She sat down in her favourite chair right next to the wide, slightly dingy window that looked out to the busy town street. The smell of fresh coffee with a hint of vanilla drifted lazily towards her nose. The cup she held sent waves of heat through her cold hand, making her fingertips tingle as she settled into her seat.
She placed both her coffee and her book upon the small table in front of her, having brought the novel not to read, but as a barrier between herself and the other regulars, many of whom were bent awkwardly over their tables, peering into their various electronic devices. Having the book made her feel like she was a part of something bigger or part of a special club full of those who embark on literary adventures as well. She stroked the worn spine of her paperback lovingly and considered how many times she had opened it on days she had cried her eyes out or on days where she had laughed simply because she dropped her eggs all over her freshly washed kitchen floor. How many of them could say their computers have seen them through the same, she wondered.
One hand wrapped possessively around the cardboard sleeve of her drink, she rested her cheek on the palm of the other, left elbow digging into the table and gazing around the coffee shop. Her eyes lingered for a moment on the man who had served her; he looked up and offered her a smile, which she returned genuinely. Reverting her attention back to the other customers, she merely glanced at those who entered, ordered, and left without appreciating the warm atmosphere of the little shop. She paid no mind to those too engrossed in their technology to notice the world. Her focus was for the people she saw every time she came and sat in her favourite chair by the window.
There was the older woman who sat on the opposite corner of the shop a few times a week, who she affectionately referred to as the Bird Lady. Bird Lady had the sort of face that made you believe that she had been gloriously beautiful once, but time had slowly chiselled away at the delicate features until only a ghost of what once was, remained. She called her Bird Lady because the woman always wore a feather in her hair, often accompanied by a pretty silver feather brooch pinned to her black cardigan. It made her think of the pictures of flappers from the 1920s. Imagining this woman dancing up a storm to jazz music and having the time of her life always managed to make her smile, even on the dreariest of days.
Slightly to the left of the Bird Lady, Couple 2.0 sat across from each other in one of the three booths the coffee shop had. Couple 2.0 was made up of a young man and woman, neither looking as if they could be older than nineteen, typing away furiously at their sleek and shiny laptops. It was rare that either would look up at each other, the only recurring movement being to take one hand away from the keyboard to take a quick sip of what she assumed to be espresso, based on the velocity at which their fingers moved over the keys. Neither would spare a moment to tear their eyes away from their respective screens. When she had first encountered Couple 2.0 she had wondered what they could be doing on their computers that was more important than enjoying the company of one another. Maybe they were talking to each other, or were busy writing a paper; but would a few moments of blissful silence together away from screens not be worth it to get a respite from whatever had them toiling away day after day? She shrugged to herself but continued to watch over them. Couple 2.0 earned their nickname based on the third time she had ever seen them. It had been a most intimate and personal moment where the Boy had reached across the table and grasped the hand of the Girl, running his thumb over hers, giving her a charming, crooked smile. It was so simple and brief a moment, but the thousand-watt smile the Girl gave him followed by the mouthed, “I love you,” was enough to reaffirm her beliefs in young love, causing a warmth to blossom in her own heart that kept her smiling for days.
Across the shop, there was a large chalkboard. Today the list of exotic sounding flavour shots were accompanied by a very well-drawn chalk depiction of a cat sipping from a tea mug. Beneath it, was Power Suit. Power Suit only came in once a week and he was without fail always chattering away on his phone. She figured he was a lawyer or someone who worked in the stock market; he always had his briefcase and too many papers. Power Suit was aptly nicknamed for his black dress pants and black jacket, which he wore in sharp contrast to his crisp white shirt and simple tie. He would order a tea, while still talking on the phone, along with a biscuit and jam. Inevitably, Power Suit was always distracted by his work and let his tea get cold and his biscuit go to waste, the stresses of his day to day life evident in the strain of his mouth when he would hang up the phone. Once or twice she had seen him drop his head into his hands in a show of exasperation and defeat. She noticed on one of those days that he had a ring on his left hand. Perhaps his home life offered no time for rest, and this little shop was his only escape. She often wondered if he ever took the time to enjoy life and take a few breaths every now and then; if he had children, did he ever get to see them? She hated to see this man running himself ragged even though she did not know who he was or his story.
Grey Eyes sat in his usual place, directly across from her with his back to the window, completely engrossed in the book he was reading. He was her favourite regular, she found that there was something immensely personal about seeing this man in quiet contemplation of the flow of words he was reading. She saw in him a kindred spirit, felt a different kind of connection with him than she did with the others. They were of the type to bring a novel to lose themselves in, in a public place, both seeking escape from the banalities of reality yet still craving the company of others. For an old man, Grey Eyes had impeccable posture, (a by-product, she considered, may have come from military training, judging by his wide set shoulders and the air of vigilance he seemed to exude). He sat with his back straight, his legs making the number four with the way they were crossed, the arm holding the book resting on one knee. He dressed quite nicely, she often noticed, not formally, but nice enough to appear as if he was waiting on a date that never came. She mused to herself once that perhaps he was a widower, and he and his wife once came here together, like Couple 2.0. Rather than work on laptops, they would read their books and sip their warm drinks together in a way that would be almost too intimate for others to see. The thought made her smile while simultaneously tugging hard on both her heartstrings and her tear ducts. Grey Eyes looked over and fixed her with his soft gaze, nodding to her and smirking boyishly, his light grey eyes twinkling with mirth at having caught her people watching again.
She smiled to herself and turned away from the coffee shop patrons. She lifted her cup to her lips only to find that she had finished her drink without noticing. Glancing at the clock that hung above the Bird Lady she noticed that she had spent two hours just listening and watching today. She had not even noticed that it had begun to rain. She set her cup to the side and folded her feet up into her chair. Picking up her well-loved and well-worn novel, she began to read as more people filed into the shop for lunch, watching over them as they hung up their coats on the coat hangers that were next to Grey Eyes; shaking out their umbrellas and placing them in the oddly purple and out of place holder next to the door. She could not help but smile again. Her people watching always reminded her of how easy it was to lose yourself in other people. Her friends would often tease her for being so absent-minded. She would pay no mind though because while they were busy going from one place to the next in a rush, she was in her favourite coffee shop, in her favourite chair and surrounded by her people. Most importantly, she was happy.
—Cassidy Best, fifth-year communications.