Coffee Shop no longer carries English newspapers. I think of making a fuss like I did with the music but I realize it’s been changing over the last year, catering to a larger demographic. I am now a tiny speck in Coffee Shop. Me, and the woman coming to the back with her coffee and muffin. She sits down at the table next to mine. I continue to go between watching snowflakes hit the ground and reading my book. Within minutes the woman begins a conversation about the teachers protesting outside the high school. I teach creative writing. I taught fitness for fifteen years. Except for teaching a group of uncoordinated high school baseball players aerobics back in the ‘90s, I have never taught a class room of kids. I do not know what goes on in classrooms and I don’t want to discuss it with her. But, somehow she feels that I need to know about teaching, teachers and the system. This leads to her talking about herself and giving me a few lessons about life. But this isn’t about the woman. This is about me. Without knowing anything about me, what is it that makes people feel that I am interested in their opinions? Makes them assume that I don’t know anything and need a lesson? Do I look stupid? I asked Hubby once. He said I attract the weird ones. I have since the 1970s. He’s witnessed it. They see me across the room and head my way. I look approachable, someone they can try out their shit on. Since I am polite and easy-going I listen, hmm, aww and smile. I don’t challenge their nonsense. So, they continue. Like the woman is doing now, yakking about the highs and lows in her life, all the things she has done, throwing in a few items she feels I need to be educated about. It’s all very interesting, to her. And I think: She’s been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a queen. Before she gets up she says, “But that’s life.” And I think: We meet people. We listen. We are polite. One day we’re reading a newspaper in English the next we have to read it on our phone. Everything is temporary. Change is inevitable. We move. We find a new coffee shop. We go up and down and over and out. It’s all in the flow and that’s life.
I’ve ridden in a donkey cart, legs dangling over the side. Tumbled from a wheelbarrow in a race, rolled on the ground laughing. Caught tadpoles, placed a caterpillar on a branch in a jar, watched it turn into a butterfly, then let it go. Trapped lizards, been surrounded by hummingbirds and butterflies, let grasshoppers crawl over my hands and stared them in the eye. Tormented frogs and listened to crickets sing all day and all night for rain.
I’ve walked on paved and gravel roads without shoes. Stung by marabunta and army ants. Bitten by bête rouge and mosquitoes. Tramped through floodwaters and experienced drowning: The spinning. The tunnel. Endured cuts, bruises, and grazes on elbows and knees. Stepped on nails, followed by the dreaded tetanus shot. Slept under a net. Hidden from cockroaches flying into the house and screamed in terror until someone killed them.
I’ve taunted bulls and cows. Felt the sear of the sun, tasted the warm salty spray of the sea. Built sand castles and ran on the ocean floor when the tide was out to play with crabs, shells and what we called ‘four eye fish,’ then dashed to the shore as the tide flowed back towards the beach. I’ve flown in a sea plane, landed on the river and taken a canoe to the dock.
I’ve seen real poverty. The kind that makes you grateful for what you have. The kind you don’t forget—dirt floors, meals cooked outside of shacks on coal grills in dented pots black from smoke. From a distance I’ve watched children have fun bathing in the rain—the only shower they knew and I wanted to be one of them. Gazed at mothers sitting on rickety steps outside dilapidated houses plaiting their daughters’ hair with crisp colorful ribbons. And wished I had braids and shiny ribbons like theirs.
I’ve breathed in the smoke of burning buildings and cane fields, and seen sky-high flames during riots. Witnessed the hysteria of people scrambling to escape an uncontrolled situation. And the eerie silent disbelief of little coffins of friends lined up by the altar in church.
I’ve skipped rope on the seawall, inhaled cool evening ocean breezes and stared mesmerized at the trees and store windows in town lit-up at Christmas. Ate apples bought from stalls on the sidewalks: a yearly treat. Ice apples we called them because they were from somewhere in North America and it was icy up there.
I’ve been excited and scared at the same time of the Mother Sally parade coming down the street to booming drumbeats and barking dogs. Laid in tall grass and found shapes in clouds. Stared in awe at a star-studded sky. Experienced tropical gale winds and tremors of earthquakes. Heard the roar of torrential rain on the galvanized roof and thunder like thousands iron balls crashing while lightning blazed across the heavens.
I’ve danced at sunrise in pajamas, dew wetting bare toes and collected eggs from chickens. Ate hibiscus flowers, plucked fruit from low-hanging branches and ate them—unwashed. Clambered over fences and gates to picnic on a desolate cricket field. Climbed a mango tree only to get stuck. Drank water from coconuts falling from way up high. Eaten sugar cane from the field and molasses, and dark, raw sticky brown sugar. Drank milk straight from a cow, ate freshly churned cream and butter on hot out of the oven bread with homemade jam. And ice cream stirred up on the back step. And custard ice-blocks.
I’ve scraped the leftover bits from the bottom of the fudge pot. Bare feet on hot asphalt, cup in hand, chased a vendor with a dirty pushcart selling shaved ice covered in syrup. Eaten Indian sweets, bought from the side of the road on a Saturday afternoon.
I’ve run wild and roamed free until the six o’clock cicada bees buzzed: time to go home.
I’m about to pay when a woman pokes in front of me, hands the server change and orders a coffee. The server who I called Shirley for years but whose name, I found out today is Marion, says, “You have to go to the back of the line.” The woman is in a hurry. She has to catch the bus. Marion tells her she doesn’t care. The woman leaves. “I know I’m being a bitch today but too bad,” Marion says.
“It’s okay, sometimes dealing with people can be difficult,” I say.
The perky woman behind me pipes in, “I worked in customer service for years and I loved it.”
“It’s been awful since early this morning,” Marion says. “A guy tried to pay with his phone but it wouldn’t work and he kept jiggling it and jiggling it and it still wouldn’t work. And he wanted me to call the manager. I told him it’s his phone. The manager can’t fix it. All the time the line kept getting longer and longer and he was getting more and more annoying.”
“Well, I’m a people person,” perky woman says. “I love people.”
I want to ask her if telling everyone in line about her people loving skills makes her superior and does she realize she’s made Marion feel worse. But I don’t. Instead, I pick up my coffee and take to the back.
“Hi Sammy,” I say to the man sitting in my seat, then regret it. A few years ago he bought the café where I spent every morning writing Sunshine Girls. He’d turned it into an old boys’ business club. They would spread their newspapers and work on two tables. Wouldn’t move it when I asked. Sammy told me they had the right. Turned out they were his friends. That’s how I ended up in Coffee Shop. Now here he is, years later in my seat arrogant as I remember. And I hate that I said hello.
“Sold the café,” he says when I sit down at the table two over from his. “It’s now a juice bar.”
I don’t care. I’m interested in what’s happening across the room. The man I call, Mafia Boss, is chatting up two elderly ladies. And I think: How come we can no longer be vocal about having a bad day? What’s with only positivity allowed and no negativity? Don’t they slide together? And how mafia can you be in a bright yellow jersey making two grey-haired ladies giggle like schoolgirls? Who knows? All I know Marion is having a bad day. And I’m in Coffee Shop drinking from a red cup.
The Physical Therapist, a nice young man in his thirties likes to tell me stories about his three-year-old son while he works on my injured knee. Today, I ask about knee replacements. “No need for that conversation,” he says. “But, you are in the golden age.” And I think: Golden Age? What the F&^K. Two weeks ago a cashier asked if I was a Lady of a Certain Age. Now I’m a Golden Girl. How did that happen? I loved the television show, The Golden Girls—still do. When it first came out in the ‘80s, I was a young mother. At the time I wondered why in their sixties they were still looking for romance. I mean they were old, almost elderly. Now I’m being told I’m one of them.
“If you needed a knee replacement which you don’t, you would get one,” the Physical Therapist continues. “If you were thirty years older, they wouldn’t give you one or if you were thirty years younger, you wouldn’t get one because they don’t last and you’d have to get another. But you are prime.” I leave the office, feeling a little antiquated. But at home, as I run up the stairs for the first time in three weeks, I think: I’m not rusty. Not rusty at all. I am golden—shining in my heyday.
It’s the usual in Coffee Shop. Muffin Man eating the top off his muffin while Hat Guy tries to engage him in a conversation. The Good Old Boys yakking about farms and fixing machinery. Job Searcher scrolling through his phone. Frank and Wife reading their newspaper, and Laptop Goddess, frowns at her computer screen. Boring stuff but nothing happens on a Monday morning. Today is no different. Until the words: “Don’t worry, you’ll never have to bring me flowers or chocolates. I’m not that kind of woman,” breaks the silence.
I look up from my book at the man and woman sitting by the window. I don’t hear his response but she roars with laughter. They’re not young, not old either—forties, maybe. He’s a burly guy, curly brown hair to his shoulders with Harley-Davidson written on his gray shirt. She’s in jeans, slashed at the knees, skimpy top, and she has a black-booted foot on the seat of the chair beside her. If she has to tell him he doesn’t have to bring her flowers or chocolates makes me believe they’re on a first date or it’s the morning after coffee. There’s no lack of conversation between them. Lots of merriment and they’re both perky—a good sign for a first date or the morning after.
She tells him about her job. It’s stressful—oodles of lifting. “When I first started working there, I wore a size sixteen pants.” She stands up and pulls up her top and twirls around showing off her body. “Now I wear a size two.”
All at once Coffee Shop comes alive. Hat Guy jumps out of his seat mesmerized. For the first-time Job Searcher is interested in what’s happening. Frank and Wife lower their newspapers. Farm Machinery forgotten, the Good Old Boys turn around and stare at her. And I think: If this is Monday what will Friday bring?
“I love your shirt,” the young man behind the counter says when I walk through the door.
I look down to see what I’m wearing. It’s my Beatle shirt. “It’s Webber Wear. A friend of mine, Kenny Webber painted it,” I say.
“You’re lucky,” the young man says. “Does he do canvases?”
He waves his hand in the air. “I would love a wall done just like that with the same colours.”
And I think: Wow, he’s talking to me as if I’m a young hip-chick. “That would be sooo cool,” I say, trying to sound groovy.
As I turn to leave he raises a fist in the air and says, “Wear that shirt proud.”
I head down the sidewalk, with a bounce in my step, coffee cup in hand, feeling young and, as we would say, nifty. In the store two doors down I pick up two cushions and take them to the counter. The sales woman whispers, “are you a lady of a certain…”
And I think: Is she asking me if I’m a lady of ill repute? Who asks that kind of question? And do they still have ladies of ill repute? “Sorry, I don’t think I heard your question correctly,” I say.
“Are you a lady of a certain age?” She almost mouths the words making it difficult to hear. “We have to be careful how we ask the ladies if they’re a senior. For the senior discount, you know.”
And I think: A few minutes ago I was young and cool having a conversation with a millennium about art. Now I’m a lady of a certain age? How did that happen? “What’s the discount?” I ask.
She raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Seniors get a twenty-percent discount.”
And I think: Do I tell the truth and take the discount? I mean twenty-percent is a lot. Or do I stick with the young hip-chick thing? The discount won.
“Write this down. Put it in your book,” the woman next to me says, “call me Mary or Vivienne or Roxanne. Call me what you want.” Her life story flows. Eighty years old, looks seventy, born Irish, adopted as a baby, and she loves sexy books, wants to write one. “A secret boyfriend, I have.” She flashes a smile. “He’s married but I like him…a big secret.” I take down her words; listen to a burst of notes flow from the upright bass and guitar. Across the room an artist brings an empty canvas to life. Sunrays, I think, the ocean, sea life, the colours of Barbados.
My morning coffee meeting, and my lunch plan with a friend change and I end up at two thirty in the afternoon in Coffee Shop. Not that I mind. I spend a lot of time alone but when two people cancel with me within hours of each other I can’t help but think: Is it me? Or is it my biorhythms? And what are biorhythms? What ever they are maybe mine are off today. Since I know nothing about them, I take out my phone and do research. This is what one website says—when the cycle switches from plus to minus or minus to plus it’s a critical day because you are neither up nor down, but in a state of limbo. So here I am in limbo listening to a young man educate a couple in their seventies about life. They grin at him pretending they believe what he’s saying. Finally, he taps the table and says, “Okay let’s go.”
Except for the music, it’s quiet at the back until the two women behind me begin a conversation. “He liked me, was always nice then he stopped being nice,” one says.
“That’s what he does,” her friend answers.
My mind wanders back to my biorhythms and I try to find out how to fix them. Every once in a while I am interrupted by the women’s loud voices.
“I told her to elope, it’s her second wedding for heaven sakes, but no she wants a big wedding, now we have to plan a wedding.”
“That’s how they are,” says the other. Her voice rises and bounces off the glass windows when she says, “At least you see her. I rarely see my children. I know they’re busy but they could come once a week or even once a month.” Now she’s getting louder. “Is that too much to ask? Am I asking too much?”
Shut up, I say, too quiet for them to hear over the music and their yelling about who’s paying for coffee next time. They put on their coats and walk to the front. Just as I think it can’t get any worse a man and woman come to the back and sit down. It’s just the three of us now and it’s obvious the woman has set up the date to tell the man he’s a cheapskate. He has lots of money but too cheap to spend it. Apparently, the other night when they were out with a group of friends he kept phoning for cabs. He should have hired a car and driver for the day. He can afford it. I feel sorry him. He can’t get a word in edge wise. Then she starts about his apartment, his furniture, his clothes—a man with his income should have better clothes and furniture.
And I think: What is with today? Is this March coming in like a lion?
“But I have a ten thousand dollar stereo system,” he says.
“No one gives a shit about a stereo system,” she says.
“I do,” he says. “It’s important to me.”
And I think: I’d like to hear my tunes on that stereo.
The conversation continues with her telling him she’s done, finished, can’t do it anymore and he’ll never meet a nice woman. He shrugs. And I think: His biorhythms must be off and I’m not in limbo, I’m in hell. Time to go home, sit on the couch and listen to the sounds of silence.
Cheating on my mind
I cheated. I’m blaming my hubby. He encouraged me. Told me if I wasn’t satisfied, I should go elsewhere. Glad to know he thinks that way. So, with cheating on my
The holidays are over and I’m back in Coffee Shop. I’ve missed it. The coffee. The newspaper. The morning quiet. Being with people but, at the same time not being with people. The woman at the counter is happy to see me but not enough to give me a free coffee. I take my regular seat and open the newspaper. At first I don’t recognize the man who stops at my table. Not until he removes his toque. it’s Hat Guy. “No one puts Baby in the corner,” he says. And I think: Am I Baby? And am I sitting in a corner? I give him an itsy bitsy teeny-weeny smile. He picks up on my confusion and says, “you know Baby, Dirty Dancing.” I get it. He doesn’t want to sit at the table behind the wall. And I think: You’re not sitting here. You talk took much before nine. He walks around the room looking for someone to chat with. He’s in luck. Muffin Man sits down with his muffin and coffee. Hat Guy heads over to his table. They begin a: resolutions conversation. All about getting out more, doing more, slowing down. And I think: Are they talking about resolutions or goals? Two words that can be easily mixed up. The difference being: A goal has an end point. One either meets it or doesn’t. A Resolution is a long-term promise and usually broken. And how does one do more and slow down at the same time? I don’t know. But I have a whole year to find out.
Sheila Horne at: https://www.facebook.com/sheilahorneauthor/