I hate that word. It’s not a nice word. But Connor Jackson isn’t a nice person and says it to me all the time. He’s the new man in the kitchen who cooks the burgers.
“Jackson! That’s enough! Jake just made a mistake, that’s all. Lucky for us you had a burger for breakfast. Imagine if it had been a customer. Now maybe you’ll listen when I tell you salt’s not good for you.” Mr Evans is standing between me and Connor.
Louise takes the mug of tea from Connor’s hand and throws it down the sink.
“Maybe you should cut out the sugar too. I’ll make a fresh pot for us all, shall I?” She pats his belly and I see it wobble beneath his apron. I smile at him but he doesn’t smile back.
“Jake, collect the salt and pepper pots and the sugar bowls from the table.” He taps me on the shoulder and points the way.
I got it wrong again. Salt and sugar look the same. The packets look the same too in the storeroom. Red and yellow stripes. Mr Evans should buy the salt and the sugar from the Co-op like my mum does. The packets are different and they have pictures on them. I never get mixed up at home.
Connor continues to mumble. I can hear him through the hatch. I can hear the fat on the griddle spitting as he tosses another burger on it. I want to say sorry, but I can’t say it without stuttering and Connor will make fun of me again.
“It’s OK, Jake,” Louise helps me the collect the things from the table. “It’s a pity really. Imagine the expression on Mr Whitely’s face when he sprinkles salt in his coffee, and sugar on his bacon sandwich.”
Mr Whitely is an old man. He comes to the café every day now that his wife Elsie has gone. He reads his paper. He doesn’t see his girls very often as they live the other side of the country. Mr Whitley doesn’t know it but I’m saving up some of my wages so I can buy him a bus ticket to see his girls.
Louise rinses out the salt and pepper pots and the sugar bowls. She helps me to fill them up. She dips her finger in just to check it is sugar in the sugar bowls.
“I’m sweet enough already…” that’s what she says when Connor pushes the sugar bowl over to her. I think she is sweet enough already too. And so does Connor. She likes me more than Connor, I think because she smiles at me and she doesn’t smile at him.
Louise has red hair and blue eyes. She comes up to my shoulder. She is going to university after the summer. She needs to work to be able to afford the university fees. Louise doesn’t know it but I’m saving up some of my wages so I can buy her some books.
The door to the café opens. It’s not Mr Whitley but a lady. I wonder if I should tell her not to sit at that table because it’s where Mr Whitely sits.
She asks for a pot of tea and a pancake with butter and jam.
“Jake, isn’t it?” She looks like she’s about to cry.
Mr Evans hurries across to where I’m standing. He puts an empty salt and pepper pot into my hand.
“You missed one, Jake.” He touches my shoulder and points to the kitchen door. Louise stands by the counter with her arms crossed over looking at the woman. She is not smiling.
Mr Evans says something quietly to her and the lady leaves the café.
She says sorry.
“Was that her?” Connor pokes his head through the hatch. Louise nods but arches an eyebrow and looks over at me.
I hear them talking about the woman later on. They think I’m outside stacking cardboard boxes. She didn’t look like a “bloody murderer” to me. She drove a car. She was “well over the limit”. She knocked a young man down on a pelican crossing. The “poor lad” had a brain injury. He’ll never be right in the head. Poor Jake.
My eyes light up – the poor lad and I share the same name.
This other Jake doesn’t know it yet but I shall save up some of my wages to buy him a comic.
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