Chain Reactions

Chain Reaction…the boy moves through the cafe I’m sitting in the window sliding between tables watching a big sheet of bubble wrap the waitress is preparing being blown down the middle and scoops up the purse of the street and there are people outside a latte and a short black on the pavement while the mother is distracted for the couple in the window by the baby in the pram waiting for the bus a neat move twisting and turning in the wind and I’m hoping that the single man with a full one will go past he does it without rushing the short hair I’m waiting to see what happens when the woman who is sitting comes down to earth a nice easy action and the European-style sports shirt as if it was his purse all along because then I get to see with her partner in the window the looks on their faces and he has only just been watching the waitress remembered where he left it leaps to his feet when they realise she has her eye on the cup he’s seen that it isn’t going to stop the boy of black coffee take the purse for them and as it looms larger his first reaction is to shout the woman’s partner she can’t help wondering the bubble wrap flops down ‘Hey’ what would happen for an instant in the middle of the road if the waitress she is startled he almost believes being perhaps a little drops it and folds itself too highly strung as if on cue the word has also seen the boy and the white cup and heard the word which holds the steaming that will fly will restrain the boy under the wheels of a car black liquid slips across the cafe the waitress drops the boy is already like a projectile from her grasp the cup at the door topples forwards he watches the boy and immobilise him hits the concrete floor allowing the purse like a small raft the word to be retrieved pass through the doorway and breaks up on impact going over a waterfall ricochets harmlessly momentarily hidden off the stripped pine framework the surface tension of the black coffee by the stripped pine framework is disrupted and then reappear as it splashes on the pavement on the hard surface the car drives on sending out fine tendrils out on the street and there’s a loud popping noise and microscopic liquid spores almost in the clear he could go like fire crackers in any direction now going off and disappear or maybe rifle fire but instead everybody looks up the mother is just about quickly to see what’s making that noise to realise he stops her purse and hesitates is missing…

That’s when I lean out of the window and put my hand on the purse.

The boy looks at me and there’s a flash of recognition. Not that we know each other or anything, but everything is understood in that moment, who we are and where we come from.

We’re almost holding the purse together now, both supporting it, although he could easily take it from me, wrench it free and be gone. I could let him have it too. What does it matter to me if the boy takes the purse, just a few bucks and a bit of plastic? It’s no great loss.

But we both know that isn’t going to happen. Everything is unfolding too fast for us to think about it, other forces moving in, taking over, dictating to us. Nobody will give up the purse now, even if the boy takes it and runs. There’s too much at stake.

The people in the bus queue are turning to stare at us, as if somehow we’re responsible for the popping of the bubble wrap. If the boy lets go now, he can escape…

Very gently, he releases his grip on the purse, like dropping something from a great height, and then he’s gone. The bus queue quickly reforms and by the time I give the purse back to the mother with the baby, the moment has passed and the waitress is already bending down to pick up the pieces of the broken cup.

This piece was first
published in Overland 157

Posted in Poetry.

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