I have a weakness for three things: coffee, the absurd and beginnings. This sounds like an excuse, but it’s the truth. Another truth is beginnings are important, but they’re not what matters. I remember our beginning -- you walked into the office wearing a smoking jacket, a bright purple tie and telling Kafka cockroach jokes. I metamorphisised into a giggling teenage girl and couldn’t look away. You heard my laugh and wouldn’t. I pulled myself together. Kafka couldn’t be funny forever. Coffee would keep me grounded.
We ended up in the same lift to the coffee shop and then the same table. You asked how I liked my coffee.
‘Medium roasted – preferably Ethiopian Arabica beans. They’ve more flavour.
‘A woman more complex than milk with two sugars,’ you said. ‘Excellent.’
‘Dark roast coffees are bitter,’ I said. ‘I’m trying to cut back.’
‘Don’t underestimate the great body in dark roasts,’ you countered.
We stared at each other. Your eyes were the same colour as Kafka: milky brown. I decided to go. The coffee was making my stomach flip.
But you regaled me with tales of Kopi Luwak beans, used to make the world’s most expensive coffee. How Indonesian civets ate the fruit of coffee trees and their feline digestive juices then performed magic. Their droppings were collected, the altered beans separated, washed, sold and drunk by those able to afford it. I shook my head and chuckled over the ridiculousness of cat poo coffee. The teenager was returning. We kept talking. I discovered we had too much in common: both married, with children, to other people. I shook my head slower and aged.
You said it was harmless to indulge our love of coffee and Kafka, that I was right about the dark roasts being bitter, saying. ‘They do it to cover up defects with the beans.’
‘That’s probably why we drink it at home,’ I blurted before I could stop myself.
In the lift you brushed against my arm and I knew this would be a trial.
I tried to keep afloat, downing cup after cup, unable to give up the coffee shop, our meetings, my home life. I slept badly, blaming the caffeine. When I did sleep, I dreamt of drowning in a sea of dark roast coffee, the acidity burning my skin. Then I’d see you, peering over the rim of the sea with your Kafka eyes. I’d start swimming, but always woke before I reached you.
One day you put down your cup and said, ‘Let’s…’
‘Don’t be absurd,’ I snapped.
The light in your eyes dimmed at my judgment.
I avoided the coffee shop after that. The withdrawal nearly killed me. I lasted a year, then returned. There you were at our usual table, a sprig of Coffea in your lapel, reading The Joy of Cats. Your ringless left hand matched mine.
‘I’m committed to coffee,’ you said offering a chair.
I smiled, thinking about Kopi Luwak beans. How it’s the end that matters.