The woman sitting at the next table has a six-month-old baby. She’s talking to her friend about all the sad & wonderful things that come with that, in a simple, casual way. She could be telling my own story. There are so many parallels, and I wish I could tap her on the shoulder and say, hey, it’s not just you, but I can’t, because then she will know I am listening in to their conversation.
I can’t help it when I come here. This is the best cafe for eavesdropping; while I have no time for novels or TV, these tiny snippets of other people’s lives are all I have to relate to.
On this table an hour earlier were two female students, early twenties, catching up over breakfast. It’s clearly been a few weeks since they saw one another. One announces, with a faux-casual tone, that she has a new boyfriend, D, and actually they’ve already moved in together. He’s in his 50s, but it’s ok because their ‘souls are totally in tune’. Her friend doesn’t speak for a really long moment, & when she does, her voice sounds a little different.
Then there was the piano teacher, sharing tales of her students. She spoken to the parents of an under-performing student, recently. ‘How often does he practice?’ she’d asked, and they had looked blank, she said, before saying ‘oh, do you think we should buy him a piano?‘
Another family were so wealthy they kept their ‘practice piano’ in the gatekeeper’s lodge on their estate. It was such a drag, they told her, having to drive the child out there every day to play.
One day there’s a mother and her young son, just finished school for the day. He’s eating a giant slice of chocolate cake, she’s sipping a latte, & she is asking him for a hug. ‘It makes me really happy when we have a cuddle’, she is saying, cajoling, & he is so bouncy with energy and sugar and independence it seems impossible she will ever convince him to sit still long enough to oblige. Then suddenly he relents, leaps over and snuggles right into her, making her glow with visible joy, and I miss Orla with that burning-heart feeling I never had before I was a mama.
Two women, now, one much older, so it’s hard to immediately determine their relationship. The elder is currently sampling afternoon tea across the city, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. She’s giving a detailed review of every hotel and expensive restaurant & I’d quite like to take notes, or go over & ask if I can join them, join her cafe-crawl.
I’m just trying to decide what the man opposite might do for a profession based on snippets of phonecalls I’ve heard – publisher, perhaps, or possibly something to do with greetings cards? – when he calls over to me. ‘Excuse me?’ & I freeze, until he tells me we lived on the same street, directly opposite one another, in fact, for years. He mentions R by name, asks after Orla. I swear I’ve never seen this man before, & as I clumsily attempt to disguise this fact, & fail miserably, I see the tea-lady opposite is quietly smiling into her cup, and I suspect she is collecting my story, just like I collected hers.
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