DARK, LIGHT, AND DARK AGAIN
The young woman sat by herself at a round table in the corner. There weren't very many people there, but it seemed busy. Perhaps she had deliberately chosen the spot for a semblance of separation. The waiter brought her coffee and the obligatory two cookies that always come with it in the Netherlands. She did not eat the cookies.
Between thumb and forefinger she held one cube of sugar on the surface of the hot beverage untill half of it had melted, then placed the remainder aside.
Took a sip. Exhaled.
And lit up a corona.
Dutch cigars are drier than Americans are accustomed to, and the tobacco is lightly toasted. They aren't a taste that appeals on this side of the Atlantic, and the best qualities are never exported.
The good ones are long filler, from the former colonies.
Places with names gentled by familiarity.
I could tell that she enjoyed it.
She looked content.
For the next half hour I observed her while pretending to study my newspaper. She read the book that had been flat on the table when she first sipped her coffee, and now that she held it in her hands I could see the title - The Middle Years, by Henry James.
Remarkable. To the best of my knowledge, that has not been translated.
It was a battered copy, possible acquired at De Slegte.
Five floors of second-hand books, mostly English, French, and German, on the Rechtestraat about two blocks from Stratums Eind. Not far away at all, but in this weather, an epic treck.
While she read the ash on her cigar got longer and longer.
With controlled ease she brought it to her mouth regularly, but the ash did not fall.
I envied her expertise, as I can only do that when not preoccupied.
Her eyebrows dimpled as she read, her face was soft in the golden warmth of the restaurant, and her hands were small and elegant.
The corona seemed at that time to be the perfect accesory.
It highlighted her youthful feminine qualites.
Though in that time and place she was ageless.
The speakers announced the arrival of the train for Den Bosch.
She placed the short stub that was left of her cigar in the ashtray to die a gentle death on its own, stowed her book in an old-fashioned satchel such as I remembered from my own high school years, and headed down into the station hall, toward the underpass which led to the platforms.
Shortly afterword my train also arrived, and on my way out I passed the table at which she had been sitting.
The cigar band was still there.
It said 'Besoeki'.
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