I asked to have my latte at my usual small round table just outside the door, on the step above the pavement, while the weather still allows it. Soon, it will be too cold or too wet, and I will relocate to a table indoors, and watch life parade along Wimbledon Village High Street through the window with wooden frames painted in aqua green. Soon, the soundtrack of passing cars will be replaced by the clunk of cups and the roar of the coffee machine.
But not yet.
The chill in the breeze that makes waves in the canvas canopy of the Pâtisserie is just a warning of the cold to come. The sky, mottled in purple grey, is still but an idle threat. At the neighbouring tables, people are clinging to what is left of the summer, although vests are now hidden under hooded tops, jeans cover the fading tan on shins, and solid colour cardigans are thrown over the bright floral patterns of cotton dresses.
A man walks past, carrying a bouquet of pink roses. He smiles to himself. I picture him, in a few months’ time, still be smiling to himself, and carrying – if no longer roses – then something appropriate to the season, but always with a gift for his beloved in his hands.
Across the street, a woman leans out of her window and waters the plants in the long, stoneware pot on the sill. Plants that have grown and flowered over the summer, which she will soon wrap in protective cellophane and keep warm, that they may survive the winter and bloom again in the spring. The woman has no power over the elements, so she puts her trust in them.
The High Street is suddenly bathed in soft golden sunlight. A couple walking hand in hand stop in front of my table, kiss, then smile at each other, their eyes aglow with promise. I watch them resume their walk, and imagine their sunlit kisses turning into warm embraces by the steady glow of a winter fire.
As though it has been reading over my shoulder, and taken umbrage at my earlier assumptions about it, the sky grows dark and unleashes a heavy shower onto the canopy above my head. The wind decides to join in the mischief, and blows the rain towards the tables. There is a sudden rush and upset chairs, as people grab their cups and plates, and take refuge indoors. My table is in a sheltered corner, so I do not have to move. Seeing my complacency, the wind dares me by splashing a few drops of rain onto my notepad. The black ink spreads into a few splotches on the page. That’s all right. I can take a joke, and the wind knows you do not take the game too far with friends. It retreats from me and, instead, gives the canopy a violent shake, swipes a soggy newspaper from one of the tables, then blows into the necks of passers-by who have broken into a run in an attempt to escape. The wind is showing off but the sky, bored with the game, summons back the rain. Deprived of its playmate, the wind quiets down. The late summer sun peers through to inspect the damage. It glares at the puddles on the black metal tables and mirrors disapproval at the glistening flagstones. I am not gone, yet, it seems to say, but its statement has lost some of its confidence. It knows it has grown weary after the last few weeks, and the time has come to hand over the sceptre to autumn’s youthful vigour.
Autumn is the touchstone coming to test the worthiness of all that has been built over the summer. It will tug at all the knots that have been tied, and those that are secure will pass the test. The wind is coming to shake all the bright green sprouts, and those with strong roots anchored deep in the soil will remain unbroken. The cold is coming to check the steadfastness of leaves on the trees. The weightless optimists will wither and fall. The strong evergreens will remain proudly green, their hopes intact. The rain is coming to wash away all nonsense, so what is true will remain free of rust, untarnished, ready to glow again in the spring sunlight.