Habits of the Invisible Masses

I’m a creature of habit, always have been. Some may find this bemusing but it doesn’t offend me, I need to function in an ordered, predictable world, one that makes sense. I don’t have a mobile phone, I don’t want one, they bring jarring disruption to my routine. If I’m needed on a Saturday morning I’ll always be found at my local food market, and if anyone wants me on a weekday lunchtime I’ll be in Sammy’s Cafe, which is where I am now.

I like Sammy’s Cafe, it’s convenient since it’s on the corner of the street where I work but it’s also far enough away from the office that not many others will follow. I have become a regular here since my peculiarities forbid me to go anywhere else and I’ve come to favour one table in the dining room above the rest. It catches the sun around noon, I can bathe in its happy glow if the clouds grant passage and observe the rest of the room from my corner.

My table has a window through which I watch the urban wildlife outside jostling for position on the crowded street, I’m thankful that I’ve stepped away for a short hour to this clattering oasis. I find I can ignore the once abrasive noise of the radio or the disruptive chatter of friends catching up around me. I’ve got used to the hum of noise in the cafe, the dull but continuous clashing of pans from the busy kitchen, the ting of the bell when they’ve worked through their order, it’s now a trigger for my mind to concentrate on whatever book or script I might be reading whilst in my private bubble of sunshine.

My coffee arrives and I’m told by the young waitress that my food will be along soon, I thank her as she moves away, cloth in hand to wipe down a recently vacated table. I pick up the bowl-like cup with two hands and raise it to inhale deeply before taking a sip and lowering it back down to the saucer below. I’ve always loved the smell of coffee, even as a child I used to hang over my mother’s cup just to catch the scent of the forbidden black liquid. Later, I was so disappointed by the bitterness of this long anticipated delight that I forced it down until I learnt to appreciate it.

The customers in Sammy’s are often varied but another regular diner has appeared over the past few weeks. He doesn’t eat here every day but does so often enough for me to notice his quirks. He, like me, always dines alone and usually at the same table. He is here today, sitting upright but uncomfortably in his dark jeans and similar colour shirt, It’s impossible for a fellow neurotic to mistake the slightly anxious feel to his countenance as he wrings his paper napkin waiting for his food to arrive, I glance at my own neatly shredded napkin pieced back together in a frayed imitation of the original. I’ve often wondered if he’s challenging himself too, he never looks like he wants to be here at all and rarely finishes his meal before he pays and leaves. I am waiting for his meal to arrive with as much anticipation as he is, to see what he’s ordered and whether he’ll eat it with a spoon, he always eats with a spoon.

The sun disappears behind a cloud while I am taking my next sip of coffee, the instant drop in temperature reminds me that I’ll soon have to venture back into the crowd and be swept along the street to my office. A glance at the clock consoles me that there’s still thirty minutes of my lunchtime sabbatical remaining until I brave that journey.

The man across the room has received his lunch now, he’s ordered lasagne and sure enough, he’s eating it with a spoon. I wonder if he knows I am watching him and feel a stab of sorrow for his discomfort. He must be aware this is considered slightly odd behaviour yet he is obviously compelled to do it anyway. I am struck by his bravery for meeting social customs head on and feel an odd sense of pride on his behalf as I smile to myself.

My food arrives at that moment and as my plate is lowered to the table I see the man glance up, I am no longer watching him but I see enough in my peripheral vision to know which way he’s looking. As the waitress walks away, I pick up my spoon, and tuck into my pasta salad with the silent acknowledgment to the man that he’s not alone.

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