As is my week-daily custom, I arrive at school early, not because I’m especially responsible but because of the paranoia associated with being late and having everyone notice. It’s some type of psychological flaw that happens to serve me well. Sometimes, about four days out of five, my anxiety is in overdrive so I arrive early enough to re-examine my school-work prior to class, not that I ever have but there is sufficient time to do that and probably take a short nap. On these days I generally stop in at a mom-and-pop coffee shop near campus then stare at the clock on the wall to ensure I am early to class.
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If a movie were made with this coffee shop shown on camera, everyone would think it was the same or depicted one similar to the one they visit. The definitive word to describe the shop, its patrons, décor and view out the window would have to be ‘typical’ or substitute ordinary, generic, clichéd, etc. The conversations of persons within the establishment are typical as well, gossip, the weather, sports and basic, ordinary chit-chat about typical daily occurrences waft throughout the shop much as the coffee and pasty aromas, all mixing together in an incoherent blend of ordinary background accompaniment while I sip coffee and stare at the clock. This scene is played out in every town across much of the civilized world every day and here I sit; an insignificant, generic bit-player in the setting.
My semi-daily, semi-conscious routine was briefly interrupted one day a few weeks ago. A conversation between two people, sitting squarely underneath the clock, caught my attention. I’m not usually voyeuristic but the scene being played was anything but typical which, in and of itself was reason enough to pay attention. A young man and women, likely in their early 20’s, were staring into each other’s eyes without speaking for several anxious moments but it wasn’t a romantic gaze, both faces appeared intently sorrowful.
The woman reached across to grasp the man’s hands but he pulled them slowly away and lowered his head. He looked up, said something very brief and soft which made the woman look down at the table in front of her. He reached over to take her hands. They both looked at each other with a forced half-smile. By this time, likely less than a minute after I noticed them, I was entranced by this sad scene and could not do what I knew to be socially correct and stop staring. I heard nothing of their conversation but did not need subtitles to understand the situation.
This couple was ending their relationship. They both knew it was coming but the actual end was difficult for both. Both had coffee within arms reach but neither took a sip. They had not met here for coffee. What I was trying to comprehend was who was breaking off the relationship, which instigated this meeting? It was never clear but both clearly were affected by it yet both seemed to understand that the relationship was not right for either.
Both felt deep compassion for the other yet both had seemed to already have moved past this relationship in their minds, if not their hearts. I began to wonder how they met, what type of outings they undertook as a couple, future plans they may have made and what they learned about each other that derailed the relationship. Soon they both left the shop, first her then him after he paid the tab. He walked to the door to catch one last glimpse of her but was too late, she was gone, forever. He walked slowly back to the table to leave a tip for coffee not drank then, with a blank expression, started the journey of the rest of his life.
I did not hear the conversation but did not need to, I knew what I just witnessed, either what I described or maybe she told him the pet canary of his she was babysitting died, I really don’t know but what I discovered about myself was clear. What may seem a generic setting is actually filled with interesting dramatic displays as different as the particular mixtures of coffee they drink. This generic existence isn’t ordinary or typical at all, its full of flavors and if one takes time to read the menu, they will notice.
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