5 – Jola

He was always one of the last to come in the lunchtime rush. She had been put on coffee detail so she had her back turned to the customers most of the time, expediting the orders that Julie added to the board. Whatever time he came he would make the opportunity to talk to her. She needn’t keep glancing back toward the street at the every sound of the cooler cabinet being opened.

She had spent many moments on her trip back to Poznan thinking about him – wondering what news he would bring on her first day back. Jerzy had asked her almost as many times what it was that made her so distant. At first she had calmly insisted that she wasn’t distant. As the week had passed and she was discovered again and again staring quietly out over the river from her mother’s kitchen, or failing to hear a question levelled at her by her sister or brother or Jerzy she began to blame tiredness or headaches. Even her mother with the store of patience owed any visit from a favourite daughter had got annoyed with her.

On the Thursday, two days before returning to Edinburgh, she stormed angrily out of the house after another ‘inquisition’ and stood at the bottom of the garden, dumbly examining the decrepit rabbit hutch. Her sister joined her and quietly asked her to share a confidence. She snapped at her, ‘No. Me and Jerzy aren’t having problems.’ Her sister didn’t like Jerzy and she resented her question. Disillusion with Jerzy was her privilege.

There was one more order – for a cappuccino. She banged the exhausted coffee grounds from one filter into the drawer and loaded it with another mountain of fresh Jamaica Blue, twisted it into place, readied a carton below it and pressed the brew button. Turning around she met the eyes of Jeff. Julie was taking the biggest notes out of the till. She pushed the drawer closed and went through to the backroom.

‘You’re back?’

‘Yes.’

‘Did you have a good trip? Poznan wasn’t it?’

‘Very nice, thank you.’ She wiped her hands on her apron and smiled. It was the usual corporate smile she reserved for customers.

‘So, today’s the day.’

He had remembered, or rather he had not forgotten. He was making it clear that it’d hadn’t been an idle promise. She was relieved, but she pretended not to know what he was talking about.

He glanced at his watch. ‘Another four hours and we can set off. Or I can, and you can follow.’ He had such a warm smile that she couldn’t help but respond with one of her own. ‘I packed the car this morning. It’s parked outside my flat now. I just have to grab a bag and my passport, post the keys through the door and by eight I’ll be on the A702 going south.’ He glanced at the exit to the back room and drew a sheet of paper two times folded and offered it to her. She took it and tucked it into the back pocket of her jeans. ‘My first months itinerary is there, and my number. You just have to call and we can meet anywhere along the route.’

She laughed. It was the only sensible way to respond. Julie came back and went out to the front of the cafe. She was going for a smoke.

‘Or you can meet me after I finish. Just three quarters the way up Dundas Street here and along the end of Cumberland Street. You know the bar there…You’re laughing. That’s good. You’d make a great travelling companion if you can keep that up.’ He looked around to check on Julie. She wiped the counter as he leaned closer. ‘Imagine. It would be a great adventure. Imagine Jola. A real adventure. How often do any of us go on real adventures?’

She laughed, ‘I go on adventures all the time.’

‘You do Jola? Terrific.’

He said it as though he hadn’t guessed she was joking. She continued wiping the counter, shaking her head and whispering, ‘Crazy. Crazy.’

‘Jola.’ She looked up. Smiling he nodded to the machine behind her. ‘Can I get my coffee?’

‘Of course.’

Julie came back in just as he was leaving. He turned just as he reached the street and gave her a short wave. Julie told her to take a short break and then they could start to restock the coolers. She took a bottle of mineral water into the backroom and sat near the exit to the gardens. He had typed the itinerary and folded a small envelope in with it. She put the envelope aside and unfolded the paper. It was a twenty three item list of places, times and dates. The first entry was The Cumberland bar at 18.00. He would be there for an hour, waiting for her. The next location at seven was outside his flat on Thirlestane Road. She didn’t know where that was but she would be able to find it on her phone if she needed to. She looked to the bottom of the list. The second to last rendezvous was a cafe in Barcelona. After its name he had added in parenthesis ‘(near the 4 storey box sculpture on the beach)’.

She had never been to Spain. Jerzy never wanted to buy a plane ticket. They had been on at least five camping trips in the highlands so that he could climb the hills. He wouldn’t even go to proper campsites but preferred to find remote spots on the moors and camp for free. Jeff’s list charted hops from one hotel to another and then sometimes what looked like private addresses. Maybe they were the homes of friends or the self-catering villas she had seen in the Sunday papers.

She took up the little envelope. There was a small stiff card inside it – maybe a business card.

‘What’s that?’

Jerzy had warned her he might drop by at lunch. He was installing a kitchen on Great Kings Street and was standing in the doorway in his overalls smiling, not familiar enough with Julie that he felt he could enter all the way into the backroom.

‘Nothing. Just an order sheet.’

She folded Jeff’s list and slid it and the envelope into the bottom of a pile of papers on Julie’s desk.

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