It’s on my way to work. It serves the best coffee within a two-mile radius of my office. The coffee is juicy, fragrant, creamy.
So that’s how I justified going to Bulldog, owned by the Rudest Cafe Owner In Town.
The first time I went, I asked for a small latte.
Rudest Cafe Owner sighed bitterly, like someone politely asking for a small latte was an unimaginabely huge blow to his ego. He pulled out two cups of different sizes.
Why. Don’t. You. Tell. Me. What .You. Mean. By. Small. he sneered.
I looked around, helplessly. Uh, just, like, the smallest size, I murmured, feeling embarrassed and not knowing why.
Rudest Cafe Owner sighed again. Obviously, the wrong answer.
Whichever is ch-cheapest, I said, trying to be helpful, and aware that I was now stuttering.
There. Is. Only. One. Price.
OK then. The big one I guess, I said, blushing. I knew I wasn’t making sense anymore.
RCO shot me a look of pure hatred, and then made me one of his perfect lattes. He swirled the foamed milk expertly to make a heart shape in the white milky topping.
Time passed. The first day of school arrived. I taught a class. The students were restless, good-humoured, eager, fun, some of them giggly. The air sparkled with ideas. I had worked hard to create a lively introductory class. By the end of it I was elated, exhausted. I needed a fix. Off I went to Bulldog.
I ordered my latte correctly this time. Rudest Cafe Owner looked like he was ready to forgive and forget. So was I. I fancied a sugar fix, too. I went over to the cookie jar and turned the jar around so I could see the list of ingredients. I have a mild, non-fatal allergy to certain nuts and if I can, I like to know what I’m eating. RCO came over and sharply returned the jar to its original position.
That’s the wrong list of ingredients, he snapped. That’s. Why. The. Jar. Is. Turned. Around.
Oh. OK. I was just checking the ingredients to see if the cookie has nuts, I said aimiably, like I was Mr. Magoo and couldn’t see I had just walked in front of a firing line.
If. You. Have. Allergies. Don’t. Eat. My. Food.
Say what? I calmly told him there was no need for such hostility, and then earnestly proceeded to try and explain the difference between anaphylactic and non-anaphylactic allergies.
He spun around to face me, rage on his tired, lined forty-something face.
I. Will. NOT. Have. Allergies. In. MY. Cafe. he fairly spat, and turned away.
I walked back to my office ever so slowly. What pride and hope had filled me earlier was now completely drained out of me. For a brief moment I felt discouraged, shamed. The man’s self-loathing was contagious. What’s more, I’d have to find a new place to get superb coffee and I knew that wasn’t going to be easy. I saw a long series of Tim Horton’s coffees stretch in front of me like a bland, beige sea.
I looked down into my coffee. There was that tiny heart, wistfully and artfully sketched into the foam.