The girl is blonde with a lilting voice, Norwegian or something. I’m too startled to speak. I’ve asked for a Caramel Macchiato and a blueberry muffin and she wants to know my name.
I pause. I’m a bit funny about names. It’s because I’m a teacher and from another planet – the one where you used to say Miss/Mrs So-and-so until the relationship got to the point where someone said, with a rush of warmth, “Oh, call me Beryl”. And you’d say “Oh thank you…Beryl” and the new name as well as the friendship would roll around with you pleasantly for a while, signifying the beginning of something. But we went abroad for 10 years and when we came back, surnames had been deleted. So I hesitate, just for a second and the man in front turns, points to himself helpfully and says,
“My – name – is – Andrew? Your – name- is…?”
I glare at him and at exactly the same moment I see someone walk past with a plastic cup saying “MARY” on it. I turn to the girl and tell her my name. The trouble is I’m still thinking about the Mrs Thing as well as the First Name Thing so I end up saying “Mrs…Deborah”. And she writes it on the cup. Mrs Deborah!
By this time I’m flushed and hot and my padded coat feels like it’s strangling me so I rip it off while Andrew, who is tall and stripy, points out the pick-up area – or whatever you call it – and I suddenly realise, with another rush of embarrassment, that he’s not being sarky at all. He thinks I’M Norwegian or something.
So I wait for my coffee studiously avoiding eye contact with Andrew in case he tries to talk to me and I have to pretend to be foreign. And I’m thinking two things: –
1) Is there anywhere in the world where I could actually be addressed as Mrs Deborah? (West Africa? Borneo?)
2) We grow into our names. At school when I call the register, each name is the name of a doctor or secretary, banker or florist. I like to imagine them all folded into those little chairs with their I-phones and car-keys where their pencil cases are (and when I’m with my doctor – scary person, scary name – I do the opposite). Early naming ceremonies supposedly gave children souls. I like that – the power of a Name to unlock the unique.
So when the guy at the machines says, “Caramel macchiato?” I really look at this person who’s made my coffee and I see that he has beautiful olive skin and smiling eyes and is wearing a badge saying, “My name is Marvin”. I take my drink and I smile and I say clearly, in my telephone voice just so Andrew knows that I am in fact fluent in English and have been for some time,
“Thank you Marvin.”
Andrew stares. Marvin’s face splits open when he grins. He shouts back in a warm West African accent,
“You’re welcome Mrs Deborah!”