The scent of jasmine was the first clue: a woman.
I was sitting alone at my usual table when she came and sat down at the next table. I knew that she was alone because the chair on the other side of her table hadn’t scraped across the floor, and no one had spoken to her after she’d sat down.
I sipped my coffee. On a good day, I can pick up the cup, take a sip and return it to the saucer, and if you were sitting at the next table, you’d never know that I was blind. The challenge is to see how long I can carry out the deception before the person sitting next to me realises the truth. And believe me, the moment they do, they give themselves away.
I hoped someone would be joining her, so I could hear her speak. I can tell a great deal from a voice. When you can’t see someone, the accent and the tone are enhanced, and these can give so much away.
Charlie was heading towards us. ‘Are you ready to order, Madam?’ asked the waiter, his slight Cornish burr but leaving no doubt that he was a local. Charlie is tall, strong and gentle. How do I know? Because when he guides me back to the pavement after my morning coffee, his voice comes from several inches above me, and I’m five foot ten. And if I should accidentally bump against him, there’s no surplus weight, just firm muscle. Charlie has recently split up with his girlfriend and he still misses her. Some things you pick up from asking questions, others are volunteered.
The next challenge is to see how much I can work out about the person sitting at the next table before they realize that I cannot see them. Once they’ve gone their way, Charlie tells me how much I got right. It’s usually seven out of ten.
‘I’d like a lemon tea,’ she replied, softly.
‘Certainly, madam,’ said Charlie. And will there be anything else?’
‘No, thank you.’
Thirty to thirty five would be my guess. Polite, and not from these parts. Now I’m desperate to know more, but I’ll need to hear her speak again if I’m to pick up any further clues.
I turned to face her as if I could see her clearly. ‘Can you tell me the time?’ I asked, just as the clock on the wall opposite began to chime. She laughed, but didn’t reply until the chimes had stopped. ‘If that clock is to be believed,’ she said, ’it’s exactly ten o’clock.’ The same gentle laugh followed.
They had a brief conversation about Game of Thrones only to find out that she knew more about it than he did but she was too polite to embarrass him. As she took another sip of her tea, I wondered how many out of ten I’d got so far. Clearly interested in serials, she isn’t a resident of this part of the country. A different accent.
I heard her drain her cup. I can even tell that. When Charlie returned, she asked him for the bill. He tore off a slip from his pad and handed it to her. She passed him a banknote and he returned her some coins.
‘Thank you, madam,’ said Charlie effusively. It must have been a generous tip.
‘Good bye,’ she said her voice directed towards me. ‘It was nice to talk to you.’
I rose from my place, gave her a slight bow and said, ‘I do hope you enjoy the service.’
As she walked away I heard her say to Charlie, ‘What a charming man.’ But then, she had no clue how acute my hearing was.
I sat and waited impatiently for Charlie to return. I had so many questions for him. How many of my guesses would turn out to be correct this time?
‘Will there be anything else, Mr Kratos?’ he teased.
‘There most certainly will be, Charlie,’ I replied. ‘For a start, I want to know all about the woman who was sitting next to me. Was she tall or short? Fair or dark? Was she slim? Good-looking? Was she—’
Charlie burst out laughing.
‘What’s so funny?’ I demanded.
‘She asked exactly the same questions about you!’