I am at the Starbucks near my house. Although I don’t care much for the coffee here, this place has an agreeable vibe and I have found that with practice, it is not impossible to acquire taste for their awful brew.
I come to this cafe on days when I feel the need to lose context and be a stranger among strangers. There is something therapeutic about being around people who do not know you. This isn’t to say that I am a homicidal fugitive lurking around crowded places looking for safety in anonymity. Nor am I an abused wife (if anything) whose idea of breaking free is sit incognito behind dark Jacky O glasses and silently sip coffee in the neighbourhood cafe.
I feel drawn to such places because I love coffee and I love people watching and cafes beat any other public space when it comes to combining these two interests. Agreed this isn’t a talent that would look good on a resume’ but it cannot be denied that such a pastime does require a certain set of undefined skills.
The husband says that this just goes to show how acutely jobless I am, but great art has always had to put up with great criticism in its own time and so I take such remarks in my stride.
Be that as it may, you might agree with me that human beings are an incontrovertibly fascinating creation of nature and each person has is by himself/herself a story. I like to look at these people around me and imagine their stories.
For instance, there is a man of generous proportions sitting across from me right now and has ‘Ladies find me irresistible’ written boldly across his discoloured t-shirt. His hair is unkempt and his face unshaven. The physiognomy of this man reminds me of Ignatius, the slothful hero of A Confederacy of Dunces. If I was a mean person I would judge him for the generous, full fat, double whipped cream topping on his hot chocolate. But you all know by now that I do not have a mean cartilage in my body.
For now, I am shifting focus to what Irresistible boy’s life might be like. I can imagine him being a mamma’s boy, like Ignatius and I can imagine his Sindhi mother living by the slogan on her ‘baby’s’ t-shirt. She has probably never approved of any girl this man has fancied because he is clearly too perfect for anyone. Irresistible boy probably runs a business from home and it suits him just fine because this saves him the trouble of having to shave his face or look clean and presentable like other working class people who need to show up in an office.
I leave him to his hot chocolate and turn my attention towards this other couple that does not seem to belong to this neighbourhood. It is evident that they have chosen this particular hood for precisely that reason. The woman is wearing a red coloured blouse over skinny jeans but the word ‘skinny’ is in no way a reflection of her overall size. Her beau has removed one sandal from his food and is grinning at her while playing footsie from under the table. His hair is oily and overgrown and he is sporting a prominent moustache that conceals his upper lip but when he laughs, his pan-stained teeth take away the attention from it. He is looking at her lasciviously while his shoeless foot continues to busy itself under the table that is not large or low enough to conceal its private engagement with hers. She is smiling at him longingly and reciprocating his gesture with equal relish. Call me judgmental if you will, but am compelled to deduce that their overall behaviour somehow bears witness to the illegitimacy of their relationship.
I am cringing and also feeling like an intruder and cannot bear to look in their direction anymore. If they were better dressed, would I still be cringing, I wonder. Are seemingly illegitimate couples in the throes of PDA more acceptable if they are cleaner looking, with better teeth and dressed in Prada or Savile Row tailoring?
I have repositioned my vision and am now looking at a large blonde woman who is finding herself a couch to sit on. She has enormous biceps and triceps that could easily make Salman Khan and Sunny Deol appear frail in comparison. Her arms are tattooed all over with what looks like angels and daggers that are adding to her formidable appearance. A puny man who is ordering their coffee in an American accent accompanies her. Perhaps bodybuilder lady is a personal trainer to a movie star. Or maybe she and puny guy are backpackers who are touring across the country. She looks like she must carry his backpack along with hers and is at no risk of being raped given her dimensions.
A senior actor in his late seventies has just walked in. He is taking slow measured steps to keep his balance as he walks towards the barista to order his coffee. Some people acknowledge his presence with a smile and he seems pleased that this much younger generation recognizes him.
A young couple sits at the far end of the long table where all nerds are seated with their laptops. I happen to be sitting on this table with my laptop as well. This boy and girl cannot be older than eighteen years and are visibly in the first flush of their love for each other. She has large kohl rimmed eyes and she is finding everything he says worthy of laughter. This couple can barely keep their hands off each other and there is nothing sneaky about their moves. On the contrary, in spite of their PDA, there is nothing cringe worthy about them. I am glancing in their direction now and then and I can see that they are playing the ‘who-will-blink-first’ game. A few seconds later, he has beaten her to it and she is somewhat pleased about it. He brings her iced-tea and now they are sharing the icy drink with two straws from the one glass.
A gaggle of ladies in afternoon jewels and sunglasses has just walked in, presumably after a kitty party in flowy georgette tops in bright colours with matching pop coloured lipsticks applied so liberally that they are compelled to keep their shades one throughout their post kitty coffee session.
This is a cue for me to leave the café. Besides, the cacophony of the group is deafening the sound of my own thoughts, which is a sign that I must give my imagination a break and head home to my children.
As I head out I walk past a couple, the girl is in a school skirt and is fondly stroking the cheek of her boyfriend, also in a school uniform. I ought to be delighted to see love thrive all around me but I am walking away feeling a bit unsettled by the ages of the participants of this PDA (public display of affection, in case my mom is reading this) show.
I am also contemplating keeping cafes out of bounds for my children along with nightclubs and watering holes till they reach forty.