The café was filled with plants. Most places used cheap art to decorate, here they used plants. One would typically think the owner was a health nut with an all organic menu. There were a few organic items, but most of it was standard café fair. The owner just had a strong love of plants. The aroma of the plants managed to dilute the typical large city smell.
He did not come here for the plants. While nice, he could do just as well without them. He did not come here for the smell. London had smelt far worse in its history. He came here because it was the only place in the whole of New York City that could brew a decent cup of tea. One would think that if a British Starbucks could make good tea that the American ones would as well. The best theory he could come up with was that it had to do with whether or not the employees were British or American. Here the owner had spent some time growing up in Wales. While it was not England, it still led to the tea being decent.
England sat at a table next to a window. His chair was angled just right so there was no glare from the lights on his eBook. Sitting on his table was a purple orchid in a pot designed to look like a teacup. Some light came in the window, but not much as the building on either side of the street kept the shop in shade for most of the day.
A small bell made a sound not unlike a giggling fairy as the door opened. England’s green eyes glanced up from his book. A young Asian woman had just entered. He knew her. She was another nation. While most of them were in New York for the nation meeting, none of them had ever come to his favorite shop before.
She wore a pink sleeveless Mandarin style top, sprinkled with a flower design. Her lower half was covered with a short denim skirt and a pair of high-tops. The clothing was different enough from her usual clothing at the meetings that he had to do a small double take. Then again he normally only ever saw her at nation events, not when she was walking around a foreign city.
He watched her walk up to the cash register and order a lemonade. She reached into her purse for her money. After a few seconds she failed to produce anything but New Taiwan Dollars. There was a slight look of panic as she started to dig through it. England always proclaimed that he was a gentleman. This was his chance to prove it. He closed the cover of his eBook and moved across the café.
“I can get that for you,” he said with a smile to her. He reached for his wallet and produced a few American bills to pay for it.
“Thank you.” She took the cold drink that was handed to her and took a cautious sip.
“It is the least I could do. After all, you are forced to be just a part of China.”
England was not sure what he had said. Suddenly the lemonade was dumped on his head and Taiwan was storming out of the café. He stood there, dripping and somewhat sticky. That had not happened to him before (he was not counting the time America had spilt a litre of cola on him).
He did not see Taiwan outside of meetings for several days. It was three days later, a Thursday to be exact, that he saw her at the café, sitting at his table. England stepped up to the counter and ordered two drinks. When he had both he moved to her table and politely coughed. She looked up from her magazine at him.
“I wanted to apologize about what I said before. May I join you?”
Taiwan eyed up the lemonade in his right hand. Her drink was almost gone.
He set down both drinks before he pulled out a wooden chair and sat down. He glanced at her magazine. It was filled with characters he did not recognize, but they did seem familiar.
“This doesn’t quite look like Chinese.”
“It isn’t, it is Taiwanese Hokkien.”
He took a sip of his hot tea. England tried to search his brain for something to say.
“What are you reading?” She surprised him by continuing the conversation herself.
“Oh, you mean this?” He had put his eBook under his arm while he had carried the two drinks. “Well, I am reading The Diamond Throne.”
“Is it good?”
“It is if you enjoy fantasy novels.”
“I liked Harry Potter.”
“This is a bit different. It is about a knight that returns home to his queen after a decade of banishment to find her poisoned and sealed into a crystal that encases both her and her throne.”
“Is he trying to get rid of the crystal?
“No, the crystal is what is keeping her alive while he looks for a cure.”
“I’ll have to try it then.”
“Do you read many foreign books?”
She nodded as she spoke, “mostly Japanese and English ones.”
The two continued to talk for about an hour more before Taiwan had to leave to catch her flight back home. England sat there for a while longer. He had enjoyed the conversation. Just as long as he did not start talking about China he remained dry and not sticky. He tried to read for the few hours before it was time for him to leave and catch his own flight.
The next meeting between the nations was not until the autumn. He had a gap in his schedule and went to New York early. A low ranking government official would take his luggage to the hotel. That left him free to go to his favorite café. He was surprised, but not unhappy, to see Taiwan already there. She had a book in front of her. He watched her turn a page before he went to get his tea and joining her at the table.
“What are you reading?”
She jumped in surprise when he addressed her. After realizing who it was she smiled and held up the book, showing the cover of The Diamond Throne. “I saw it in the airport and remembered you talking about it.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Yes, though I can’t help but wonder what the nations would be like in that world.”
“I never thought about that before.”
“It is a lot like Europe. Maybe they have their own version of America?”
“I pray for them that they don’t,” he said in a droll turn of voice.
Taiwan laughed at him. “You two are closer friends then you act like. I am a little jealous.”
“You two have such a wonderful relationship. You accepted that America wanted to move out. China won’t recognize that I’m my own nation and I don’t want to move back in.”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“You look like you are almost done,” England said, trying to change the subject.
“Almost, I should be done today.”
“You really do need the second book then. I could escort you to a bookshop?”
Taiwan smiled at him. “Escort? How gentlemanly of you.”
“I am always a gentleman,” he held the door open for her
“Of course you are,” she giggled as she stepped outside.