Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The songs might endure but the singer has gone away

Before Easter one morning I noticed that the original café that operated in the square where the light rail station is, had not opened. I thought it strange because the man who operated the café was very vocal. At any hour of the day, from early in the morning until the late afternoon, when he would normally close his café, he could be heard singing along to songs that played on the stereo that was set up inside his shop.

The songs were popular tunes from any period you might choose to name from any of the past 50 years, the kinds of songs that you routinely hear on bog-standard AM radio stations in the city. Nothing difficult or aggressive or grungy or particular, just regular songs that anyone might like to listen to. And the café owner would be going about his business serving customers, making cappuccinos, heating up focaccia, tidying up the mess he had made, all the while singing at the top of his voice in the most joyous way, as though singing were the most natural thing in the world to do and anyone who wasn’t singing was somehow missing out on something elemental and good.

Sometimes, the café owner would be seen sitting on a small plastic stool in the square underneath the colonnade, quietly smoking a cigarette. He might also be seen sitting there talking on his phone when business was slow or if there was a period when customers didn’t normally arrive.

Some six months or so ago another café had opened up next door to the singing café owner’s café. This new café is operated by a Chinese man and he usually has two staff members helping him. One person stays in the kitchen making the wraps and sandwiches that are listed on the café’s menu, and the other person stays at the espresso machine making coffees for people as they come out of the lift that leads from the rail platform up to the street.

The singing café owner usually coped with the demand from customers by hiring one other person, who might have been his partner. I heard them arguing with each other loudly one day and thought it a bit odd to hear a shop owner criticising an employee where customers could hear them. I did also from time to time also see a woman who lives in my apartment building working in his café.

Sometimes when I am busy and there is no food in the fridge for breakfast I will go up to the square and buy something to eat. I used to buy focaccias from the singing café owner’s display cabinet, but I found that for one dollar more I could get a bacon-avocado-egg-and-hash-brown wrap from the Chinese café owner’s kitchen. They know me there now, and when I appear at the till to order, my order has already been entered in the point-of-sale terminal without a word having been said. I have my wrap made without sauce.

For a change, I might buy a focaccia from the singing café owner’s café, but that won’t happen anymore because it looks as though he has shut down his café permanently.

The folding glass doors don’t open in the morning and you no longer hear the sound of his voice filling the small square where apartments have balconies overlooking the space where the food outlets are located. Even though I would normally go for the breakfast wrap rather than the focaccia, I miss hearing the sound of celebration that animated that intimate quarter of the city. The songs might theoretically endure but you wouldn’t know any more because the singer has disappeared.

UPDATE 3 April, 12.36pm: I went out after publishing this piece and on the door of the cafe I saw a sign saying that the cafe is being updated and will reopen after Easter.

UPDATE 23 April 2018, 2.47pm: (Shakespeare's birthday.) The cafe reopened again for the first time today. It was open for breakfast when I went up this morning and when I went past at about 11am, when the stereo was playing something from the Rolling Stones.

UPDATE 17 October: The singing cafe was replaced and last weekend for the first time a new place opened in the same space he used to occupy. They now sell burritos and other kinds of Mexican food there. I tried a burrito last weekend and it was ok.

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