She likes her coffee sweet. Very sweet. Three sachets of sugar at least, four if it's a grande. It makes life difficult, this habit of hers, especially in cafes like this one where they give you the sugar with the coffee instead of placing a bowl of it on the table. She has to ask for more, has to explain that she wants not just one more sachet but two or three. The waiters always look at her as if she's crazy. She used to find this embarrassing, even tried going without the extra sugar a few times. Now she doesn't care.
Friends who know of her sugar addiction ask her why she drinks coffee in the first place. Why not go for something less bitter, they say, like tea or hot chocolate. She shakes her head at them. She tells them she needs the caffeine to keep her awake, but this is a lie. She drinks coffee because it is coffee, one of life's fundamentals, as integral a part of being a grown-up as owning a car or falling in love. She wouldn't give up on it for anything. Never mind that she doesn't like the taste. Drinking anything else would be a cop-out.
Besides, it isn't sweetness she's after. It's bitterness, it really is, the dark, distilled flavor of a disappointment that everyone shares. It's just that she likes hers sweet. She knows it doesn't make sense when she puts it in words like that, but it's how she feels. It's like the people who read classics in their abridged versions, or fall asleep at the opera. Experience matters even if you don't enjoy it. It's all about being there.
No one else will understand, of course. That's why she's taken to drinking coffee alone - just to avoid the questions, the comments, the stupid jokes. That's why she's sitting here, Friday night, table for one, reading her second hand copy of Madame Bovary. This is not a time or a place where people are alone - all around her the tables are occupied by couples out on dates, or small groups of friends inaugurating the weekend with laughter - and she feels people stare at her, with that mix of curiosity and compassion we reserve for those whose motives we do not understand. Occasionally she feels the eyes of some man watch her speculatively. She is not unattractive, she knows, she could get a date if she wanted to. But it would mean explaining about the sugar in the coffee, would mean being thought either foolish or sentimental or both, and she no longer has the strength for explanations or for being misunderstood. So she just sits there, book in hand, discarded sachets of sugar scattered across the table, tasting the sweetness of her black coffee and wondering what time the cafe closes.