Have you ever found yourself occupying the same space-time continuum as someone else? In the humdrum of everyday life, going about your business, your daily routine, there’s someone that always seems to be there; the same person. At the intersection of a morning, or an afternoon, there they are; again and again, same time, same place, and your space-time continuums collide. Coffee-shop girl is on my space-time continuum. I see her every day.
One of my favourite things to do in the morning is go for coffee. Luckily enough Little Pip enjoys this too. (A true West London child, he loves a good Babyccino.) Often, either before or after our daily trip to the swings, we go for a coffee. Sometimes we just talk; sometimes I take a book for us to read. We always go to the same place, a small coffee shop with a wonderful Barista, who makes a superb Latte. The staff all love LP. Kisses are bestowed on his blonde forelock and free Babyccinos pushed into his hands. He plays to it like a dream.
It was here that we first encountered her, our fellow space-time traveller - otherwise known as Coffee-Shop Girl. Since then she has become a fixture in our everyday lives. We see her at the coffee shop every single time we visit. Every single time. Even if we don’t go in, we see her. As we walk past the window, there she is, sentry like, with a pot of freshly brewed peppermint tea. Sometimes we deviate from the normal routine; we go in the afternoon. Da Da! There she is, omnipresent in her seat. It’s almost as if she knows, via some sensory power, that on that particular day, things will be different, she things shift around, adopts her space in the afternoon instead, and thus our daily encounters continue.
Coffee-Shop Girl knows me. Our eyes meet. There is a flicker of recognition. Sometimes we smile. Then, I get distracted, ordering our drinks or trying to stop LP touching the cake display, and she will turn back to her ipad or her blackberry, and we go about our separate business.
In all the days and months of encountering Coffee –Shop Girl, I’ve never seen her with another living soul. At the weekend, we sometimes go for coffee and take Big Daddy with us. She is there. In her same seat, with ipad and blackberry, alone. Maybe the coffee shop is her place of refuge from a busy, hectic life, but I think not. I think coffee shop girl is often alone outside the coffee shop too.
Coffee-Shop Girl intrigues me. Surely she can’t sit in the coffee-shop all day long? I have decided that must either be self-employed or unemployed. She clearly has great flexibility if she works (not many bosses let you sit in a coffee-shop all day.) I have wondered if she might be a writer, or a secret blogger, a Belle de Jour, blogging her heart out as she sits and sips her peppermint tea.
Recently there was a week when I didn’t see Coffee-Shop Girl. I wondered where she had gone. I missed seeing her. She had become part of the ebb and flow of everyday life. A familiar face, even though it was one I didn’t talk to. As I went to get my coffee, I mourned her empty seat. ‘Come back, Coffee- Shop Girl’ I thought. ‘I like seeing you there, tapping away on your ipad. I miss admiring your black handbag with it’s millions of studs shimmering on the table.’ Then suddenly she was back, as if she’d never been gone. And our merry little dance of semi- acknowledgement resumed, just as it had before.
One lunchtime I found myself on my own without Pip. I took myself to my favourite hangout. It was busy, but there she was. Bumped by interlopers, from her normal table and sat near to the back. We glanced at each other, did our semi smile, and I noticed the only other table available was the one next to her.
I sat down. Suddenly I was determined to talk to Coffee-Shop Girl. To make conversation. I thought it would be nice to get to know her better. So that rather than just smile each time, we could maybe say something. Maybe we would just talk about the weather (how very British), or perhaps we would get past just exchanging pleasantries and say something more.
I sat there. Time seemed to be passing slowly. I was aware of her next to me. Tapping away, drinking her tea. I thought to myself, you can do this. Just say something. But the more I thought about it, the more difficult it seemed. I started to feel self-conscious. Anything I thought about saying seemed to sound like a chat up line. I started to feel hot, tense. I found myself getting a little flustered. I couldn’t enjoy my coffee or my delicious sour dough sandwich. The invisible pressure of my own self-set challenge ruined my appetite.
This summer we went on holiday to Norfolk. One day we went to the beach with Little Pip. The tide was out, another little boy was playing near the breakwater, splashing in little pools of water, examining the seaweed and shells. He looked like he was having such fun. Little Pip wanted to join in. As I watched him, laughing, smiling, trying to jump in unison into the pools, my heart ached. The other boy carried on – unacknowledging. Little Pip continued to try and participate in ‘the game’. I watched, as my boy, made his first foray into the world of trying to ‘make friends,’ watched him trying to make that connection, the one that engages someone, makes them want to reciprocate and communicate back to you. The other boy was still oblivious. Little Pip’s attempts at friendship were unanswered.
As I sat there trying to find the right words to speak to Coffee Shop Girl, it struck me that this was a similar situation, and that making friends doesn’t necessarily get easier as you get older. We learn the process of engaging others as children, but actually, as we get older and more self-conscious, it can become more difficult again. Certain situations in adulthood make it easier to make new friends, particularly those where you have a united or shared purpose- working together, playing sport, being a mother. But without shared experiences or purpose, it can be more difficult.
In a busy coffee shop, I found it far from easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger. After a while, I could bear it no longer. It felt as though invisible tumbleweed rolled between our two tables. My inhibitions got the better of me. I finished my coffee and left. I felt as though I had failed in my mission. Although actually, I didn’t even know why I had challenged myself in the first place. I have lovely friends. I don’t need to scout for new ones. It came down to the fact, I just thought it would be nice to get to know someone I share the same space with, day in day out, a little bit better.
The next day we saw Coffee-Shop Girl at a local beauty spot. She cut a solitary figure as she sat alone on a wooden bench in the distance with a bunch of flowers. Later I noticed she had gone, but the flowers were still there, like a marker, for someone missing. I wanted to go over, to read the inscription on the bench, to understand more about the person it was dedicated to and how they might be connected to her. I didn’t. It felt wrong.
As Little Pip and I made our way home in the dusky afternoon light, I felt eternally grateful for his constant companionship and the warm feeling of his soft, podgy hand in mine. But my mind was elsewhere. I wished I had tried harder to speak to Coffee-Shop Girl the day before. I have resolved to try again.