When she finally arrived at the station, she stopped. Something wasn’t right. Where were the usual commuters dashing about, looking to purchase tics at the very last minute?
A ‘CLOSED’ sign hung from inside the station office glass door. A cat strutted across the walkway and stopped in front of the large windows. It yawned and stretched. Looked at her as if to say ‘what on earth are you this early for’?
The time. What was the time? She looked at her wristwatch and shook her head. She then peered through the window. Inside the station office was dim but from the early morning light she could just about see an old-fashioned clock on the wall next to the ticket counter. The two ornate-shaped hands showed 7:15. Quite right. But where’s everyone? I’m on time… I think, but where’s the bus?
She’d read a review about Pablo’s; that it was a cool jazz bar in Hobart. She wasn’t disappointed.
The players on stage, that tiny stage (and what a squeeze it was), moved to the rhythm of their musical waves.
The tall young woman on the double bass was engrossed in her own world. The pudgy pianist made the keys shift like sand in the desert wind. The drummer, a young chap, refused eye contact with anyone. The handsome guitarist, who also sang well, looked at her. Maybe because I’m sitting nearest to the quartet, she thought, trying to avoid eye contact herself.
Red light glowed behind them.
During the session break, Ling needed to stretch her legs. At the long bar, she looked once again at the drinks list. She licked her lips.
The guitarist ordered a beer from a man with a thin and curly moustache, and a floral vest. The musician spotted a mate across the lounge and waved. When he got his frothy pint, he looked sideways at her and flashed a grin. He headed towards the other guy.
Ling wondered if it was a grin to say ‘I like you’—but she couldn’t be bothered. She’d come to Hobart on business just the day before and had to take the bus early the next morning for another meeting. And she wasn’t interested in a relationship. Too much trouble.
With Another Fine Mess in her hand, she stood at the back of the bar and watched people bunch up in chatter, red glow on their faces. What peculiar lighting, she thought, as she sipped her drink. Bit strong, but nice.
Soon she was bored as the intermission stretched on. She entertained the thought of speaking to someone… anyone… to while away time… maybe that brooding stranger.
“Oh hi!” A look of surprise on his face. One she’d never quite forget, even years later.
“A quaint bar, isn’t it?” Ling stood next to him and sucked the rim of the glass, ice cubes resting on her upper lip. The man shifted his bum on the barstool. Perhaps he wondered if he should give it up for her. Or if he should pretend a lovely woman rocked up pretty much every time he sat at the bar alone.
“Yeah, Pablo’s a bit of a legend, hey.”
They chatted about jazz bars they’d been to. Munich, Morocco, Barcelona… he said. London, Singapore, Seoul… she continued. They looked at each other as they talked about how a club could make or break the music in which it is played; how a jazz club could propel an unknown player into “Coltrane fame”, she said.
“I like that.” He smiled. At that moment she saw sparks in his eyes.
Her cheeks flushed without reason. Maybe it was the face. Or smile. His laugh. Or her strong drink. She turned around and gestured for another.
As they walked back to her hotel, the early morning sky had a bright glow.
“A super moon!” She said.
“You’re my super moon,” he said.
What happened next? Read the rest of this short story when She Never Looks Quite Back by Mallika Naguran is out.