I enter The Lair, an independent coffee shop—owned, I’ve always assumed, by the middle-aged barista with a plethora of tattoos and a shock of bleached hair. The Lair looks to me as if it was decorated by a fourteen-year-old. The walls are covered in posters of dragons and superheroes. My favourite spot to sit is below a picture of a purple rampant dragon, grey smoke curling up from its nostrils. The dragon perches on a cliff above rolling fields. In the distance, a little hut burns, presumably torched by the scaled beast. Beside the dragon poster was one of Batman, standing on a rooftop, blue undies front and center.
The Lair’s coffee isn’t the best on the block, but it’s cheap, and I enjoy spying on the barista as she works the machines, the tattoos on her arms rippling as she moves. I admire her: her funky hair, her brightly inked arms, the wrinkles around her eyes. This woman wears her life story on her body; she’s beautiful, edgy, adventurous, but also quietly efficient. She’s my secret hero. She is the queen of cappuccino. I don’t even need to order; she saw me come in and has a big cup ready for me by the time I reach the counter. I pay, and retreat to my booth.
The other patrons of the café tend to be punks and arty-types. There’s a woman with a different tutu for each day of the week. A man with a crown of spikes, each dyed a different colour. A group of young girls with matching hot pink sneakers. Adults with leather jackets patched with band logos. Teenagers with scarves that pose a tripping hazard. People who wear nothing but black. People who wear every colour at once. I feel ordinary and frumpy next to them. What must they think of me? I can guess: a conformist, a nobody.
The barista’s name is Tia. Tia’s tattoos are all dragons. They writhe around her body. There is a pair, somewhat obscene, twining down her forearm in the midst of a mating flight. The dragons are different types, Western and Eastern, in blues, yellows, greens, and reds. She actually had the Eastern-style one on her left arm done in Japan, when she had been doing her post-college globe-trot. The mean one on her shoulder was done in London. It is the only completely black tattoo on her body. One artist had done two of the tattoos: matching dragons on the outside of each calf. They aren’t the prettiest of her dragons; their lines are distorted and starting to blur. The one on the left is the colour of faded jeans, the one on the right is supposed to be golden, although it’s really a murky yellow.
Suddenly, the barista pulls out a chair, and sits at my table.
“Um, hi.” I fidget with my cup.
“I see you in here a lot.”
“Want to come to a little party?”
“Here. I like to get to know my regulars. Decide which ones I’m going to sleep with.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” she smiles. Her teeth are stained.
“I’m Sam,” I blurt out.
“Tia,” she reaches over to shake my hand. “And I’ve got to get back to work. See you Saturday?”
“Okay.” I swig the rest of my drink and scurry out of the shop. Take a deep breath. It’s just a party, she’s just being nice. I should go. I think of turning back into the shop, to ask Tia what time I should show up, and if I should bring anything. I stop myself. Calm down. It’s Thursday. I’ll be back in tomorrow. I’ll ask then.
There’s no reason to let her think I’m overeager.