Behave yourself!

I’ve taken a four-seater table at Cafe Noir on the terrace at UB City. I’ve opened a book to read.

"Behave yourself," I hear on my right. A fair fat young man is shouting at a dark-brown waiter. The waiter isn't taking the abuse, his eyes are gleaming back, but he can't raise his voice in return. So he is glaring at the the fair guy with anger of a purity that comes forth only when innocent. The two men are before the ice cream counter, and two kids who belong to Fair Guy are screaming for their treat.


"Call your manager," shouts Fair Guy, “call the manager!" The waiter can't stop glaring at Fair Guy. He doesn’t move from behind the counter. Somebody else calls the manager from wherever he's gone, and he comes in a while, stands by Fair Guy and speaks in the softest of voices. "Who's this guy, man," asks Fair Guy, pointing all the fingers of his right hand at the waiter. “He says I can't stand here!" At this accusation the protest on the waiter's face intensifies and his eyes struggle to suppress rising emotion. The manager smiles. Seeing the rebellion on the waiter’s mien, Fair Guy tells him in an even tone: “Behave yourself! Who the f* do you…” The manager smiles on, and he speaks to Fair Guy in a voice softer than the ice creams before them. Fair Guy and dark guy burn down each other with their stares. Moments pass. Fair Guy loses his heat; his tone turns to a whine: there's no threat in it anymore, and the volume of his voice has dropped and is level with the manager’s. He asks for the ice creams the kids have chosen. The kids haven’t noticed anything amiss. They’ve been jumping to look in the glass for a glimpse of their favorites. Done at the ice cream counter, Fair Guy turns, glances round the cafe, and his eyes meet mine for an instant.

He pulls a phone from his pocket and pecks at the keys. The frown on his face and his set eyes suggest that he's calling the owner. To have him tick off his opponent, perhaps. Is the owner an acquaintance of Fair Guy? The owner is French, he's bald, and reserved, and nice. I know him, in that we’ve greeted each other during past visits. He’s not in the cafe today. In a while I realize that Fair Guy is calling somebody else. He's calling his wife who has split for a while, and is checking out the SingKong restaurant across from Cafe Noir. He spots her before she answers his call. By now he and his kids have moved to the table right of mine, and the kids have climbed to the seats. "Behave yourself," he tells the tiny fellows, and walks toward the entrance to wave to his wife. He has the phone clasped to his ear.

As he brings her in, a couple from the table left of mine notice the party and rise. They’re about the same age and they’re all friends. They embrace and exclaim loud greetings and part. On my right, Fair Guy's kids gobble up yellow ice cream that's been served them. Mango flavored, I guess. Fair Guy and his wife join the kids but they don’t sit. In a minute they leave. I presume the bill has been paid in advance.

In the silence afterward, I look for the dark waiter. He's at the bar, shaking hard a drink.