A cafe in Düsseldorf.

It was as busy as it had ever been since the lights turned on and the sweet smell of baked goods and coffee began creeping through the neighborhood. It was lunch time and cold out. All of the cafe’s 22 indoor tables were occupied.

In the midst of muttered conversations and tinkling silver on porcelain plates, a sharp and guttural cough cut through. A primal gargling sound followed, dampening the other noise down to silence. Everyone present in the one-room cafe froze, turned to the source and watched. At table 14, a girl in a white sweater decorated with embroidered daffodils rose from her chair, her throat clutched in her hands. She hunched over, long black hair shielding her expression of alarm, while a delicate hand belonging to the table’s other occupant began gently patting her ailing friend’s back. The motions, though well-intentioned, did little to bring relief.

The French man sitting at table 13 and staring lovingly at his blonde companion up until that moment turned to view the scene. The blonde was the first to rise and hurry over to the girl in the white sweater. The friend moved to let the woman take over, which the blonde did with haste. Her arms wrapped securely around the sufferer’s abdomen and began the methodical thrusting of the Heimlich maneuver. The French man joined the blonde, resting both hands on the girl’s shoulders to prevent her from falling over. 

All eyes remained focused on the unfolding scene. Time stood still. Patrons held their breaths in a sort of unintentional solidarity with the suffering girl. A few more thrusts on the part of the blonde, a few more encouraging pats from the French man. Finally a moan, followed by the spitting up of whatever it was that had been robbing the girl of air. She still stood hunched over her plate, eyes glassy and unfocused on the offending morsel of food. Her shoulders rose and fell with her large breaths and all that watched let out a sigh, relieved. A glass fell and shattered. Chuckles of irony rippled through the unaffected tables. The clink of silverware on plates returned, followed by voices. Soon the event faded into memory before disappearing altogether. For all except table 14.

A wounded animal in a white sweater decorated with embroidered daffodils took her seat at table 14, hid behind the thick cascade of hair. With haste, she left them all, indubitably altered. Never to return.

Velvet Cafe, where she nearly choked to death.

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