I am sitting in a coffee shop I don’t often visit, a smaller one in the middle of the city where I live. It’s a bustling, bright place with worn wood floors and large windows. Nearly every seat is full, and the baristas chat with the customers like they’re all old friends. I get a feeling this is the kind of place that has regulars, the kind of place where the employees know your normal order.
There is a man not too far from me who is drawing in a sketch book. His table is covered in colored pencils, his bag overflowing with paper. Every so often, he laughs for no reason, and he laughs so loud that we all jump and then chuckle nervously, smile sheepishly at each other, somehow embarrassed not for him but for ourselves.
The door whines open, slams closed. The music is loud.
At a nearby table, there is an old man in a wheel chair. His face is curled up in perpetual confusion, and his words escape in long, gentle moans. He wears oversized clothes and the rubber tires on his wheelchair are low on air. A young man, maybe in his late twenties, takes care of the man in the wheelchair. He eases the man’s travel coffee mug up towards his mouth, guiding the straw home. The old man coughs and the young man lifts a handkerchief to wipe his mouth. The young man walks around behind him, lifts him in a jerking motion, moving him up so that he can sit straight in his chair. He helps the old man wrestle into a coat.
People come by to say hello to the old man in the wheelchair. They carry on one-sided conversations as if nothing is amiss. And maybe nothing is. Or maybe I am the thing that is amiss, forever lost in my normality.
* * * * *
An African-American man comes in, baggy coat, earphones up on his head. He has a long, kind face. Concern etches the plains around his eyes.
“I’ve got a friend coming in a few minutes,” he explains, pointing towards the back. He is very sincere. He is not saying this ironically. “I’m just going to wait back there. He’ll be here any time.”
The barista waves off his concern. “No problem,” she says, and he disappears into the back, but not before the young man taking care of the old man whispers after him, “This isn’t Starbucks, man.”
* * * * *
Another old man comes in and sees someone he knows, grins. “You’re just as handsome as you were the last time I saw you.”
The guy he’s talking to chuckles a sandpaper grunt. “I hope the women still think so.”
The first man, feeling rather pleased with himself, leans in close and puts his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “I didn’t say you were handsome. I said you’re just as handsome as you were the last time I saw you.” And he laughs, taking immense pleasure at the joke, as if the world is his.
It snowed yesterday. But outside the sun is shining even brighter than it was when I got here, and the trees are budding red flowers. Everyone is walking down the sidewalk, staring up at the sun with expressions of awe on their faces, as if the unthinkable is happening, as if spring has finally come.