by Annie Clarkson
What I always wanted to do was speak with him in Urdu. Say more than assalam-o-alaikum when I went into his café in the Northern Quarter and ordered rice and three.
He was one of those men who hardly seemed to notice me, apart from a smile – no eye contact – when he placed the water jug on my table, a plate of masala, dal and karai. Then he was gone taking his smile with him. That smile that he shared fairly with all his customers, but oh I dreamt was meant for me.
I was always alone. most Fridays, some Wednesdays in my lunch hour there was enough time to walk across the market into his café with its red letters taped to the inside of the window with his name. Ali. Maybe his first name or his last name, I didn’t know. I tried googling him and came up with over a million results most of which were for Mohammed Ali. Silly old me, what did I think I was going to find?
I practised in front of the mirror. Mrs Ali. Annie Ali. I tried wrapping a scarf around my head in a way I imagined his wife would do. I even brought some material from Abakhan Fabrics to make shalwar kameez. I got a pattern from the internet and sewed by hand late into the evenings when all I could think about was Mr Ali and his smile, his black beard, those long dark fingers with neatly trimmed fingernails.
I took him a gift today. A red apron, I wrapped in tissue paper with a small label that said ‘Dear Mr Ali, with fondness and hope…’ I left it on the table with the money for my meal. I couldn’t quite build up the courage to give it to him in person.
Annie Clarkson is a poet and short fiction writer from Manchester, she blogs here.