People Watching. Short Story.

Ruth ate slowly, watching the people around her as they chatted and ate. The café wasn’t as busy as she had expected, only five of the tables held any occupants, including her own. She took a sip of coffee, then placed the cup carefully down. The man to her left turned the page of his paper, then glanced at his phone, she wondered who he was waiting for. Perhaps it was his mistress, the one he was planning to run away with, maybe it was his business partner, whom he was planning to double-cross and use the funds to run away with said mistress. Whichever it was, they were running late, both were usually punctual. The door to the café opened and a tall woman walked in, so it was the mistress today. The woman made her way over to the man’s table and kissed him briefly before sitting down. Ruth had been watching the man for almost two months now, he didn’t go to the café with any real regularity, but he only ever ate with two different people. She didn’t know his exact relationships with them, but she allowed her mind to fill in the gaps, based off of clues she could gather. She assumed the woman was a mistress as the man wore a wedding ring but the woman had none, the kiss was too intimate for family or friends. The business partner was just pure speculation as they both usually wore suits and occasionally they looked at piles of paper together. Ruth picked at her food, then looked elsewhere in the café. She was vaguely familiar with most of the people, a couple, a family with two suprisingly well behaved children, a man who usually came to do the crossword and then left after two cups of coffee. The fifth person was new though, a young woman, bright red hair, three studs in her ear and light make up. She was slim, wearing a plain white t-shirt and black jeans. The girl was reading a book, stopping briefly to take bites of food or sips of her drink. Ruth couldn’t quite make out the cover from this distance, she made a mental note to subtly look at it on her way out, assuming of course she left before the girl. She took another drink of coffee, then took a bite of food. She had a paper open beside her, which she occasionally glanced at, no one noticed her looking, why would they? She was skilled at observing people without being detected. She had rarely been caught and any time she had been, people just assumed it was accidental eye contact. She had mastered the skill of letting her eyes move off someone smoothly, as though she was merely looking around, her face remaining a calm mask. The waitress refilled Ruth’s coffee cup, Ruth nodded in thanks. Months of eating here regularly had built a comfortable silence between her and the waitress. Ruth preferred Annie to Becca, Becca liked to chat and while Ruth didn’t mind chatting, it interfered with her observations. Ruth pulled a small notebook from her pocket and made a few notes about her observations, while she did this she glanced between the notebook and the paper, if anyone saw her, they’d think she was jotting down a quote or information off an advertisement.

People stood and left, others came in, but the girl and Ruth stayed. As her usual time drew to a close, Ruth began to tidy up, stacking her plate, placing things back into her bag. Finally, she stood and put on her jacket, she fished in her pocket for the money, then left it on the counter without looking, she always counted out the correct amount and placed it into her left pocket before she left the house. Then, she left the restaurant, as she passed the girl she glanced at the book, noting the title, then she stepped out of the restaurant and into the cool breeze.

Ruth walked home slowly, enjoying the fresh air, along the way she made two brief stops, one was into the shops to buy milk and eggs, the other was into the florist to buy a nice bouquet for herself. She was happily single and saw nothing wrong with buying herself flowers, after all they made the room smell nice and they brightened up the place. A few of her friends thought it was an odd thing to do, but Ruth thought they were just jealous they couldn’t bring themselves to do something similar.

Ruth let herself into the house and went straight to the kitchen, there she placed the milk and eggs into the fridge and she placed the new flowers into a vase, spreading them out slightly, making adjustments here and there until she was happy. When she was done, she went to her computer and brought up Google, a quick searched filled her in on the novel, she ordered a copy for herself, not out of any creepy stalker ideals, but simply because it actually sounded good. With that done, she turned off the computer and went up to her room to change. She was supposed to meet Ann-Marie for lunch in a few hours and she was planning on driving to meet her. Her friends all gushed about how she was lucky that she didn’t need to work, that she had all the freedom she could want, but they didn’t understand how boring it could get. Sure she had hobbies, but sometimes even they weren’t enough to fill the days. She was well off, comfortable, rather than rich. If she wanted she could go away, but she couldn’t take grand trips around the world. She was mostly stuck here, so she found things to occupy her time. She passed her studio on the way to her bedroom, ignoring it for now, later she might paint or sculpt. She had been getting interested in glass blowing lately, perhaps she might look up courses, see if there were any in the area.

She changed quickly and left the house again. Ann-Marie only had an hour for lunch, she’d be pissed if Ruth was late. She sat into her car and started the engine. It wouldn’t take her too long to get there and while she waited, she could just people watch some more. She turned up the radio and reversed onto the road. At least the place they were going did good coffee.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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