She sat alone at a table for four. Always. Long grey hair straggled out from under a red beret, silently mouthing words.
It was my favourite restaurant. Italian, and when the kitchen doors swung open you could glimpse the elderly couple, the texture of sun-drenched wrinkled olives, working the stoves and pans while their son breezed in and out and smiled his way around the diners.
Sadly they were few and far between. The place was down-at-heel, faded, and festooned with the kind of tacky pseudo-erotic kitsch art big in the seventies. Straight out of Abigail’s Party. An alluring Spanish beauty with one boob hanging out presided over the whole room.
But the food was divine. The gnocchi were perfectly textured globules of delight, the finest to pass my lips. These days, food is not enough it seems. People want smart and stylish and trendy. Beautiful people to admire and be seen with. Not just the best spaghetti in Yorkshire. Insufficient.
And here, you had to be seen with her. Eating nothing. Just drinking coffee after coffee, silently refilled without question.
Once I figured she was always there, curiosity got the better of me. I asked the waiter why, what was the story? Well, she came every night they were open. Always wanted a table for four. Never ate. They’d stopped charging her for the drinks.
Eventually the place closed down. Lack of custom. Haven’t had a decent bowl of pasta out since.
I saw her again, once. I was riding the bus to town and I glimpsed her red beret moving through the crowd on the pavement. Slowly. Shuffling. I craned my neck to keep a sight of her, but then she was gone.