Restless legs

"He had read about this particular type of behaviour ..."

A man travelled to the city to collect his son’s new passport. Leaving the embassy, he realised he had no idea what to do next. It seemed a waste to get on a bus and return to the small town outside the city where he spent most of his days. Surely being in the city provided opportunities to do things he could not do at home. But what, exactly?

He decided to go to a cafe that he knew was close by and which he had been to before. Of course, it could have been interesting to go to a cafe he had never frequented before but that might involve wandering around searching for such an establishment, and he’d vowed to avoid that kind of activity, in cities with which he was reasonably familiar, at least.

The cafe he walked into was not of the modern type. He remembered he had liked going there because it reminded him of a traditional Italian-style cafe. The owner offered to make the usual types of coffee, as well as very simple grilled toasts and filled rolls. There were stools at long benches by the windows but the tiled space was otherwise empty.

He remembered how he liked that emptiness, and the refusal of the owner to accept payment in a form other than cash. But this last quirk had been abandoned, it seemed. He ordered a double macchiato, relishing the chance to say the foreign word, and a serving of grilled cheese toast. Then he tapped a blue card to the reader to pay for his order.

He found a spot by the window, next to another man who had not removed his bicycle helmet before sitting down. In fact, he kept that helmet on for the length of time it took to drink his coffee, which had been served in a French press. The man sat on a stool looking at his mobile telephone, his feet resting on a small shelf at ankle height made of wood.

The man who had travelled to the city to collect his son’s new passport noticed that the other man’s legs were bouncing ever so slightly on the wooden shelf. He had read about this particular type of behaviour, which had even been assigned a name: restless leg syndrome. It was not clear to him who had coined the term, but it hardly mattered.

What mattered was that the rhythm of the other man’s feet bouncing on the shelf began to accelerate. The sound the shelf made as it hit the tiled floor also began to increase. The man himself seemed unaware of it. Instead, he began speaking into his telephone, presumably to a friend or lover, and the sound turned to a banging noise.

After a minute or so, the owner brought the man’s macchiato and toast. As she set the cup and plate down on the bench, she too noticed the noise the other man’s restless legs were making as his feet hit the bench. Without hesitation, she drew the man’s attention to the noise, even though he was preoccupied with his conversation on the telephone.

The man immediately ceased bouncing his legs. The man who had come to the cafe in order to do something meaningful with his time in the city instead of simply catching a bus home sat there in silence and ate his grilled toast. Presently, the man wearing the bicycle helmet got up and left the cafe, thanking the owner on his way out.

The man carrying his son’s new passport finished his macchiato, visited the bathroom and then also left the cafe. He was grateful that the owner of the cafe had intervened to silence the other man’s restless legs, but he did not tell her this as he waved goodbye. Outside, on the street, he walked off in a random direction, past buildings he no longer recognised.

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