I waited in the entrance to the Mall so I could watch the people coming in. I’d been waiting two hours or so – not because Beth was late. I’d woken up at first light to my Mother’s shouting. She’d woken from a two day comatose drug induced sleep – I had guilty enjoyed the peace.
The drug was common for those who self-medicated for mental illness. Addicts weren’t as visible as those who took the stimulants or morphine derivatives so the government and police didn’t really pay them much attention. The drug tended to turn them into recluses – sleeping for days sometimes weeks at a time. It wasn’t known for causing violent behaviour, in fact it mostly made people lethargic and mellow.
It was said you got the most amazing dreams. Most ‘dreamers’ as they were often known had contracts with their local dealers. Like mom, they would get the maximum dose of the drug they could afford with their government benefits delivered bi-weekly.
It was the best for everyone, it was in the dealer’s interest to keep their customers alive. Only living bodies could claim the government issued benefits – so they brought food and gave out the drugs every three days in exchange for the government payments to be transferred directly to them. The addicts would shoot the entire dose as soon as they had it, but never had enough to overdose. When the dealer came round at the end of the three day period their customer would be awake and lucid enough to eat the food they provided for another dose.
Unlike most, Mom got angry when the drugs wore off.
That’s when the shouting starts. She had been more aggressive than usual, coming out of her bedroom and begging me for money so she could get another dose early. When I told her I didn’t have anything she’d lashed out at me grabbing the skin on my arm to nip and twist it in her bony fingers. It was her idea of discipline I guess. When she didn’t get anything from me she started rummaging through my clothes, looking in their pockets. She found the plastic tub with Beth’s mom’s curry and started screaming at me asking where I had got it, throwing it against the wall.
Eventually she found the money I’d planned on using at the cinema.
I was an idiot and I’d forgotten to put it back in my hiding place, not really thinking I’d left it in my pockets.
That’s when I left to come here.
As the large digital clock above the entrance hit ten I spotted Beth waving to her Mom as she came through the rotating doors into the Mall.
I was perhaps overthinking how I was going to approach her when she spotted me and walked up, waving.
“Hi.” I said to her and she smiled in return. She was wearing a really nice grey dress. I felt a bit stupid in my worn old jeans with their patched holes and a threadbare jumper that had maybe been blue at some point in its history. I guess she didn’t mind though, because she’d never commented on it.
“Um, the coffee shop is over by that bookshop on the second floor.” Oh, yeah. I probably shouldn’t just be standing by the door.
It didn’t take long to get there. There were surprisingly few people out for a Sunday at the start of the holidays. I’d though it was going to be far too busy.
The place was nice; it was clearly trying to stay away from that clean corporate look. A difficult feat on the second floor of a huge shopping Mall. It had pulled it off though – it looked like it could be a small local business rather than a huge corporate machine.
We found an empty table by the window – I would have been more comfortable with my back to a wall. A man with cornrows came up and asked us what we were having.
“I’ll have a Latte please, medium” She said.
“Oh, I don’t want anything.” I said to him.
“You don’t want anything?” She looked a bit hurt I think, I panicked – I couldn’t afford anything but I didn’t want to upset her.
“Can I have tap water? Does that cost anything? I don’t have any money. Sorry.”
“I’ll get you it, don’t worry about it. What do you want?”
I hated charity but I could pay her back I guess.
“Ok, do you have tea?”
“Of course, do you want a pot?” I hoped that wasn’t very expensive, tea was so cheap though.
“Ok, thank you.”
“Anything else?” He directed this at Beth, the one with the money.
He left to get our order. I was unsure how to start conversation so I watched the other people in the shop. There were a few people sitting on their own with tablets sipping coffee but most of the customers were in couples. It seemed this was the kind of place you take a first date. I guess people really did go for a coffee when they asked people if they ‘want to grab a coffee sometime’, I’d often wondered if it was just a way to ask if they would ‘go out with you’ but without sounding so… childish.
Our order arrived and we sipped at the hot drinks like you do when they are too hot but you feel you should at least try to drink it. The tea was nice, better than the stuff I had at home. It had come with a little pot of milk which was new, I liked it.
Beth offered me a taste of her coffee and laughed at me when I screwed my face at the bitterness.
“Urgh! How can you drink that?”
“Oh, you get used to it, I used to have it with sugar to sweeten it but gradually I got to prefer the taste of it.” She flashed me a smile, “Now I can’t get enough of the stuff.”
I continued to watch the shop in front of me. I was beginning to enjoy myself – I felt relaxed. I started to get over the fear of not having anything to say. Did it matter? I quite liked just sitting and watching other people.
I think she was actually getting more nervous though. She kept fidgeting and looking at me. To be honest it was a bit of an eye opener, I’d always thought I was the only one who worried so much in social situations…
“Alexis,” She said, after a while. I’d stopped listening though, someone caught my eye. They fit in here even less than I did. Their clothes were ill-fitting and worn but it was their eyes that triggered the warning bells in my mind.
They were bloodshot, red and darted around the shop erratically. His hands, only one of which was stuffed into his pocket were shaking. He had that look I’d seen so often in my mother. When an addict has spent all they had on one last shot and was getting real desperate for their next hit. Only unlike Mom he wasn’t a dreamer, by the looks of things his drug of choice was a stimulant, maybe Amphetamines judging by the state of his teeth.
“Quiet.” I think Beth was shocked by my sudden seriousness, I had no idea what she was saying – I’d been following the guy as he walked up to the till in front of us. I got to my feet quietly. “Beth, come with me, we need to go.”
“What? Why what’s wrong?”
“Now. No questions.” I didn’t want to get tied up in this when the shit hit the fan, I could tell it wasn’t going to go well.
She stood up but as we started to leave the scene began to unfold in front of us as it does in every movie you’ve ever seen. That’s probably why it happens like that – They’ve all seen it in the movies.
“Nobody move, this is a stickup!” he shouted.
Seriously, you couldn’t get more cliché.