I was the first to arrive at the cafe. Not just of our group, but of anyone, it seemed. There was a car parked out front, which I had pulled in beside, but otherwise there was no sign of life, besides a lone chicken which wandered over, and then wished it hadn’t, as the Burglar proceeded to haunt its steps.
I rattled the closed door with it’s fat round handle set low in the middle of the door like a hobbit’s, but it was locked, despite the the “come on in, we’re open” sign nailed to the doorframe. Peering through the door’s coloured glass panes, I couldn’t detect any movement, though I could see down to the kitchen, where a commercial fridge stacked with cold drinks faced the long passage. The interior was darkened and unpromising. Looking at the deck on which I stood, I felt even less confidence. There was an old and uninviting wicker loveseat propped against the railing, against which an aged painted sign was discarded. But there was a new-looking flag pronouncing the presence of a cafe standing to attention outside the gate.
I stepped back, looking around and biting my lip. I vaguely remembered, now that I was here, having a similar dilemma the last time I’d stopped by. But I couldn’t leave without consulting with my girlfriends, and they were running late.
I went back down the old and uneven steps and planted myself in the short red brick path in front of the cottage. Emmie was still pursuing the fat chicken, who seemed happy enough to have the attention, though she was playing hard to get. There was still just the one hen; a bit of hide and seek probably relieved her boredom.
The gardens were somewhat overgrown, but they’d always been pleasantly so, in an English country garden way. I’m sure if I knew more about garden plants, I’d have been able to pick out older, now uncommon species. Even now, in the middle of winter, there were some blowsy, old-fashioned looking blooms among the leaves. The cottage itself was small, it was hard to believe that for the settlers whose homestead this had been, this was a luxury property. Owners over the years had done their best to keep most of the original features of the house, while converting it to a cafe, and had managed to retain the secluded feeling of the place, even as it had been encircled by suburbia.
Finally I heard the crunch of tyres on the long gravel drive, and the sound of an individual car broke away from the general hum. It was Marie, one of the buddies I was meeting. She’d busied herself at the back of her hatchback by the time I strolled over.
“I’m not sure anybody’s here,” I said, as we hugged.
She looked up at the flag, making its promises to the breeze, and gathered her parcels up under her arms, stylish as ever in her boots and snug black pants, blonde fringe flipping forward over her dark glasses as we picked our tentative way back to the door over the gravel in our heels.
“Do they have their hours anywhere?” she asked, going through similar motions to those I had performed 5 minutes earlier. Of course, she managed to notice the opening hours writ small at the bottom of the chalked sign on the deck beside the door, which I had missed.
“10-4,” I said, “Right…”
I pulled a wry face. Marie grinned, and we followed Emmie and the chicken round the verandah to the back, where tables and chairs were set up on the grass. Still no sign of life or movement, but it was a more promising place to wait for the others, while Emmie spied a sandpit and playhouse and toddled off to investigate. A hoard of pukekos were in residence in the adjacent orchard, but for a change they kept their distance.
Marie and I hovered beside an empty table, making small talk until the rest of our party eventually arrived; Isabelle, tall and trim, not looking at all like the mother of 3 large boys, and Niamh, a bundle of energy in a flowing bohemian top, red hair bouncing in tandem with her personality, tousled little nephew in tow. (Later that morning the nephew would mug Emmie, whose first experience of hair-pulling and being sat on it would be, but still later they would explore the playhouses together, with the nephew repeating to himself “I’m being gentle”…)
By this time 10am had arrived, and since we felt there was a promise of coffee close at hand, Marie, by going round the back, established that there was, in fact, life in the kitchens, though with the qualifier that the manager had not arrived and they were not certain when they would open. This was a little unorthodox, but I feel one must take the good with the more amusing when it comes to the relaxed nature of life in New Zealand.
In any case, the kitchen opened shortly afterwards, with the young manager issuing from the building, waving and distributing menus and instructions for ordering, and we had a very pleasant morning tea in the thin winter sun.
Can you spot any adverbs (you shouldn’t be able to, but one, or more, may have snuck past me)?