I took out a crumpled hundred-kronor note from my pocket and smoothed it in my hand. Scanned the other customers, who were almost all sitting on a chair with their gleaming carrier bags on another. Shiny boots and shoes, elegant suits and coats, the odd fur collar, the odd gold necklace, old skin and old eyes in their old, mascaraed sockets. Coffee was drunk, Danish pastries consumed. I would have given a fortune to know what the people sitting there were thinking. What the world looked like to them. Imagine if it was radically different from what I saw. If it was full of pleasure at the dark leather of the sofa, the black surface of the coffee and its bitter taste, not to mention the yellow eye of custard in the center of the puff pastry’s winding and cracked terrain. What if the whole of this world sang inside them? What if they were full to bursting with the many delights the day had bestowed on them? Their carrier bags, for example, the ingenious and extravagant handles of string some of them were fitted with instead of the small cardboard handles stuck on the bags in the supermarkets. And the logos that someone with all their specialized knowledge and expertise had spent days and weeks designing, the meetings with feedback from other departments, more work refining the design, perhaps they had shown samples to friends and family, lain awake at night, for there was always someone who would not have liked it, despite all the meticulous care and ingenuity that had gone into it, until the day it became a reality and now lay, for example, in the lap of that woman in her fifties with the stiff hair dyed a golden tint.
Maybe she didn’t seem that elated. More like mildly contemplative. Filled with a great inner peace after a long and happy life? In which the perfect contrast between the coffee cup’s cold, hard, white stoneware and the coffee’s hot, black liquid was only a temporary stopping point on a journey through the world’s noumena and phenomena? For had she not seen foxgloves growing in rocky scree once? Had she not seen a dog pissing against a lamppost in the park on one of those misty November nights that fill the town with such mystique and beauty? Ah, ah, for isn’t the air full of tiny rain particles then that not only lie like a film over skin and wool, metal and wood, but also reflect the light around such that everything glistens and glimmers in the grayness? Had she not seen a man first smash the basement window on the other side of the backyard, and then lift the hasp and crawl in to steal whatever might be inside? The ways of man are indeed weird and wonderful! Did she not have in her possession a little metal stand with salt and pepper shakers, both made of fluted glass, the top made of the same metal as the stand and perforated with lots of small holes so that the salt and pepper, respectively, could sprinkle out? And what had she seen them sprinkle on? Roast pork, a leg of mutton, wonderful yellow omelettes with chopped green chives, pea soups and joints of beef. Filled to the brim with all these impressions, each and every one, with all their tastes, smells, colors and shapes, in themselves an experience of a lifetime, was it perhaps not surprising that she sought peace and quiet where she sat, and did not appear to want to absorb any more of the world?
At last the man in front of me in the line had his order placed on the counter, three latte coffees, evidently an extremely demanding task, and the woman serving, with the shoulder-length black hair, the gentle lips and the black eyes that brightened in an instant if there was someone she knew, they were watching, but now they were neutral, now she was looking at me.
“A black coffee?” she said before I had time to ask.
I nodded, and sighed as she turned to get it. So she, too, had noticed the tall, drab man with the sweater stained by baby food, who never washed his hair anymore. In the few seconds it took her to find a cup and fill it with coffee I ran my eyes over her. She too had knee-high, black boots. It was this winter’s fashion, and I wished it would last forever.
“Here you are,” she said. I handed her a hundred-kronor note, she took it with her well-manicured fingers, and I noticed the nail varnish was transparent, she counted up the change at the register and placed it in my hand as the smile she gave me transmuted into a smile for three friends behind me in the line.
The sight of the Dostoyevsky book on the table was not exactly tempting. The threshold for reading became higher the less I read; it was a typical vicious circle. In addition, I didn’t like being in the world Dostoyevsky described. However rapt I could be and however much admiration I had for what he did, I couldn’t rid myself of the distaste I felt when reading his books. No, not distaste. Discomfort was the word. I was uncomfortable in Dostoyevsky’s world. But I opened the book anyway and settled down on the sofa to read, after glancing around the room to make sure no one saw me doing it.