The man entered the room – and never came out again.
I was sat at the window table – two seats, one occupied by my good self, the other vacant – with an excellent view out onto Fore Street, and, if required, an observational point with which to ‘people-watch’ the footfall through the cafeteria.
It had been fairly quiet in the twenty-three minutes that I had been there: one couple had finished their cream tea and left; one lady with an ancient Gladstone-type bag had painstakingly hauled it away with her, after popping the cruet set inside; and then the two girls in the corner who communicated with the world via their phones, but spake not a word to each other unless it was to pass judgment on fashion or the fitness of boys.
I stirred my black coffee, savouring the aroma of distant Columbia, and dissolving the sugar cube to sweeten the harshness of the brew.
Opposite me, in the far wall, was a door signed as ‘Toulet’ which I gathered was just a spelling mistake.
I was going to ask the waitress when she next returned about the sign, when a tall, slender man entered from the street. He shook his umbrella out, stamped his feet upon the ‘Welcome’ mat, and headed purposefully towards the ‘Toulet’. He entered and closed the door firmly behind him.
I returned my attention to Fore Street and the passage of all life that there was beyond the window’s barrier, and awaited, the return of either the waitress, or the tall man – laying bets on which would be first.
The waitress crossed the line first, and so I asked her about the sign. She laughed. “That is a ‘trompe l’oeil’, sir; a visual illusion in art – we often confuse people with it – the toilet is out the back, down the alleyway to the side of the café.”
I looked at the waitress with a face that expressed stunned confusion to perfection. “But—!” I managed. “That man went in there.”
“Tall, thin man?” she queried.
“That’s Paul-Jean – he seems to have adopted us for a bit of spiritual haunting. It all happened when the artist wrote ‘Toulet’ on the sign by mistake. I’ve never seen him, myself – I think he only appears for writers and poets. Are you a writer or a poet, sir?”
“That’s probably it then, sir.” she walked away, wistfully mumbling to herself, “Writers and poets – who’d have thought it.”
Well, I thought, who indeed.