So despite a total lack of interest in the adventures of Leland Lonely thus far, I've decided to continue it. "Why," you probably are not bothering to ask? No real reason. I guess I just like the guy.
The Aviary Café outside El Doderitita’s single-story shopping centre was not really a café, so much as it was a petrol station that neglected to sell petrol. It was the sort of store where everything that was not prepared in a microwave was instead deep-fried, and the most you could hope for was that the fryer had been cleaned recently. It was that particular type of store that for some reason was allowed to consistently disappoint you, safe and secure in the knowledge that you would be back. It was also exactly the sort of store where someone like Leland served at the front counter, although that is such an obligatory callback to the original joke that it hardly invites good humour.
Leland stood at the front counter with a charming smile on his face. He loved helping people. It was his favourite part of the job. Usually, anyway.
“Can I get some service, please?” asked an extremely impatient woman as she approached the counter.
“Certainly, madam,” Leland said charmingly. “What type of service would you like?”
The woman answered him with a glare that stung like acid. It seemed she was not warming to his charm.
“I would like your nicest table,” she said, indicating with a twitch of her nose exactly how nice she assumed it would be. “And the least horrible item of food on your menu. Unless that proves to be too much of a challenge for you.”
“Well, if I may suggest, one of the tables outside still has most of the umbrella intact,” Leland replied, trying his hardest to maintain a smile. “And the chef is doing a particularly splendid fisherman’s basket today.”
The woman sighed in response and turned away, exuding contempt with every step. Leland briefly fantasized about doing something nasty to her food, and knew with absolute certainty that he would not.
“Leland! Pigeon!” shouted Hugo Wattleferry from the kitchen. Mr. Wattleferry was both the owner and cook of the Aviary Café. He claimed to be the Oxford-educated son of an English noble. He had never chosen to explain why he had a thick Russian accent.
Leland grabbed a broom from under the counter and ran into the kitchen. The name of the café was, unfortunately, appropriate. Hordes of seagulls and pigeons raided the kitchen daily through a hole in the roof that had developed through years of neglect from Hugo. One animal in particular had become something of a problem; a mean looking pigeon, coal-black in colour, that had one day gorged itself too much to fly away. It had resisted Leland’s hesitant attempts to remove it, and had now taken up permanent residence in the cavity under the sink. Thriving off Hugo’s general apathy and, more specifically, his aversion to emptying the bins, it had grown larger than a tomcat and even more aggressive.
The pigeon was currently standing on the counter trying to snatch a chip from one of the fisherman’s baskets. Leland raised the broom and tried to brush the pigeon to the floor. It dodged the feeble attack, turned to Leland and hissed in a worryingly saurian manner. It crouched into an attack position, screeched and leaped at his face. Leland started back and managed to swat it out of the air with a few wild swings of the broom. It quickly scuttled under the sink, where Leland could hear it crackling around in a makeshift nest of paper bags and pie wrappers.
“This is getting a bit much, Mr. Wattleferry,” Leland gasped, suffering the aftereffects of a sudden fight-or-flight reaction. “That thing is so territorial, I can’t even do the dishes without getting attacked.”
“Throw this out! Pigeon pecked it!” Hugo yelled in his obviously Russian accent, forcing a hot oily basket into Leland’s arms.
Leland headed back to the door, contemplating his deceptive and unfriendly employer. He had often considered doing a little research on Hugo’s supposed homeland, then asking him questions till he caught him out in a lie. He’d never had the courage, however. The rogue pigeon under the sink had a killer instinct that Leland himself lacked.
“Come on, Leland, time is money,” said a very familiar voice. Leland stuck his head around the door. “Oh, hello, Whiney,” he said, placing the broom back under the counter.
“There’s a woman in my seat,” Whiney complained. “I always have the seat under the umbrella outside, and some woman’s taken it.”
“What do you mean, always?” Leland enquired. “I’ve never seen you here before.”
“Well, I have to go somewhere, and this is on the way… oh, never mind.” Whiney said. “The point is I was going to take that seat and she stole it from me.”
“Well wait a minute, I have to…” Leland considered the befouled meal in his hands. He looked at it for a very long time. Perhaps it was all the adrenaline pumping through his system after his brush with permanent disfigurement. Perhaps it was the way the woman had been so needlessly rude to him. Perhaps it was simply a random misfiring of neurons, brought about by the inherent chaos of the universe. But somehow, that basket of fried aquatic animals took on an entirely new light.
This meal had been touched by a filthy wild animal. If the woman ever found out, she would be furious. But if she didn’t find out…
“Excuse me, madam?” Leland called out as he approached the table. “I’m afraid there has been a terrible misunderstanding. This table has been reserved for this extremely valued customer, here. The good news is your meal is ready for you, if you would be so kind as to relocate to another table.”
The woman shifted her gaze from the earnestly smiling Leland to the cruelly smirking Whiney. “Very well, then,” she said pleasantly, making it perfectly clear that she was in fact furious.
“Perfect,” Whiney said, sliding into the shaded seat. “Now I can’t stay long, Leland. Got places to go, people to see. Get me one of those fisherman’s baskets, quick.”
“Certainly, Whiney,” Leland said, keeping one eye on the woman as he headed back inside. She was inspecting a fish fillet with some suspicion. Her uncertainty satisfied Leland in a way he had never felt before.
Now all he had to do was get through the rest of his shift. Like Whiney, he had places to go, people to…
Leland sighed and ran inside.
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