She looked solemn, the pits of her eyes black and deep. “I am Lansa.” She said, her voice almost a whisper. Her thin, almost non-existent lips had barely parted.
Ella stared at Lansa. She swallowed hard. Suddenly she felt cold. “What would you like?”
Lansa took a slow step forwards. Her long straight black hair clung strangely to her pale head and neck, merging invisibly with her black cape. “The vapour.”
Ella stepped back slightly, confused. “We only sell tea.”
Lansa stared, unblinking.
Ella stared back. She swallowed, her eyes flicking briefly to the street outside. She wished for another customer to enter the shop. There was no one around. No cars passed by, and it was starting to rain. She looked back at Lansa. She felt even colder. “Would you like some tea?”
Lansa continued staring for a few seconds, and then she nodded once.
Ella relaxed slightly. She managed a smile. “Great.” She said, turning. “I have a new blend; Hampshire tea – a proper English tea.” She put some of the tea into a small teapot and filled it with hot water. She turned and looked at Lansa. “I’ll just be a minute. It’s best to let it steep for a while for the best flavour.”
Lansa stared back, her head now slightly bowed. Her skin looked clammy, dead. She looked empty.
Ella turned back to the brewing tea and shivered. She prepared a cup and saucer and put some milk in the cup. She poured the tea, and then picked up the cup and saucer and faced Lansa. Her hands were trembling. The cup and saucer rattled. She forced another smile. “Here you are.”
Ella put the tea down in front of Lansa. A bony white hand appeared from Lansa’s cape. Without looking down she picked up the cup. She positioned it under her nose and took in a slow and silent breath. She continued to stare straight at Ella.
Ella felt tense. “I find it a bold, bright tea, with a brisk taste.” She said quickly, forcing yet another smile. “There’s no bitterness, though, so it’s very smooth. A good general-purpose tea. Have a taste.”
Lansa continued breathing in. The steam of the hot tea swirled into her nostrils. After a few seconds she put down the cup and saucer. She continued to stare at Ella, her expression a vacuum of emotion.
Ella looked down at the tea and then back at Lansa. “Perhaps that wasn’t to your liking?” She turned and looked up at her shelves. “We have many more.” She said nervously, her voice almost cracking. She felt goose-pimples rising on her neck. “Perhaps a mild herbal tea, such as Caribbean Peppermint?” She turned back to look at Lansa.
Lansa was gone.
Outside the road was busy.
It was no longer raining.