was hers to carry, so she sighed and stirred her coffee, watching the formless steam rise before continuing.
'I have learned a great deal. But very little of it was from you.'
'Oh, now that's not so. You've learned to tolerate yourself. You've learned to ignore your weaknesses for a solid thirty seconds in order to move forward. You've held your head blissfully in the clouds, almost, when I've convinced you to. You've learned the joys of possibility, and have forgotten the hardships of having to confront yourself every time you wake up or pass a reflective window. Do you remember that?'
Her memory, though it assented to the facts, did not agree with the sense. She had been taking his advice and moving at his insistence for three years now. And between now and that point three years before, she had the feeling she'd been spiralling off her designated path. She was beginning to act without the confidence he once inspired in her, without the assurance that his advice was holy and well-meaning. He had detracted her many times.
'I've directed you many times.' She had the uncanny suspicion he knew what she was thinking. 'I've reminded you of what you are.'
But this was the problem. She swirled her spoon one full circle, slowly, and stopped. She did not want to remain here. She had drunk her coffee down, more quickly than usual, to the dregs, and the spoon now was set amidst only the fine wet sediment, traced into an inscrutable, reticent design.
She saw where she had been, how she had depended on him as a guide. He had seen more, and could communicate in languages she'd never master. Always an enigma, and almost her intuition. He seemed to know more than she did, perhaps he even knew what she wanted most, but this she could not know for certainty.
But he could tell her no more about her future than the coffee grounds could.
Still holding her spoon, she looked up and into his clear eyes and saw nothing. He smiled faintly and took her hand that held the spoon, as if she were a child.
'You are lost again. Where have you gone?'
She wanted to say 'home'. She wanted to be 'home'. She wanted to know what that meant, and why she desired something she didn't know.
'You don't need to speak.' He ordered another coffee for her and lit another cigarette. She took solace in this repeated action, this familiarity. Small, predictable actions like these seemed her only source of divination.
Still she wondered whether she was being laughed at.