I don't get out much these days. There are no poetry readings and even if there were my energy levels are very low so I don't know if I'd manage them. Once a week I spend an hour having lunch at a local café with my parents and once every week and a half I get out to do my shopping. Once a month I meet a friend for coffee, usually at a café though sometimes I suffer through the atrociously bad coffee at the house of a friend who does not read this blog so I can get away with insulting her coffee. The point is, I show up for her company and not the beverage. For awhile I was taking my journal or laptop to local cafés just to get out but even that hasn't been so manageable in the past year. Ah well, good days and bad days, good years and bad years.
Recently I took my journal to the cafe half an hour earlier than the time I was expecting to meet up with my parents. Some cafes are easier to write in than others, and often it depends on what seating I find. I really need to be tucked into a corner or with my back to a wall if I am going to be comfortable enough to relax and write. If the cafe is very busy I can get distracted with people-watching. Come with me for half an hour to one of our local little cafés.
It's a busier Friday than it has been lately at this little café in my hometown. Conversations buzzing around me seem to spew out disconnected words that I can't make sense of. Typically I would focus on one conversation and listen more carefully but today all voices are either just marginally on either side of the dividing line between possibly interesting and probably dull. Small talk between myself and people I know usually bores me; small talk amongst strangers is a potential source of interesting snippets that could be used in fiction writing. Did I mention that sense of buzzing? It's louder than usual and I can't tune it out. I didn't bring headphones or earplugs as I have sometimes done. It's louder than I am used to it being in here and I'm disappointed that having decided to come early and write, the cafe is not as peaceful as it usually is at this time. My eardrums pulse. There is hiss and clang from the kitchen, a syncopated beat from the unidentifiable background music and all the voices. Eventually I will be one of them and I will not notice them, but at the moment I am apart, I am other, I am feeling less than fond of these noisemakers.
It's a room full of females today, only one lone male sits at the bar beside me and reads a newspaper. Or at least he appears to read it. Perhaps he stares at it hopelessly, the words and images dancing in his brain in syncopated motion.
I'm early today, on purpose, waiting for the arrival of my parents with whom I will have an early lunch. They eat all of their meals about an hour earlier than average so I expect them at eleven and it's now about 10:30am. I have ordered and paid for a coffee but in the rush of customers it has been forgotten. People arrive steadily for take out and more fill up the few tables. I don't sit at a table because I don't like to occupy a table for four as a single person for the half hour I was intending to be there alone. I find the bar uncomfortable though and I cannot sit still, wiggling and adjusting and shifting. I scribble in my journal but my words are compromised by all the words in the air around me. I attempt contortions of concentration just as I attempt to contort my body into comfort. Sometimes I write a misplaced letter in the same way I might type one. Both my writing speed and typing speed are too fast to allow for perfect accuracy. They have to keep up with my thoughts.
More and more people are pouring in and I think that I've not seen it this busy in months. It becomes increasingly difficult to write because I am now distracted by trying to keep an eye out for a free table. The coffee which had been forgotten was just now being brought to me with
smiling apologies. I had ordered a small so I was brought a medium to
make up for the wait. I sip my coffee and try to write again but now my eye is distracted by movement.
There is a woman who has been seated alone at a table for five since I arrived. She seems to be making movements that suggest departure. She has rummaged in her bag for a lipstick and applied it. I swivel around in my bar stool, not wanting to pounce on her, trying to allow time for her to at least stand up before I descend and claim the table.
And then there is another woman there. She is one of a group who have just come in. The others are still at the ordering counter and I see and hear this woman speak to the departing one. "Are you about to leave?" She asks. I am filled with an emotion I cannot identify. It's not strong enough to be anger but I think to myself, "Oh no you don't!"
Normally I am someone who gives way to others. I was raised to do this as I think many women were and like many women who get to be my age, I'm getting better at asserting myself. I arrive at this table in seconds, before I can think and talk myself out of it. "Excuse me," I say firmly though quietly. "I have been waiting for this table for twenty minutes."
Departing women seems rather delighted by this. The woman I was challenging rather strangely said 'You little devil' which strikes me as a bit odd since I am certainly not smaller and although probably younger not by more than ten years. Departing woman tells me that I should have just joined her right from the start. I smile and agree although of course the idea sounds quite unappealing to me. I have come here to be alone, at least for half an hour. Having triumphed at table procuring, I settle down at this table only to see, moments later, another table being vacated and the large group of women pointing at that one. Should I leave well enough alone? No, I cannot. Here I was about to be a group of three, occupying a table for five while a group of five was going to squish themselves in around a table for four. Apparently I have a sense of balance which must be appeased. There is only one solution. I get up and suggest that they take the larger table and I will take the smaller one as my group is smaller. A woman who had not called me a devil beams at me and gushes that I was such a nice person.
Angel and devil, I park my bottom in a chair at this table for four when suddenly a table for three in the corner is vacated. Not only is this table preferable being meant for three but it is in the corner and I always prefer the corner. I move again and feel quite pleased to see a family of four arrive and head to the table in the middle of the room which I have just vacated. I am just settling into the corner table, arranging my bag and coat and scarf, when my parents arrive. Beaming happily they join me in the corner and ask, 'Have you just arrived too?'
I confess my activities to them. Whether I am an angel or a devil depends on whom you ask.