In the cafe today, an older man with a head of the same likeness to an ostrich egg enters the room.
When I say enter, I mean, he addressed the room in a loud booming voice that lifted my nose from my book and spooked the poor owner from this general shuffling about.
The main casualty being far too many napkins that would never have fit into that leaf-shaped holder. But Gary being Gary, was far too determined.
I throw him a look of sympathy as we clumsily mop up handfuls of napkins while the old man waits at the counter, completely unaware while tapping his foot.
Gary is one of the happiest people I know.
Despite his business never bustling with people, you can tell the small cafe full of plants is his dream.
I think his parents back in China helped him out financially, as some parts of the cafe are quite expensive looking while other parts are incredibly DIY. Like plastic flowers climbing up ceiling pipes and wall-art and table ornaments.
Gary treats every customer to a conversation in broken english, to which he uses words he doesn’t quite grasp the meaning.
Yesterday he told me I was “the most beautiful thing he sold that day.” I couldn’t not smile.
The old man is dressed in a hat, open-toe sandals and a collared shirt.
He tells all of us ( Gary, myself and the 6 other empty tables ) that he’s meeting with a friend for coffee.
A new one, who’s probably forgot.
Gary asks why he can’t give the man a call,
Another 2-3 minutes pass and I find my book is packed into the bottom of my bag as I’ve already shown the old man pictures of my dog dyed pink, explained why my hair is also the same shade and learned all about how he lives in a one-bedroom studio without any pets or people.
“What about a cat?” I ask from my table.
“Sorry- what was that?”
“ CAT ?” I basically yell.
Gary comes out, “Yes?”
I tell him it’s probably a good thing as I’m started to think that cats were weird and the people who had them were weirder, my brother being a prime example.
Then he started complaining about COVID and the barcodes we all must scan as a means of checking in, saying it wasn’t mandatory and we had a right to say no.
I love old men.
Especially ones who want to chat and not leer at at me like I’m their favourite chocolate bar they last saw on the shelf 20 years ago. These men qualify in my head as my dad.
I notice that the old man planted himself in the centre of the room so he can chat to me and Gary easily and I don’t mind as my low moods have made me easily irritable to all things me.
Everyday I head off to write, I pack two different books, Loui, a yoga mat and a shitty personality.
All of which I don’t end up using as I don’t want to be alone with myself for any longer than humanly possible.
See, it was my second week adjusting to new medication and it was feeling like whenever I feed her a pill, she hated me more. Her being me.
Interestingly enough though, this messy break-up with myself has made having interesting conversations happen almost effortlessly…
Yesterday I made friends with a girl two tables across after we bonded over travelling alone, having odd interactions with cats ( I’m being stalked by a very lovely black and white cat atm ) and studying at the same uni, just down the street.
She then asked me on the way out about my star sign and thus it was decided then and there that she was going to be the perfect new addiction to our girl-group, as if there was one thing ‘the vegans’ loved more than pasta, it was all things ‘cosmic.’
Thus, not being alone in my own company was a nice distraction.
“I only had three hours of sleep you know, it’s quite disappointing he hasn’t come.”
The old man says to… me, I guess; Gary seems to have suddenly evaporated.
“Are you an insomniac?” I ask.
“What- sorry I can’t hear you?”
“I said…” as I yell to the whole room-
“ … ARE YOU AN INSOMNIAC?”
It feels weird to ask such a personal question to someone I’ve known for 2 seconds but whatever. I have pink hair, he was lonely and life was too short for shit conversation.
“Oh- yes,” he says.
“I use to work in China for 20 years, teaching English.
I would have stayed if not for them running me out. The Iraq war… I was very outspoken you see.. too outspoken.”
“Really?” – I say, sarcastically.
I smile, noting down more of what he says into my journal with the pen having run out 5 pages ago. Now I was just imprinting scribbles on a white lined page, hoping the pressure of the tip kept the words there for later.
“What are you writing?” he asked.
“No- I’m a writer,” I say, without thinking. (I’ll over-think about that later. )
“A professional one?” he asks.
“Is anyone these days? I mean, no media outlet or magazine employs writers, everyone is freelance.
Thus, anyone and everyone could be a writer.”
“Hmmm,” he says.
“ Even you.” I say, unsure whether he’s heard me.
“Idk, I have 50 years of stories to work with but I think, overall I have a bit of a negative outlook on life. Which is unfortunate.”
Before I can ask why, he looks at the door again, as two construction workers come in.
I remember these guys from the other day.
They are the most masculine tradies you’ll ever meet, perhaps plumbers.
They eye me on arrival and then the lady behind the counter, before ordering a meal without looking at the menu.
“Just no bread for him, we’re trying to cut back.”
“Yeah, he’s ballooning.” One of them, pokes the other and laughs.
“ So just make it a wrap thanks.”
“Still with chips?” the lady asks.
They seems like a couple, as they take up their usual seats next to each other.
I guess they spend most of their days together. They probably know more about each other better than their partners do.
When I have this thought, my eyes almost dare to look for that gold glint on their left hands but before I can one of their eyes catches mine and I look away not wanting to draw their eyes.
The old man announces its time he’ll have a cake, except no one hears him.
The lady behind the counter has her back towards him, busy making the builder’s wraps, while also pretending not to hear him.
When she’s ready, he orders his cake in fluent Mandarin. I know he does that for my benefit, so in an act of rebellion I don’t comment on it, despite being quietly impressed.
He then announces to the room that his friend definitely isn’t coming.
My alarm for work goes off in my bag and I silence it and toss it back into my pocket. I’m always late, what’s another few minutes.
And I feel like with old people, they don’t really need someone to say anything, they just need someone to listen.
I liked that he told me he was waiting for a new friend he met at the doctors a day ago. It showed I wasn’t the only one who believed that making friends at any age was important and worth trying.
I find that people in their 20’s are often consumed with this weird tunnel-vision where they are rushing to get old.
Hungry to prove things that they think matter e.g. to show their parents they can finish a degree, work a 9-5 job and potentially marry a nice girl called Sophie with twinkly eyes and a sweet smile.
And because of this rush, people in their 20’s only have time for old friends where the dynamic is easy. Often established in high-school, like an arranged marriage.
Only after a few years and a few friends lighter do people feel the need to try and make friends again in that awkward and socially uncomfortable way. To feel four years old again and ask someone what their name is…
Whereas old people are a different avenue of human, the kind that are being picked off one by one.
Which when you think about it, makes them all a rare and terribly interesting breed. With information often coming out a bit disorientated, like a computer that’s been beaten up by a toddler.
“ I’ve seen a lot in my life but I think it’s been more negative than positive,” the old man tells me again, obviously needing me to lift that lid.
Gary interjects before I can say anything and I’m quietly relieved as I glance at the clock.
I then find my legs and pay for my coffee and while I’m there, I pay for the old man’s as well.
I don’t mind. This man who speaks some Mandarin has charmed my heart.
When I arrive back to my seat another millennial one table closer is happily chatting to him.
I smile, happy I’ve been replaced.
What’s better than being stood up? Meeting two new people.
As I’m leaving the old man tells me and the room,
“ You know, writing is a lonely profession. “
I continue to collect my things, dog, notebook, books and yoga mat.
I stand up to leave and it feels like I’m a Shakespearean character delivering a final soliloquy to paint the audiences’s minds in colour, one last time.
“ It’s funny you say that,” I tell him.
“I feel more lonely when I don’t write. “
I smile and he doesn’t say a thing.
And then Loui and I leave without that sinking feeling of dissatisfaction fresh in my throat, for the first time that week.
And I pack that positivity into my lunchbox and head off to work.