Someone was hammering their amateurish way through an old number that my Daddy used to rave about when I was a kid. I had just stepped through the door, shaking the dripping British winter from my tan overcoat, and smoothing and straightening my peroxide blonde hair. I hoped that the torrential blitz hadn’t ripped my make-up from my face. It was like running through a pressure washer out there in the swirling indigo night.
Conversely, the café was warm and welcoming, a smiling doorman allowing me in wishing me a good evening. I responded in kind as I headed to the stairs which led up to the bar. From this moment, I realised that I would love this place. In the centre of the room there were tall tables, each with four tall stools. Around the rectangular side of the room were smaller tables with traditional pub-style chairs, and in the far right corner were three black leather couches. Centre to the far wall lay the stage.
Oh the myriad times from this moment that I would stand in front of that stage, listening to a variety of music, sung from a variety of throats, and experiencing a variety of emotions are countless. If I was to ever set a romantic story, it would be here, under the soft multi-coloured lights, under the attentive gaze of smiling eyes.
Tonight some scruffy, lanky weed of a boy was sitting on a high stool singing passionately (and out of tune) into a microphone pointed at the base of his pointy chin.
“You can go your own way. You can call it another lonely day.”
I scanned the ample and milling groups of people until I saw Rob, in his black duffel coat talking with someone I only vaguely recognised. I drew in a breath and stepped forward, walking towards Simon’s animated friend and put a glowing smile upon my face.
“Hey Rob, having fun?” Rob turned and swallowed a big mouthful of his amber liquid.
“Toni. Simon said he asked you if you were coming, said you looked mightily pissed. Are you OK?” Rob smiled a wide and genuine greeting.
“Yeah mate, just a little stressed earlier. In fact I think I nearly knocked your boy onto his ass.” I smiled back.
“Yes he said something of the sort. He’s at the bar at the moment, buying a round, a rare treat. Grab him before he pays the barmaid, you may never see his wallet again.” Chuckling Rob motioned noncommittally over my shoulder.
“If I could, baby I would give you my world.”
“I hope you aint being nasty bruv.” Simon’s tattooed arm passed a pint of lager over my shoulder to Rob. “You came then. Thought I scared you off coming Café Con Leche…and from shopping…and from me in general.” There was a slight slur to Simon’s voice, but his smile was intact. I looked as the red lights danced briefly in his eyes.
“I have changed the supermarket I shop at put it that way.” All I could do was grin.
“Well I hope you warned them that they need to half their order from Cadburys for the foreseeable future.”
“When you playing?” I changed the conversation, feeling embarrassed about the state I was in earlier.
“Three songs after this guy finishes. What do you think of him?” Simon looked towards the stage at the weedy guy, now writhing almost spasmodically.
“Er…I hope you are better.”
“Treacle, we is the bestest.” Simon pushed a bottle of blue WKD into my hands.
“How did you know this is what I drink?” I stared dumbly at the bottle in my hand, loosely realising that perhaps I should have said thank you instead.
“Well they were out of cheap-ass rocket fuel, so I got the next best thing.” Simon placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. He pushed smoothly passed me so he could stand between Rob and myself, glugging greedily out of a bottle of Newcastle Brown.
“I had you pegged as a lager drinker.”
“Didn’t realise you gave it that much thought.”
“You mean you didn’t realise I was capable of thought.”
“Well you are blonde.” Rob stared intently at Simon as he continued with this light ping pong banter. As the conversation and the music swept over me, I felt the warm alcoholic tipsy feeling creep up the inside of my chest. Simon was a natural talker, always had a light and appropriate answer, and if not, a light and appropriate question. The conversation could have drawn me in for hours; I was laughing genuinely, smiling like I meant it, and giddy as a goon.
“This guy is a bit of a comic tragedy do you not think?” It was a strange question to ask, I was completely unsure what he meant. “Well I mean, he knows the chords to a beautiful and epic song, and performs it with all the grace and care of a one legged man in an arse-kicking contest.” I spluttered my drink all down his white t-shirt. Horrified I tried to apologise, but Simon simply waved a hand. “There’ll probably be chilli-sauce all down it by three in the morning I wouldn’t worry about it. Unless you’re really horrified and you want to suck it from the fabric.” Mock inquisitive eyebrows, purple hair and green eyes are such a winning combination.
The moment was broken when Simon and Rob’s name was called over the microphone. Simon winked and grabbed Robs shoulder, directing his friends broad frame toward the stage. A strange thing happened in this moment. In the ten-step walk from the bar to the stage, Simon changed. He grew a little taller, his shoulders relaxed a little more, and a swagger appeared in his strides. With a grace and poise I could not have expected, Simon picked up a guitar and perched upon the tall stool and began to adjust the microphone.
All the inhabitants of the warm smoky room seemed to breathe in simultaneously as Rob and Simon sat there in front of them smiling.
“These two are ace. They are so funny, and their songs are awesome. They look like a pair of tramps, but play like gods.” Rob’s friend had sidled next to me, a distant euphoric glaze to his eyes. I looked at him, assuming that his words were major hyperbole.
How wrong I was.