The Café by Andra Gabel

It was a small one, tucked away between a blocky, concrete apartment building

and a tiny green park, but even at this ungodly hour of the morning the clamor of voices discussing politics or the newest spring fashions almost drowned out Iulia’s own thoughts. She savored the heat of the coffee cup between her hands and let her eyes drift across the nondescript faces surrounding her on all sides. After a while, they started to blur into a vague haze of eyes and hair and moving mouths. But that was okay. She wasn’t here for the people; she was here for the place. She had appropriated a small table in the corner with a clear view of the door and acoustics good enough that snippets of conversation across the room carried over to her. Bits and pieces, politics and scandals, and the amusing realization that everyone was simply waiting for a chance to top the other’s story.

Her almost silent, but not quite silent enough chuckle earned a few odd looks. All they saw was a short redheaded girl in the corner by herself nursing a coffee, a dog-eared, well-loved copy of Pride and Prejudice lying open and forgotten on the table. The only odd thing was that the book was in English. The other books gracing the tables, the newspapers propped up, the business cards trading hands, the sign outside the door – Romanian. A piece of who she was that she had let slip from her fingers. Not being able to understand every little detail of gossip around her was annoying. If there’s no one to talk to, might as well listen to the conversations of others. But with so many gaps in the dialogues, eavesdropping seemed a bit pointless.

Returning the nod of an elderly man in a beret with a small smile of her own, Iulia leaned back slightly in her chair, sipping her coffee. She was going to fall asleep if she didn’t get up and move soon, despite the friendly jostling of people rearranging themselves in the café chairs as customers left for work and a new crowd trickled in. Still debating over whether or not falling asleep in the hazy, coffee-scented atmosphere of the café would be better than taking a walk, the decision was finally made for her when Corina dropped into the chair across from her, her messenger bag thumping to the ground beside her. It seemed Iulia would be staying here a little longer, and that was perfectly fine with her. She hadn’t finished her coffee anyways.

“You know I’ve been looking everywhere for you? And then I figured you’d be moping over your forgetfulness of the Romanian language and wishing you would have listened to your parents when they told you to get a job here while watching the daily lives of random people, hoping to soak up the culture – did I mention how creepy that is? – in the closest café. You look like a lost puppy sitting here alone.”

Iulia raised her eyebrows, but it was hard to push down the genuine smile. Corina was too spunky for her own good. And too intuitive. Admitting it was the last thing Iulia would do, but Corina had hit the problem square on the head. Iulia shifted, leaning forward.
“Puppies aren’t creepy. They’re cute,” she said.
An eye roll. “So cute, freaking adorable, in fact, downright–”
“Let’s go for a walk. Hereastrau Park?” Iulia slid her coffee cup across the table to Corina.
“Yeah, I could use the fresh air,” Corina said as Iulia tucked Pride and Prejudice into her purse and followed her outside into the clear morning air.

The only sign of her morning visit to the café was a white napkin with a curling flower doodled onto it in black ink

Andra Gabel

Andra Gabel is fifteen-years-old and a sophomore in Spartanburg. She is interested in languages, literature and loves traveling when the occasion arises. With family roots in Romania, she has a special interest in the culture of the country.