As I rounded the corner, I saw the latteria. Nothing, but nothing, had changed. The same faded awning, wilting in the blistering heat. The same sharp shadows cutting across the crumbling stucco.

And then I was there.

Walking down a road I hadn’t been on in almost 20 years. Across the street, the cafe where I used to buy bus tickets. Then, then bus stop that was outside my bedroom window.

Then, the nameplate. And there it was: her name etched into brass, as it had been all those years ago. Next to it, a chunky porcelain buzzer.

My finger hovered. Almost 20 years, a little voice said. She could be dead. Or senile. And just because you remember her doesn’t mean she remembers you.

I hesitated. Then, slowly, deliberately, I moved away from the buzzer, crossed the street, bought a bus ticket at the cafe.

And left.

The real McCoy

“Cakes or pastries?” trilled the barista at Caffé Nero.

“No thanks,” he said, his eyes raking the high-calorie display under gleaming glass. But I’m sure he was just a little bit tempted.

“And how are you today?” she said, her back to him as she orchestrated a symphony of clicks, tap-taps and hisses.

“Fine thanks. You?”

And then he wished he hadn’t.

“Awright,” she mumbled. “A bit tired. Late night, too many drinks. Yah know the sort of fing.”

He clearly didn’t, but nodded all the same. Then it was his turn to keep the conversation going.

“Now Caffé Nero,” he said donnishly, as if starting a tutorial. “Is the owner Italian?”

“Yah, thassright,” she said, hooking a stray strand of greasy hair behind a multi-studded ear.

“And does he live in England or Italy?” he enquired.

“England innit?” she said.

“And are there Caffé…” he paused, then settled on a plural, “Neros in Italy?”

“Italy?” she said. “Naaaah. Only in England. Issabit, well, yah know – not really Italian enough for ’em, innit? Not really aufentic?”

She smiled crookedly, and handed him his skinny latte.

“Now,” she said, “cakes or pastries?”