It was a quiet afternoon for a Saturday at Sugar Junction, a quaint little tea room on Tib Street in Manchester. That it was Boxing Day may have had something to do with the lack of trade. There was in fact just the one customer. She was dressed in casual haute couture, straight dark hair framing her face perfectly, the highlights brought out all the more by the polished wood interior of the room. Some might have said she’d gone a bit heavy on the lip gloss, but they’d have been looking to find fault. The woman carried herself with dignity and class. From her demeanor one would never have guessed she was torn between supporting her husband and wishing him ill so that he might, at long last, keep the promise he had made so many times over the past decade.
As a server emerged from the kitchen, a commotion could be heard. A man’s voice it was, cursing loudly. The woman at the register frowned and, with a nod to the server to keep an eye on the till, hurried into the back. She emerged a moment later, her face flushed in both anger and embarrassment. Before returning to her place, she stopped at the table of her lone customer.
“I must apologise, Miss Truus. My husband is a wonderful baker, but he is consumed by his passion for football.”
The seated woman took the other’s hand in hers and patting it gently. “I know the feeling only too well, Elizabeth,” she murmured in that clipped accent. Where was she from again? Holland, or was it Belgium? Liz could never remember. What difference did it make? Men everywhere were mad for football. Nothing else in their lives mattered.
“Can I get you some more tea?” she replied. It was a relief to have such an understanding customer.
Moving off to the register, Liz had a word with the server, then resumed her seat. A moment or too later, before the tea could arrive, there was another outburst from the kitchen. The cursing was more voluminous than before, even through the closed door, and this time accompanied by a loud crash and a shriek. On the heels of the commotion, the server burst through the door sobbing. Her blouse and apron were soaked and she was clutching her hands in a dish towel.
“He’s gone over the edge!” she cried to the woman at the register.
A short man all in white, tee-shirt, apron, and trousers, not to mention flour coating the thick hair on his arms, followed the distraught girl into the tea room. “Sorry, luv! I truly am. It’s just they’ve already given up two to bloody Stoke, and it’s not even a half hour in! I hope I haven’t scalded you. Let me see your hands… they don’t look too bad. Keep the towel wrapped around them. Damn, I’ve made a right mess of that pretty shirt, haven’t I? I’m so sorry, don’t know why I can’t control myself. Here let me help.”
Producing a rag from his back pocket, he began dabbing at the stain, adding patches of white to the already spreading tea stain. To make matters worse, he had chosen to work from the top down, failing to consider the anatomical consequences. The girl shrieked in horror, fended him off with flailing arms, then fled into the loo, her tears streaming freely.
“Henry!” His wife stood hands on hips glaring at him. The mans lips worked, but his brain couldn’t deliver a suitable excuse. Finally he bowed his head abjectly. “Sorry, Lizzie.” Turning away, he added, “I’ll be in the kitchen.”
Liz turned towards her lone customer, half amazed she was still there. Surprisingly, Miss Truus’ head was buried in her hands. She appeared to be shaking. Was she in shock? Had the scene been that traumatic for her? As thoughts of potential litigation ran through her head, she rushed over to apologize and help the poor woman, but before she could get more than a half-sentence out, the woman lifted her face, her expression causing Liz to stop in astonishment. Miss Truus was laughing, almost uncontrollably. Hysteria, Liz thought. What else could it be? And here she had always seemed so strong with that calm, dignified air. A thin veneer evidently. Poor thing.
The woman read Liz’s concern, and composed herself, one last snort escaping before she overcame the urge to giggle. “Oh don’t worry dear,” she said. “I’m perfectly fine. I”m only laughing because this is all my fault.”
“Your fault? How could any of this be your fault?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you could mean,” a confused Liz said, shaking her head.
“Never mind for now,” the woman answered with a measure of assurance. “Have Henry show you the back pages tomorrow, and it will all be clear.
Rising from her chair, she put an arm around Liz, turning her towards the loo. “In the meantime, however, let me help clean up your husband’s mess. I’ll deal with mine when he gets back from Stoke.”
Author’s note: There really is a Sugar Junction on Tib Street, although I don’t know if Liz and Henry are the proprietors, and, if so, whether or not Henry is a United supporter. Probably not, as he and the missus are figments of my imagination. I also have no idea whether Truus van Gaal prefers tea or coffee. I just know she’s the only person on the planet who actually wishes Louis was around. Has for almost a decade now. At this point I think the majority of Manchester’s redder half, and hopefully the United board, have joined me in hoping her wish will finally be granted. Something good needs to come of this mess.