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Notes from a breakfast

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Notes from a breakfast

Written in August 2020. There is a man sitting at a table in the courtyard this morning. He is blonde and haggard, with puffy eyes, and I watch him as the waitress takes my breakfast order. The man’s hair is cut long and hangs a little over his thin face. It’s 10:30am and he has both a beer and a cigarette. A rough night, I think, and I wonder if he is a retired rockstar. I quietly laugh at myself.

He sporadically coughs, a wet, rough and productive clearing of his airways. It’s a nicotine cough, both low and rich, the siren call of rot. His cigarette smoke drifts over to me.

Looking around the blossomed courtyard is entrancing, with jostling vine leaves filling the corners like nervous children at a school dance. Rich red bricks cover the ground in carefully laid diagonals, but in truth not all of them are red any more, some are salmon pink, some are dusty beige. A grey stone bath rests against a wall, a makeshift pond filled with stones and a family of snapping turtles. The laundry white walls are covered with art, and I notice a subtle Asian theme from the auspicious turtles to the decorations. I choose a favourite painting as my breakfast is delivered. I have a headache. I like the image of Mount Fuji with a forest and a waterfall.

I reach for my coffee and fruit plate and watch the mystery man. He sits with his mask hanging around his neck – an impotent medical device, a ridiculous necklace. I see he has one earbud in, and think he looks like an escapee from a hospital. He doesn’t notice anything aside from the phone he’s holding and I wonder if he’s watching a movie? He reaches for his breakfast beer without taking his eyes from the tiny screen. I see he’s wearing a watch that looks expensive, rose gold by my observation.

There’s no food on his table, just a white plastic bag with the outline of red cigarette packets inside. There are some sunglasses next to his can of beer. No glass, just the can. Who is he? I notice he’s wearing clean blue jeans with a neat black t-shirt, both tidy and incongruous against his gaunt, puffy face. My breakfast is punctuated by his rattling cough, and the smoke continues to drift. Red. Red beer can. Red cigarette packet. Red highlights on the walls of the courtyard. Red peach in my breakfast fruit bowl. Red on my pen as I write. The rest is green.

I hear a cuckoo. I hear the snapping turtles jump in their ancient bath. My exercise book crackles as I write. My headache disappears because of the coffee, and I see he’s on the move. Long legs and cowboy boots, a light fawn suede, good condition down below, not so on top. The mystery man has money and taste, but not with what he puts in his body. His boots click across the red brick floor. I look back to Mt Fuji and eat the peach.

Later he walks into the lobby whilst I sit waiting patiently for my second coffee. He’s greeted by name by the woman at the front desk. Jeremy.

He has an American accent and a deep voice, and he’s still carrying a red cigarette packet. The woman tells him he cannot smoke in the courtyard at breakfast as there have been complaints from the other guests. It’s only from 8am till 11am. He’s angry. This is unfair! She is firm. He stomps up the stairs. Expensive clothes with a haggard face. Pouting.

Soon he appears again, and announces loudly “I’ve spent almost $10,000 here over the years!” The woman says “Yes I know” but doesn’t look up from the computer.

He leaves. My coffee arrives.