The warmth embraces us as we step in from the cool winter’s air. We make our way to the counter, and our eyes shift to gaze at the options. I’m not really looking; I know what I want. I try not to be seduced by the array of cakes and pastries staring at us from the cabinets. I cave, opting for the granola bar because it’s the ‘healthy’ choice. I order and search for a spot to offload the bags and coats. I sit, and a sea of laptops occupies my line of sight.
Their cups are empty, but they don’t order more. They hide behind their screens so they can stay a little longer before their custom is no longer welcome. Vacant seats are all around, but only facing inward, not out. The singletons like to survey their neighbours while they type. Among the workers are the talkers; unaware they’re voices are gaining loudness as they battle each other for sound waves.
Cafe tables are reflections of home desks; some scattered with books, newspapers and empty food packets; some neat and orderly, books stacked in order of size and coffee cup sat neatly on top. The machine hums, churning out cup upon cup, filling our nostrils with its familiar bitterness.
Big Band jazz is playing, but it takes me a while to notice its soothing tones. I wonder what people are escaping when they come here; is it the noise of home, or a workplace filled with chatter and demands? The clank of crockery on crockery disturbs my thoughts as cups are placed back on saucers.
They recognise me now, but everyone here is a regular; they know we come here for a respite, so they let us be. That’s why we keep coming back. I was a regular at a coffee shop in the City once, and the server guy got to know me. We’d exchange pleasantries and I’d go about my day. One day he gave me a free coffee; I never went back after that.
I used to come here for good coffee, but the Italian makes it better at home. So now I’m here, surrounded by people, to escape other people. Coffee shops are our new offices; they are the places we go to zone out the noises we don’t want to hear, even though there are noises all around us. I begin to understand how it’s so easy to feel lost in a crowded room.
It’s getting louder; new people are coming in and looking for seats, scowling at the folk with the laptops. It’s my tip to leave. I gather my things, pull on my coat and scarf and make for the door. As I open it the wind gushes in and I remember why I sought refuge here in the first place. I scuttle out and close it before the newbies make me the focus of their glares.
I’ll soon be back for more mediocre coffee and ‘quiet’ time.