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The Little Rock Cafe

An unnerving encounter in an unusual place

Artwork by Deepa Alam Artwork by Deepa Alam

It’s early in the afternoon, just after conventional lunch hours. A black and white photograph of Al Pacino takes up an entire wall at Little Rock Cafe. He is wearing aviators and a scarf, and is holding a small shot of coffee in a Vittoria branded paper cup.

The cup, in contrast to the rest of the picture, is coloured in gold and chocolate brown. It’s a blatant ad for the coffee roaster, but, as I start to eat, I begin to forget about Pacino and how he is watching me struggle to cut my giant steak sandwich.

Choosing the cake is never a difficult task. The orange and poppyseed cake is sensible and fragrant.

The Nutella cheesecake is a bit too heavy. The apple pie is thoughtful with a generous crust. But the sticky date always wins—if it is available.

Bronze butterscotch pools around the edges of the dark crumb and I tell myself that both ice cream and whipped cream are imperative additions; scientific necessities for alleviating the richness of caramel and sweet-dried fruit.

Little Rock Cafe is a hangout for heads with white hair, heads with no hair, Maeve O’Maera sweaters and chunky turquoise necklaces.

Open-faced chicken sandwiches and cappuccinos are companions to New Idea! back-issues and the Daily Telegraph. Little Rock is a place for an older crowd who fancy tea and blueberry friands after groceries from the neighbouring Woolies.

The waitress with beetroot-coloured hair shepherds a couple to table 12 by the window. She kisses the woman lightly on the cheek as she sets down the cutlery.

Raisin toast and black coffee follow. The husband has a feeble moustache and a yellow polo shirt. It’s too tight. He breathes through his mouth as he works on a crossword.

Knives scrape on plates, the grill sizzles in the kitchen, the coffee machine spits and Elvis plays gently in the background below a cosy hum of chatter and the sound of eggs prepared several ways.

Five old ladies with short hair, spectacles and cardigans sit at table 3. Quintuplets! Or perhaps that is an unfair generalisation about retirees. Occasionally, table 3 erupts with laughter over the remnants of turkey melts and another large flat white.

The ladies eventually make their way to the counter like a conga line of painfully slow ducks. They pay for their meals separately before huddling outside to organise their next get together, blocking the entrance to the cafe. Some pull out paper planners and lead pencils while others poke at their phones.

I’m full, but there is still food left on my plate. Is it acceptable to rescue six chips and four bites of soggy bread? Will they charge me extra for the container? Do I dare eat a peach?

My anxieties are unfounded but I feel Pacino’s gaze on the back of my neck.

Surely he has better places to be.