A man came and sat beside me at the next computer in the coffee shop. When I got up to make a phone call he was standing nearby, about to return to his stool, and our eyes met. We smiled as if just by having sat next to each other for a few minutes we had an alliance.
I returned from the phone booth and got back to my screen where I picked up my notebook and resumed typing. My eyes looked down into my lap where my notebook lay open. My hands and fingers moved across the keyboard of their own accord. I was going as fast as I could and I can go pretty fast. I had paid for an hour and at the bottom of the screen it said I had 25 minutes left and you could watch the seconds count down.
While I typed my story about visiting the Budapest apartment I listened while the man next to me opened his cell phone and began to talk. He was calling an airline to confirm his flight, leaving November 6 from Newark, flying to Rio. "Brazil," I heard him say into the phone as if the person at the other end had asked where Rio was. He spoke very clearly without trying to muffle his voice. "And do I arrive in Rio on the 6th or the 7th?" he asked. "I'm now going to patch in my secretary who has details to pass on to you," he continued. "Please hold on." He pulled the phone away from his ear, dialed, brought in the secretary.
When he needed someone to repeat themselves he said, "I beg your pardon." He was ready to pay, but the person at the other end said something. Mel was surprised. (Yes, his name I had learned was Mel Thompson. Thompson with a P.) "You mean, I'm here with my credit card ready to pay you a couple thousand dollars and you don't want it?" He laughed a fake little laugh and paused. "And who does that benefit?" he asked politely, condescendingly, a little like a person playing at being a grown-up for the first time.
Finally he said, "All right. I will call you tomorrow and you'll take the payment then, but the price you just quoted won't change?" He seemed satisfied. He wrote down the confirmation number. He was put on hold again by Continental and used the idle time to say to his secretary that he had received an email from someone in Lebanon. "Now what did I do to deserve that?" he said, but you could tell he loved it.
The call was finally over. I had kept typing throughout, only getting distracted a few times to the point of having to pause, find my place, re-focus.
I finish the story and look at the screen, searching for what to do next. I am in an unfamiliar program. I see a button that says "edit." That looks good. I hit it and everything disappears. It's gone. My half hour of typing has gone up in smoke.
"Oh no!" I cry out. I look up and meet Mel's eyes. "I lost it!"
"Oh no!" he says. "That's terrible. But you type so fast," he went on, "it's like aerobics the way you type," and then, "It looks like that's your own material you're working on."
"Yes, it is."
"So you probably have it memorized," he says.
I'm ready to end the conversation. I just needed someone to share that moment of despair, but now he's talking crazy -- why on earth would he think I had my stuff memorized?
My eyes have gone back down to my notebook and my fingers have started flying. Mel and I each go back into our own worlds.
I am aware of him as he stands to go. "Good luck," I hear him say. I don't look up. I could have. I wished I had. But I stayed in Budapest and replied simply, "Good luck to you too."
A minute or two later I found my original piece of typing and realized with relief that I didn't have to redo it all. But Mel wasn't there to tell.
An hour or two later I was in a different internet cafe and I got online just for one minute to Google Mel Thompson. Well, maybe he's the one who writes self-help religious books. I don't know. I was hoping for a photograph of a tall man, dressed well in a button-down shirt, with pale coffee colored skin about thirty-five years old.