Cafe Paris a short story accompanying the oil painting by Theo Michael

The look on my daughter's face last Christmas was heartbreaking....

Raising a child as a single parent can be so cruel. The look on my daughter Sophia’s face only last Christmas was heartbreaking.

‘Mum’ she said, ‘I saw Jackie this morning.’ Jackie was our neighbour’s daughter and her best friend. ‘She had so many lovely toys from Father Christmas and I only have this one doll.’ She was tearful, but she reasoned. ‘It must be because we don’t have a chimney, and I’m sure some of those presents were meant for me.’

In disbelief I found myself nodding. ‘Yes darling, it would be different if we had a chimney.’

I was desperate for money. We had rented out the spare room but the tenant, a young man, disappeared, owing rent for the last 5 weeks. We haven’t had much luck replacing him, even with an advert running in our local shop window. Enough was enough. I hated myself, but I faked some references and applied for a job at a cafe/restaurant.  They were busy and decided to take a chance on me. It was local and I could cycle to work. I worked all the hours I could, but paying a childminder at the same time was heavily eating into my earnings.
I got to love this job and worked hard, but I noticed how much wastage there was. My daughter and I needed food and here the management was throwing it away.
It was just before closing time when a final customer pulled up in his old battered Ford Escort. I sympathized, he must have been poor. The window of his car was broken, held together with sticky tape. His face seemed familiar. Perhaps it was because he had been in several times lately.

With an overgrown white beard he had this proud look about him and I was horrified when the manager held the door shut, indicating we were closed.

The customer pointed to his watch, ‘It’s twenty to 11; you have 20 minutes to go.’

I opened the door fully and apologized. ‘Of course we are open. The kitchen is closed but you are welcome to order anything else.’

The manager walked off in a huff, I’ll sort you out later. I’m off home.’

Despite his appearance the customer was very well spoken. He ordered a black coffee and we chatted. He seemed very knowledgeable about the area and was fascinated about the art deco features of this cafe. I felt myself relaxed in his presence, but I did eventually have to make an excuse to close, this was 45 minutes later.

It was lock up time and at the end of each shift we were required to throw all the leftover food away. I was ashamed to admit that I had gotten into the habit of taking some home. I argued it was no good to anyone in the rubbish tip, but deep down I knew it was stealing. I had taken to bringing in a large satchel to accommodate the food, and just as I was leaving and locking up, two gentlemen stepped out of a parked car. It was the manager.

‘Can we look into your bag!’ he shouted.

‘No, of course not’ I pleaded to no avail.

His companion stepped forward and pulled out his badge. He was a police officer. I broke down and cried.
‘It is just some bread for my daughter. ‘It’s better than just throwing it away.’

I lost my job that day, not only for taking the bread, but also for faking the references. They prosecuted.

What sort of society are we living in, where the law protects the wealthy and allows the poor and needy to suffer. Without an employer’s reference and now a criminal record we were at the mercy of begging from my family. They had their own issues and declined to help.
I had no choice but to plead to the manager of my local shop, where my room to rent advert was hanging, if I could have some credit. He generously agreed, but I could see a worried look on his face, wondering where the money would come from to repay my debt.

As I was leaving Bob the manager shouted.

‘Oh, I forgot to tell you. Someone was asking about you. Perhaps it’s about the room?’

‘Thank you’ I said, but I knew what he was up to, trying to keep my hopes up.

I was outside the next day in the yard, hanging up Sophia’s clothes when a stranger pulled up. It was the guy from the cafe with the Ford Escort and the broken window. Perhaps he was looking for a room to rent.

‘Can we talk?’ he said with a smile.

He had this white wavy hair, and with his beard, he reminded me of Santa Claus. ‘Of course’ I replied and I invited him in. ‘I apologize for the mess.’ I tried to explain but he said,

‘No need.’

‘Coffee or tea? I asked. I thought perhaps he needed a refreshment.

‘Green tea if you have it’ he said. ‘Let me explain why I’m here.’

‘Oh I know, aren’t you after a room to rent?’

‘No’ he replied puzzled. ‘I heard what happened at the Cafe.’ He paused, ‘I am the new owner of the Cafe Paris and I would like to know if you want your job back? I want you to head the team.’

He could have knocked me over with a feather. I was lost for words.

 Now I knew why he looked familiar. I had frequently seen him in the newspapers. He was the business Entrepreneur who owned the Planet Newspaper group.

‘We are looking to start a chain of cafes and hotels. Cafe Paris is our third acquisition. If you agree, welcome aboard.’ He continued as he held out his hand.

My daughter who I had asked to stay in her bedroom couldn’t resist coming down to say hello. She walked into the room, took one look at our guest, noticing the white wavy hair and the round rimmed glasses she asked sheepishly.

‘Are you Santa?’

Wiping a tear away I took my daughter’s hand. I smiled and replied. ‘No darling he isn’t’ but deep down I was thinking the same thing. Chimney or no chimney, this job offer after all, was like Christmas come early.

Now every day at work I proudly put on my yellow uniform and feel as part of the team, my team.


Story by Theo Michael

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