One fifteen-minute car journey, followed by a ten minute crossing on the hovercraft, a leisurely ten minute walk or a five minute bus journey, and I’m there. Usually, drawn in by the rich coffee, lull of chatter and freshly prepared lunches. It’s a way to clear my head, and take a step back from my own stresses. It’s the place to go when I have an assignment sitting heavily on my shoulders, or when I’m endlessly frustrated about something, or just when I have a moment to myself. I can sit and listen to someone else, meet new people and learn new things. Give and get advice on absolutely anything. One of the things I really love about this is how freely people are, how willing to talk. It’s easier to tell someone who hasn’t formed an opinion, or someone that you’re highly unlikely to see again than it is to talk to someone close, I often find. And so, it’s my own way of putting things back into perspective. Whether it’s simply a few words shared -
“I’m so sorry, were you in the line?”
“Oh no, I haven’t decided what to have!”
“They make a mean latte here.”
An answering smile, and a little while later I heard his voice pipe up again.
“A regular latte please, to take away.”
Or whether it’s a lengthy conversation, it’s time for people.
Last month, I met an 82 year old lady called Dorian who’d lost her husband two weeks earlier. We talked for about half an hour about whatever came up until I had to leave. I told her about my school and career, while she talked about her husband and his family in the States. As it transpired, besides the lady who had served her coffee, I was the first person she’d spoken to since her husband had passed away and it was the first time she’d left the house - she’d dressed up, and gone out for coffee and a bite to eat. She didn’t cry, but she became choked when she told me about him. He was a pilot and she was a flight attendant, she’d told me - an American man, from a family who didn’t approve of his British girlfriend so they’d settled down several years later in Cornwall, then later moved to Portsmouth. They’d been married for sixty eight years. I’d offered my sympathies and explained that I understood, I lost my dad when I was ten years old, I’d told her and we talked about grief for a while. She told me how lonely it was, and how she didn’t really feel much. I thought I would be angry, she said and I told her it was natural. People deal with it in different ways, it’ll be okay. You’ll get through it. When I bade my farewells and stood to leave she’d grasped my hand, and wished me luck - she said:
“You have a bright future, sweetheart. I hope to see you again.”
Another time, I met an Indian woman in her thirties with her two eight year old sons and a five year old daughter. She’d initiated the conversation and asked whether the seats beside me were taken, I’d shaken my head and smiled indicating that she was welcome to sit down. We only talked for about ten minutes, but she was taking her children over to the Isle of Wight to see their grandparents. Common ground! I live there, I’d replied and she told me that she’d love to live there one day and that I was very lucky. I agreed and we fell into a comfortable silence. No more was said but a goodbye a little while later and we wished one another well.
Today, I haven’t spoken to anyone. But a small party of four sat at the table beside me about twenty minutes ago - two men in their twenties, and three women of a similar age, likely university students because most of them were laden with bulky bags and had those dark rings that only late-night essays can cause. The first man was wearing a bright red overcoat and had bleach blonde hair, the second man was wearing levi jeans and doc martins - he had brown hair and one of those crooked smiles that girls love, two of the girls had stylish but utterly useless bags - one had blonde curly hair, the other had short hair and the third girl wore a bag that looked like it could well carry half her home in it. The ‘cool guy’ with the crooked grin pointed at the corner seat and motioned for one of the girls to sit down, but the blonde boy interjected: “Nobody puts baby in the corner,” he said quietly and the other stared at him in confusion. The reference was entirely lost on them. He scoffed at them, disgruntled and asked them if they knew where the quote was from then he looked around and caught my eye. I grinned and he smirked triumphantly, pointing: “See, she knows!”
Wherever I go, one of the first things I do is find a suitable coffeehouse: good coffee, and good company - the perfect balance.
When I went to Switzerland, it was a five minute trek with my parents down the mountain to a small cafe only open for three hours a day. It was nice to catch up with my parents for a week because even though we live in the same house, our conversations normally go like this -
“How was your day?”
“It was good.”
“How was school?”
In London, it was an hour bus journey with my friend Flo and her filled with easy laughter as we caught up on the past, maybe … nine months. We aren’t really the type of people to call or text one another on a regular basis. The only three times I’ve spoken to her this year was first: to ask if she wanted to meet me in Guilford, second: to ask her if i could crash at her place when I missed my train to Leigh-on-Sea and third: to see what train she was on to Portsmouth. And in Cornwall, it was a two minute sprint to the local bakery with my brother to buy breakfast and coffee everyday before heading to the beach.
Sometimes, it’s alone and sometimes, it’s with people. But we can connect with others so easily. By just uttering ‘hello’ or offering a smile. By daring to. For me, it’s nice knowing that I can strike up conversation with anyone and reach an understanding, or learn a little bit about someone else and what’s behind their blurred exterior.
Who knows who we could meet by saying hello?