Everyone has firsts. There are unlimited possibilities of firsts in one’s life, some odd, some life changing and memorable, and some so casual you don’t even notice them, like the first fly to land on your arm. For me, the first time I attempted to stalk someone was a memorable event in my life, but whether it changed me or not remains to be seen. It definitely didn’t help with my creep-factor though.
I used to live in an area with a heap of ugly themed cafes, with a Greek, a Turkish, an Indian, and so on, trying to stand out in an already crowded eatery lane. I rarely frequented any – being a poor student I only ate rice and tomato sauce – and if I ever managed to walk into one, it was usually for liquour.
Then one day, my housemate Zoe and I decided to take advantage of the half price cocktails at the Modern Poland Cafe. We sat down, and got ourselves acquainted with our new surroundings. We had passed this cafe many a time, but never ventured forth. The decor was dark and broody, and the artwork odd. We checked the menus, and then turned as a foreign accented man asked us if we were ready to order.
The waiter standing before us was tall, thin, short black hair and had a big goofy grin and bright brown eyes that destroyed me. I sat staring in oblivious lust as Zoe ordered our drinks.
Watching him walk away provided an even better sight.
We discussed his attractiveness level and questionable sexuality. We argued over whether he was gay, or simply foreign. It is these days, so darn hard to tell.
The way he talked was very hard. We couldn’t pick up on any tinge of gay lisp or mannerism because of his heavy accent. His gestures were unquestionably manly, but his but his black pants were eye-grabbingly tight. That could just be the uniform though.
We left the cafe unsure of the evening’s proceedings. Zoe was certain of his rainbow flag, but I was sceptical.
He did smile extra big at me when I gave him a 20c tip, but that could just be because I was giving him a tip, but it wasn’t a very good tip, so why would he smile like that, unless he was hinting at something else? Or is he so financially destitute or unaware of the exchange rate that 20c is exciting to him?
The foreign man in the foreign cafe stuck with me in a way no other customer service employee ever had.
I made sure to change my route to walk past the cafe on my way to anywhere. If he was visibly on shift, I would take a seat or if in a hurry get a take away coffee, even if I didn’t want and/or need one. Every time I got served by someone other than him I felt cheated, robbed of my intrigue and annoyed my time had been wasted.
Over time I would learn how to spot if he was being the barista or the waiter, and co-ordinate my visit accordingly. When he was making coffee was the most opportune because I got to stand there and it gave us ample opportunity to talk. Whenever I wasn’t rambling nervously I would stand and watch him. The way his arm moved from jug of milk to espresso plug was pure beauty. He was doing it wrong, and he made terrible coffee, but that didn’t matter.
Every time he opened his mouth, out came sexy jilted words that I wanted to pounce on. Whatever he said was golden froth to me and while he would be making me coffee and talking about his week or whatever I would space out and imagine our little cottage on the hill in the polish countryside, surrounded by animal infested woodlands. Snow would come and we would frolic in the white, playfully throwing snowballs at one another. We would have storks making nests on our spare chimney, and we would copulate accordingly by an open fire on the rug of a bear we slayed together. When spring came, we would invite polish friends over for polish coffee in our courtyard we could co-garden, which would be blooming with whatever Poland’s native flora is.
It had become a daily ritual for me, taking a book and sitting at Modern Poland and ordering a coffee with a side of polish arse view, or raison toast. If he wasn’t there, I would scowl and ignore the business, like a displeased cat.
Whenever there was a new development I would immediately inform Zoe.
“Zoe! Today he asked me if I wanted the usual – he remembers me!”
“Of course he remembers you, you’ve been going there every day for weeks” she was less enthusiastic than I.
“Zoe! He gave me free marshmallows in my coffee! That’s a sign right?”
“Zoe! I only ordered a regular, but he brought me out a large!”
“Zoe! He commented on the book I was ‘reading’ and said he too liked reading! Soul mates!”
It didn’t matter to me that he made terrible coffee; if we were together I could teach him the error of his ways. One day, the voice in my head assured me, we will make beautiful coffee together.
While I was getting whisked away in my fantasy world behind my reflective sunglasses, Zoe was getting worried.
“Why don’t you just talk to him? Ask him out for god’s sake. All these shady doings are creepy, and it’s costing you a fortune, and it seems a complete waste of time. You don’t even know his name yet.”
She made good argument.
I didn’t know his name. At first we referred to him as The Polish Guy, but over the weeks we nicknamed it to Polish. And it was costing me a fortune. I didn’t work a lot and what money I should have been spending on groceries or rent I was peddling away on an eerie intrigue. Somehow, I believed that if I went and sat there long enough, he would get used to me and we wouldn’t even have to have the awkward conversations, he would acclimate to me; not feel threatened anymore, lose his barriers, and we would simply be together. Zoe informed me I completely missed the point of nature documentaries.
One day, weeks into the ‘courtship’ I decided to research Poland, as a way to show him I really care. Giving the same amount of effort I do all my research, I Wiki’d it, and in doing so got lost in a link spiral. I read a lot of what could be pertained as possibly useful information, but, typically, only retained the useless. So I went in, armed with what I thought was an intelligent conversation to have with him about Polish government and the ancient history of his country, instead started rambling about something called the Wisent and Roman Polanski.
He didn’t say a lot, choosing to simply smile and nod as I raved on about how American bison have nothing on the Wisent and lying to him about seeing Rosemary’s Baby when I was little and it scaring me stupid. Leaving with my take away coffee in hand, I thought I did pretty well. I was well versed and may have come across crazy, but also very knowledgeable.
Then something hit me.
What if he wasn’t even Polish?
He had never directly said he was, I just assumed his odd sexy accent matched the theme of the cafe he worked in. Just because a person possibly sounds and looks Polish (do they look different?!) and works in a Polish themed cafe, does not a Pole make. Maybe he was from a neighbouring country of Poland, one whom may be rivals: the Montague to Poland’s Capulet?
I could not go on not knowing where he was from. This uncertainty was a flaw in our relationship and was frankly unacceptable. But how to get it out of him? I could ask him, but is that too forward? Is it too personal, like asking someone what porn they like? I attempted to hint at minor things. I made most of it up and had no idea what I was saying most of the time, but all I needed was a hook.
“Wow this Polish fruit toast is so fresh and juicy, it must be a great time of year for fruit in Poland, no?”
“Did you hear about the Polish film festival coming up? It looks like a good run this year, would be great to go.”
*picking up a paper and pretending to read it* “So the Polish football team is doing well this year, good for them. Great coach this season.”
“I really miss the beaches back home, they were the best. What do you miss…about your home?”
He never really responded correctly, only chuckling as if I made a funny. I did not. I decided to let it lie, and never mention Poland again, for fear of retribution. He would now remain unnationalised.
Despite this unknown hole between us, I persisted in my daily travels to Modern Poland. Some days he was there, some days he was not. It became as natural as showering.
A big jump forward came one night when I was coming home from work, I walked past the cafe but it was closed. On the intersection corner near my house, a bicycle pulled up beside me.
“Hi! How are you?”
I turned to see his big grin beaming out at me from underneath an oversized helmet. The image of him mounted on his bicycle almost brought me to my knees. We exchanged minor banter and chit chat, and he was off. A normal person would have asked him out for a drink at that point, but all I could see was another way in.
I ran home and got out my bike from the shed, dusted it off and informed a questioning Zoe on the latest.
For the next few days I would ride past the cafe, back and forth a few times to make sure he noticed me and would slow down to be double sure.
I would stop and tie up my bike and order a coffee.
“So you ride a bicycle too?”
“Oh this old thing? Yeah, had it for years, I ride every day, my favourite thing my ol’ bike”
“It’s very beautiful machine. Mine’s so crap; I picked it up from a yard sale at a house around the corner from my house. I only use it to get to and from work.”
“Mmm, they’re great to ride around, getting a real feel for the city. Etcetera.”
We talked bikes for a while till I peddled off and then I knew we were really meant to be together. My vision now involved us cycling around those flower or snow covered Polish hillsides and stopping intermittently for picnics and sexcapades.
Then, one day, like the three legged goat at the local petting zoo, he was gone. No explanation, no warning, he just stopped turning up to work. I was going to ask the owner, but thought that impertinent. There was no way he was fired – he was an amazing waiter. He served well, politely and he was great to look at. Sure his coffee could be described as soul-drenchingly bad, but that seems a petty thing to focus on.
I couldn’t bare the idea he was fired, so I settled on the idea that he was deported. His visa had expired, and he was living illegally in a squat environment till someone found him out and he was forced out of the country, post haste.
I never saw him again. I never even knew his name.
I’m sure wherever he is he is missing slipping me that extra marshmallow in my large mug. Me getting nervous and sweaty when he smiled so I talked really fast and start stuttering. That reflective shine from my sunglasses that would no doubt distract him as the gaze was always fixed upon him. Or those few times when he wouldn’t stop staring at me so I bumped nervously into tables and broke things. Aah, the times we had. Our affair was brief, and some might say non-existent, but for me it will last a lifetime. Some may say it was simply great customer service, sex appeal doing its bit for capitalism, but I say no. We had a thing, whatever it was, it was there and it was true.
I never go to Modern Poland anymore, the food wasn’t great and the coffee was rarely any good, my sole purpose was to woo, and now woo is simply woe. I don’t miss Polish, I don’t pine after him as I would a discontinued chocolate line, but I do wish I had had more time. To be true, our relationship was flawed, but with time, and more scheming, there potentially could have maybe been real possibilities there.