You always get at least one or two. Even if it's an up-market place, you get up-market ones coming in. Every day, or most days. Old people or crazy people with nowhere else to go.
So here's a story:
Three years ago, an upstairs cafe in the middle of town. One of the wait staff (Julie) takes the rubbish downstairs and opens the door, and there in the alley is this old guy in a shabby old suit, he's rolling around on a pile of collapsed cardboard and -
Says Julie: 'His body was smoking. His hair was fizzly and his skin was all black, like when a bomb blows you up in a cartoon.'
Julie practically screams. Says something like: “What the hell!?”
The guy rolls around, scrambles up onto his feet. He's saying “Where? Where?” Really confused, really out of it. He looks up to this window above him, the window of the cafe's toilet. And he starts laughing, like he's gotten away with something.
He's between her and the skip, so she's standing there, watching him, waiting for him to get out of her way.
He starts mumbling, saying: “I'm-a, I'm-a...”
This crazy tramp, laughing and stumbling around with his skin smoking.
Julie says something like “Get out of the way, alright?”
And the guy says: “I'm a time traveller!”
And then he runs away, out the far end of the alley.
This story went down well with the rest of the crew, it was an instant classic. Whenever you had a new start the chef (Aaron) would say: 'Hey Jules, tell them about the time traveller.' Or if someone was taking the rubbish down, he'd be like: 'Hey be careful out there. Don't want you getting... time raped.'
Anyway, the crazy thing is a few months later the guy starts coming in, like actually as a paying customer. He's cleaned up, still doing the whole shabby suit thing but it's a newer, tidier suit.
“Cup of tea,” he says quietly. He's a mumbler.
“That's him,” says Julie afterwards. Pointing. All the staff peeking out through the kitchen hatch.
“He looks really normal,” says the dishwasher (Ty). Disappointed.
“That's him?” asks Aaron.
“Yeah, that's him.”
And Aaron watches him drink his tea for a moment, then he goes: “I like him.”
Whenever Aaron was on shift he controlled the iPod, which played the music in both the kitchen and front of house. And whenever this guy came in, as sort of a joke he'd put on that “Doctor Who” song, by the KLF or whoever.
And he'd look through the hatch, looking for a reaction. But no, never. It's always the same with this guy.
First he says: “Cup of tea.”
Then he pays, walks through. Always prefers the same table by the window, or goes to the corner one if he can't get it. Then out comes the notebook and he's scribbling away for like fifty minutes, an hour.
Doctor Who-oo... (Hey!) Doctor Who, Doctor Who-oo... (Hey!) The TARDIS...
Other songs, too. Aaron's building up a repetoir.
Science fiction... (ooh-ooh-ooh) Double feature...
Mostly this guy is really quiet, no fuss. But once or twice he comes in looking really agitated. On these occasions he behaves like a genuine crazy person.
“Have there been people here?”
“No, no, people, I mean, hang about, hang about. Has anyone come and asked about me?”
Yeah, thinks Julie. Sure. The kitchen staff.
He always pays, doesn't hang around the counter, and he's not a perv. So, like, let him be crazy.
But these days start happening more and more often, there's a sense that he is losing it quite badly. Weird scabs on his fingers. Burns.
He tells Julie: “It's ideas that are important, not people. But if the wrong people have the wrong ideas - they don't like that, no, no.”
Aaron can't take it anymore.
“I'm gonna clear the table. I gotta meet him. Just gotta.”
He takes off his apron and heads out like he's wait staff. He stands there for a moment, looking over the guy's shoulder while he writes in his book.
Says Aaron: 'It was crazy shit, man. Lines and diagrammes and science shit. Numbers. You know what I mean? Like really far out science shit.'
So Aaron says: “Finished?”
The guy looks up and just nods.
Aaron takes the tea cup away. But it's not enough. Not enough of an encounter.
So before he goes Aaron leans in and says: “Hey mate. You a... time traveller?”
This little old man practically jumps out of his skin. He looks at Aaron like a cornered animal.
“What!? What's that you... what!?”
He seems completely confused. So Aaron leans in a second time, nods like they have, you know, an understanding. Flicks a glance at the notebook.
“Time traveller,” he says. “You. Are. A.”
And here's another instant classic - this guy looks back, looks him straight in the eye, and with total sincerity says:
“N-no! Time travel is impossible. Impossible!”
Aaron straightens up, poker faced, and walks back to the kitchen.
They cannot contain their hysterics. You can hear them laughing in the kitchen, doing impressions of that line, over and over again. So imagine how it is for Julie, standing out there, when the whole cafe can hear them. Mortified.
But the old guy doesn't seem to hear. He's wide-eyed, flipping through his notebook, pulling papers out of his pockets, reading numbers aloud. Saying: “No... no, no... no...”
It's weird. Weird enough that the other customers all leave.
They didn't see him again for a long, long while.
“Where's Doctor Who?”
“You scared him off, dick.”
And Aaron would think about this, one finger rubbing at his little soul patch.
“I'm going to call him.”
And then he'd play songs for the time traveller. As if songs about time could summon him.
If I could save time in a bottle... the first thing that I'd like to do...
is to save every day 'til eternity passes away...just to spend them with you...
“That's gay,” says Ty. “What you're doing is gay. Playing songs for him.”
“Shut up,” says Aaron.
The guy didn't come for weeks and weeks. Then he came. It was late in the afternoon, two hours after Aaron had clocked off.
Julie was working the 'till. She could hear feet clomping up the stairs, like really hard out, and then the door flies open and it's the little old guy, standing there in his rumpled suit, clutching all these papers to his chest.
And the guy says: “Oh my God!!”
And Julie says: “...Can I help you?”
And he says: “What's out the back!?”
And before she gets a chance to answer he runs into the passage that leads out to the store room and the toilet.
Julie's standing behind the counter, between the scone dish and the espresso machine, just totally stunned. She can hear him opening and slamming the toilet door.
But she's frozen there, she's still looking ahead. Because through the main door's little window she can now see these three orange lights, hovering in mid-air.
Julie says: 'You're gonna say I'm mental, or I was tripping. But they were there, three of them. The size of chinese lanterns. Floating up to the window there, like they're trying to decide whether or not to come in.'
And then the toilet exploded.
Like it literally exploded. You probably remember hearing about this. It blew up. Blew the windows out the back of the building, one of the rafters fell in. Smoke and shit.
Says the assistant chef (Cam): 'Fucking Sarajevo mate! I run out the back and you can't see shit! And it smells. Like gunpowder or somethin', a real pungent stink of cartridge. And I'm like “woo-oo, that's me for the day”.'
Customers and staff milling into the smoke to get a look at what's going on. Julie goes out back with the rest of them, sparing a couple glances at the main door, but the lights have gone. Collectively the staff search the smoking wreckage but there is no sign of the weird old guy.
Fifteen minutes later, the fire department are in and performing an inspection of the property. Everyone is booted out.
Smoking a cigarette on the street with the rest of the staff, Ty says: “Oh yeah. Right. I get it.”
He pulls out his phone and calls Aaron, explains it to him. Aaron listens to the story with uncharacteristic silence and attention. Then he asks about the state of the kitchen.
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