I liked the feeling of wearing a smile when entering situations. It gave me a sense of mystery. “And stubborn dads,” I whispered, my breath accelerating. It reminded me of my own dad when the doctor demanded that he quit smoking. He had us all convinced for months that he’d kicked the habit and everyone was so proud of him. Then I found him smoking one Sunday morning, despite his cancers, in the guest bathroom. I was 10 years old and deeply confused. I didn’t understand why he went against the doctor’s order but I did understand that he had his reasons, as dark and selfish as they were. He didn’t know at the time that I’d seen him and I was a mess. The secret was too much for my young mind to confine and soon enough I told my older brother, who then told my mother. She confronted Dad with aggression and in an act of desperation, booked him a session with a very expensive hypnotist. He attended but was afterwoods adamant that he’d absorbed nothing, that he had proved he was immune to hypnotism. He died one year later and we all wept in anger.
The suspected hypnotist was reading, or was he? As I wiped down the tables next to him, I worked the angles so that I could observe him to the maximum. I noticed that his eyes lacked the animation necessary to read. Maybe he was onto me, observing me through his peripheral vision as if he’d been expecting my presence. He must have understood that his suspicious actions with Brenda wouldn’t go without investigation. He held his book so that I couldn’t see the title. “On purpose,” I muttered. His ears pricked up. “I know what you’re doing,” I continued, not sure if he could actually hear me. It really was more of a whisper than a mutter. Surely the natural noises of the café had drowned out my soft words as I could barely hear them myself. Either way, he left abruptly, without even finishing his ginger beer. I watched him as he exited to see if he turned back. I just knew that if we made eye-contact, Brenda’s suspicion would be confirmed. He looked back and our eyes met. He had the eyes of a shark, small and predatory. That was all I needed. I gathered his scraps like an enthusiastic scavenger and those of the surrounding tables then made my way back to Brenda, to congratulate her on her sharp sense of judgement. She’d make an excellent criminologist if she ever tired of hospitality.
As I approached the trio again, I was entranced by the perfect shape of the boy’s skull. I’d noticed it earlier when I was behind the counter, thinking it was masculine and symmetrical, bordered by a neat hairdo connected to a beard of similar length and texture, but when I saw his profile I was so overcome by genetic envy that I tripped heavily on the tiny step I had passed over thousands of times before. The bottle from my right hand and the cups and saucers from my left sailed though the air with the confidence of weathered seamen until they collided with the floor, shattering, the dregs of liquid splattering the trio, ruining their afternoon. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” I repeated from the floor as apologetic tears welled in my eyes.