‘Coffee’ by Ruth McKew

Michael burst into the room
Ada looked up; her hands covered in flour.
“What is it?” Surprised by his presence, worried he might have lost his job at the docks.
“Hide this”
He shoved a hessian sack into her hands.
The room was sparse. Their mattress was thin, a box held cooking things and the baby slept in a second box. A loose brick under the window hid their savings.
“In there” Michael pointed to the baby.
Michael’s Irish inflection was more evident when he was scared. When they first met, she was attracted to his unfamiliar accent. He told tales of beautiful, wild places on the west coast of Ireland. He spoke little of the poverty and hardship that made him leave. Not that he had found great wealth here in Liverpool yet, but at least he had a job.
She took the sack. In it was small hard beans.
“What is it?”
“A ticket out of here.”
Coffee. It didn’t smell like the beans when they were roasted.  Ada had never tasted coffee, but she imagined it when she walked past the coffee shop on Water Street.

Michael lifted the sleeping baby carefully. Ada put the sack in the box, covering it with the cloth that the baby slept on. Michael kissed the baby and put him on the sack. The baby stirred and sighed gently as the beans moulded to his body.
Michael glanced at the door and then the small window that overlooked the yard. He hauled it open and left. As Ada closed the window there was a bang on the door.
“Quiet you’ll waken the bairn” she shouted, fear making her sound angry. She dusted her hands with flour from the table.
At the door was Ned, the dock foreman, and another man. She had met Ned when she was courting Michael. After her shift finished, she would wait for him by the big gates at Canning Dock. She liked watching the goods being moved around, feeling connected to the rest of the world. Michael used to recite the goods and places they had travelled from.
“Is Michael here?”
“No. Is he ok?”
“Depends what he’s done.” The men pushed past Ada into the room and looked around. The baby stirred but didn’t wake. Ada wondered if they could smell the coffee over the fetid damp smell of the room. Satisfied that Michael wasn’t hiding, the men left. Ada heard them checking the shared privy.
Michael came home after work, collected the sack and went out again. He came home late and didn’t talk about it.

In the bottom of the box a few beans had slipped out of the sack. Ada picked up the pale unpromising looking beans, they were hard and unyielding. How far had the beans travelled and who picked them? What sort of life did the pickers have? Was it one with greater promise than hers? She wondered where the sack of beans would take them.