“Thabi, get over here and wipe down these tables,” Mrs Ram snapped.

Thabi sighed. She was busy chatting to her favourite customer, old Mr Katz. He came in every morning for a slice of marmite toast and a pot of tea. He seemed lonely, so she always took the time to chat to him.

It made her boss angry. “I don’t know why you’re wasting time talking to that dirty old man,” Mrs Ram complained as Thabi started wiping down the empty tables. “He sits there all morning, occupying a table, and he only spends twenty rand.”

“He’s kind,” Thabi said. “And it’s not his fault he can only afford to spend twenty rand.”

“He should go to the soup kitchen,” Mrs Ram snarled, glaring at the old man, huddled in his usual chair at table thirteen. “He smells bad. And look at him coughing and spluttering all over my menu.”

“Shame, he’s sick,” Thabi said, pinching her lips together. There was so much more she wanted to say to her selfish boss, but she needed her job. Better to say nothing.

“As soon as he’s finished his toast I want you to get over there and tell him to go,” Mrs Ram huffed as she waddled back into the kitchen. “He’s chasing away my proper customers.”

Poor old Mr Katz, Thabi thought, as she waited for the young couple at table ten to place their order. He was snuffling and coughing, and he had black rings under his bright blue eyes. He must have been a charmer once. How had he ended up all alone, with no-one to cook him a decent meal or wash his clothes? Thabi walked past his house on the way to the taxi rank. She’d seen him in the garden once or twice, watering his roses. His house was old and ramshackle, much like him.

“Two steak and chips, please, and extra onion rings on the side,” the young couple finally ordered. As she went back to the kitchen Thabi noticed that Mr Katz was eating the last crust of toast, and tipping the last of the tea into his cup. Any moment now he’d be asking her for a pot of hot water so he could squeeze an extra cup of tea from the tea bag. I wonder if he gets enough to eat? He looks so thin, she thought.

“Now you get out there and tell him to go home,” Mrs Ram said. “Sis man, he smells of pee.”

Thabi’s heart sank as she made her way to table thirteen. Mr Katz was slurping the last bit of tea from his cup. “Tata,” she said, placing her hand on his. He was ice cold. She paused. It didn’t matter what her boss said. She couldn’t be so cruel to him. “You don’t look well. I think you should go home now and get into bed. I’m finished here at five. I’ll come and check on you after work.”

She watched him shuffle off down the mall. He looked like a leaf that could blow away any moment. How could Mrs Ram be so cruel?


Tell us what you think: Should Thabi have stood up to her boss? Should she allow the shabby old man to sit in the coffee shop all morning?