It was a simple cafe, one of those we call, in all innocence, a ‘greasy spoon’. You know the sort, all-day breakfasts, exercise thwarting ‘gut busters.’
In fact, when I was a postman, I used to deliver to one such cafe that was actually named Gut Busters. “They’ve got your name wrong again,” I said one morning, waving the letter before depositing it on their counter.
“Who are we now?” the proprietor asked.
“Ghostbusters! You could complain, but who you gonna call?”
Anyway, this was a similar cafe to that one, but located in the heart of Manchester rather than one of its northern suburbs. Being early morning, there were only three customers in the place, myself and two other guys who were sat at a table against the far wall. I don’t think they were homeless, but they looked like they’d seen better days. A bit dishevelled, maybe coming off a five day bender.
I was drinking coffee as they tucked into a fry-up each, and first became aware of them when one called to the waitress who was cleaning the counter.
“Hey love, who sings this song, d’ya know?”
She cocked an ear to the song coming from the radio. “Erm, . . . oh, I do know this one . . . who is it now?”
I couldn’t place the singer, but knew the song: A Night To Remember.
“Is it Diana Ross?” the man asked.
“Is it bleedin’ hell,” his mate replied for her. “It’s a man.”
“You can’t tell the difference with some of those funky singers. Is it Luther Vandross?” he persisted.
“Get ready,” the waitress sang along as she searched her memory, “tonight!”
Outside the window, in the dirty grey light, my fellow Mancunians were falling into their daily routines. I bet most of them could navigate their route blindfolded, scattering the pigeons and beggars as they go.
The waitress brought my plate over, now humming along to a new and easily identifiable song. Abba, that Swedish superpower of airplay.
As I picked up my knife and fork I caught the eye of the man who’d asked the question. “That song, it was Shalamar.”
“Shalamar!” they both exclaimed.
“And friends!” the one that had posed the question, added.
“Yes,” his accomplice agreed, “Shalamar and friends.”
“You’ll sleep tonight now,” I said. But then felt the need for confession. I held up my phone. “I cheated.”
“You didn’t know it either!” they grinned.
Brought briefly together by a thirty-odd year-old song, we then retreated back to our respective worlds, those two sketching vague plans for the day and I catching last night’s match report.
I was draining the last of my coffee by the time they’d finished and paid their bill. I nodded to them as they made their way to the door, and the guy leading the way shook his head reflectively. “That damn Shalamar,” he said, before joining the parade on the Manchester streets.