Moxi Java Sunday
By the time I had my mug of Moxi Mocha in hand, I realized I would be sitting in the glaring sunlight by the window. By process of elimination this was the only spot left whereby I could observe the entire shop and yet no one would be able to read over my shoulder. A spy needs to plan prudently. I had an assignment on observation for my writing class and my first instincts screamed, “No! No! Don’t do it!” My instincts can be quite loud and pushy when they catch the scent of guilt in the air. My mother’s voice echoed in my mind’s ear and I shuddered as I sat down in the little wooden chair. “It’s not polite to stare. Mind your own business.” The legitimacy of my mission muffled the memory. After all, real writers who actually get paid must do this kind of thing all the time.
I settled in and absorbed the intense, toasty smell of coffee beans that was nearly imbedded into the very walls. The rumble of a train passing through town filtered into the shop as I cased the joint. First of all, absolutely no one could help but notice the two ladies at one of the center bench tables on the south wall. Around them on the floor, table, and bench were strewn books, notebooks, papers, and notes like some kind of an academic explosion! They looked to be in their thirties to early forties. The one lady had very short, blonde hair, sharp features, was wearing shorts and seemed to be in a perpetual forward lean. The other lady had shoulder length, dark, fluffy hair framing a pretty round face with light eyes. She was all dressed in black and was settled quite comfortably into the bench. They were deeply engaged in a discussion of a legal case record. The conversation was dominated by the clear, clipped voice of the lady in shorts. Twas an innocuous conversation. I relaxed.
To the right of the law ladies in the corner table sat a young girl in a T-shirt and jeans with her dark hair pulled up high on the back of her head in a jaunty ponytail. She was scrunched down over a paperback book she had pulled from her backpack and was taking notes in a little spiral notebook. Slowly. Painfully. She would pause often, look about and linger over her coffee. Her dark eyes confessed that she went to a much more interesting and comforting place. But then she would return, rearrange herself on the bench and hunker down over the book again for a short while. Apparently whatever it was she had to do was no easier to do at the coffee shop.
High spirited laughter caught my attention. The young waitress had a pile of books on the table closest to her workstation in the corner. I was impressed that she had remembered the one and only other time I had been there, and that I had a moxi-mocha with vanilla whipped cream. She knew several customers by name and preference. Each time she was finished waiting on customers she retreated to her table to chat with a girlfriend who’d stopped by. The waitress had light brown hair that was piled in a wild, random pattern above her wire rim glasses, huge eyes, and wide grin. Her friend had short dark hair that radiated electric energy. Her left leg seemed to be practicing a sprint and nearly became a blur as they sat discussing the difficulty in locating research materials in the library. It made me jittery to watch her, so I continued my investigation of the patrons.
To my left in the center of the room two tables were singularly occupied. At the table closest to the workstation sat a charming little lady in her hot pink sweat suit and tennis shoes. Her graying hair was pulled up in a neat bun and behind her wire rims you could see tasteful light brown eye shadow. She had on a touch of rouge and her faded lipstick had probably matched her outfit when she had left the house. Her purse was in one chair and her green backpack was on the floor by her feet. A stack of books surrounded her on the table and she wrote steadily. She never looked up. She never drank her coffee.
Lastly, I attempted to focus on the ambiguous person who was at the table closest to me. My first impression had been that it was a female. I had tried to sneak a couple of glances since I first sat down, but had not been able to make a quick gender determination. The person was sitting in a chair facing me and that made it very difficult to play detective. Occasionally the person did lean over the table to write on note cards and then I could take longer looks.
I had thought it was a woman, but the more I looked the more I was not sure. On the table were two large, hardbound books that were open and layered upon each other, a refillable plastic Moxi Java mug, and two perfect stacks of huge note cards. I had never seen note cards that big before. They must have been five by seven inches! They were bright canary yellow. They were not pink or blue. On the upper right hand side of the table the cards were stacked perfectly, smoothly and evenly. A big, pudgy hand with short bitten nails would pick up one card carefully off the top of the right hand pile. While holding the card with thumb and forefinger, the stack was neatly squared with the back three fingers. After very earnestly taking some notes, the card was placed on the left hand pile and swiftly squared with the now unencumbered hand. An interesting, acquired, single-handed skill, but it told me nothing.
I watched the person write with a huge, thick, black pen and didn’t think it looked like a pen that a woman would use. Leaning and concentrating over the note cards gave me the opportunity to assess; very short, flat, brown hair; a round face with a bulb of a nose; dark, thick eyebrows; rather coarse, rough skin; no make-up, purse, ring, or earrings; and wearing a big, black, plastic watch on the left wrist. Having a huge, barrel shaped, lumpy, wide body I could not determine if there were any specific lumps under the baggy, black T-shirt that were conclusively feminine lumps. Even the big, well-worn, brown, leather book bag with it’s short handles was non-descriptive. When I caught a glimpse of black polyester shorts and the black T-shirt tucked in with a plain brown leather belt, I felt like I had finished a jigsaw puzzle. I could not imagine a woman wearing that outfit voluntarily. Combining that fact with the watch and the pen, I came to the conclusion that it must be a man. I congratulated myself on being not only a good spy, but a talented detective as well. That man had never been aware of me staring, as my mother would say. I was rather enjoying the spy biz!
“Cute shoes!” exclaimed the waitress. She and her friend launched into a new discussion on each of their running partners and how often these partners had backed out of prearranged runs lately. Meanwhile, I hadn’t even noticed the law ladies had begun retrieving all their various supplies. They were scooping and stooping and stashing and sorting. The sun had finally moved just enough to not make my eyes water. A young couple ran in for coffees to go. The waitress filled the shop with the horrendously violent sounds of her machines while they waited holding hands in their own sweet world. Shortly they were out the door and the waitress was back at her table. I wondered why everyone sitting in this coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon was studying something? Another train passed through town and I could feel it through my shoes.
Underneath the light, laughing of the young girls and the drone of light jazz, I picked up the soft, low sound of sorrow in someone’s voice. It was the dark, fluffy lady. She had finished packing up her things but was seated again. Her face had changed. The lady in shorts quickly sat back down across from her and leaned halfway across the table so as to see her eyes and hear the soft sorrow. The dark lady leaned in to confide.
“My best friend in the whole world’s dad is dying of pneumonia...pneumonia... do you believe it? No one dies of pneumonia anymore. She’s devastated...just really devastated”, she whispered.
I sipped at my coffee, wishing I didn’t have so much left.
“She already lost her mother last year from cancer and now this. Can’t believe it...I just can’t believe it. She can’t believe it.” The lady in shorts never said a word. She never reached out her hand.
The pain and futility and helplessness flowed over to me. I did not like spying or detective work. I was invading something private. I couldn’t stop listening.
“He was just emaciated when they found him...long beard...and his fingernails! Oh, and his toenails were really, really long, too. All bones...he was all bones. Hardly any food in the house. They think he wasn’t eating, but they weren’t sure for how long.”
The lady in shorts leaned back in her chair and pulled her chin into her neck.
I finished my Moxi Mocha with whipped cream. I finished it too fast. My burning throat and the glaring sun and the really long fingernails made my eyes well up. Hearing the fear and pain in her voice was like a vibrational arrow stabbing me. My heart spread open towards her. The dark lady sighed. The lady in shorts remained speechless.
If I knew the dark lady I would give her a voice of comfort. I would touch her hand. If I knew her best friend I would let her spill out her anger and sorrow. If I knew her father I would sit by his bed and hold his hand. I would let him know it was okay to miss his wife. But I wasn’t supposed to be listening. I wasn’t supposed to know these things.
If I stayed I was going to lose my tears. I had to leave. I struggled to shut off my ears. As I walked slowly up to the front counter with my empty cup, my mother’s voice chastised me. “See? Warned you to mind your own business”. Funny how my mind’s ear was not as easily shut off.
“Was it as good as last time?” the waitress called to me. I nearly dropped my mug.
“Yes, it sure was. Thank you.”
“Good. I try to make them really good...the same, you know?”, she grinned.
“Every bit as good as last time, for sure. You have a great afternoon.”
“You too”, she called as she turned back to her friend and their laughter.
As I turned to leave I noticed that under the table, beneath the perfect, perfect stacks of yellow index cards, were a pair of pink and white tennis shoes.
I guess a person should trust her first instincts.