His hair is a short tight crop of greying black. He sits upright, folds his arms and watches the world go by. Every few minutes his head bows, a green straw goes into his mouth and he sucks. The ice cold water flushing the nicotine down his neck. I wonder if his teeth hurt?
He is wearing grey sweat pants and dirty white plimsolls. His table is particular. One napkin under the ice cold water, another neatly placed next to it. He fingers it occasionally. He places both arms behind his back and clasps his fingers tight – he’s practising table yoga.
He has been in that chair for the past two hours. The only time he leaves is to smoke a cigarette, or to replace his ice cold water. He doesn’t buy any food. He doesn’t buy any coffee. He is doing nothing except wasting electricity, and a seat for a paying customer.
He is nothing like me, and everything like me.
He is lonely.
A man who doesn’t know what to do, where he fits in, or what his role is. Sit and talk about life purpose with this man and he will look at you as if you have spoken to him in Swahili.
This is routine. I can smell it. He hasn’t just decided to spend today in this particular Starbucks. No way hosay.
I may see pointlessness, but his foot tapping screams meaning. This is a man who feels jailed by his own four walls. Who sits at home and wonders how he is going to stop them from closing in on him. Crushing his bones. Nothing but dust.
I know because it’s me.
The silence pains me, as it does him. At least in this place he can listen to the tapping of my keys, the sounds of Jackie Wilson pouring out of the speaker above his head; Christ, even the annoying fuckwit next to me, who cannot stop talking so loudly about his business on his mobile phone, is music to his ears.
I used to live in a house that was filled with sound. Now I don’t. I decided to stop drinking and everyone left me. I even left myself. I don’t know who I am anymore? How can you love someone you cannot find? That’s not love. That’s suffering. I am lost. So is the man with the green straw. That’s why I know him. That’s why I see what’s going on.
I want to be accepted.
I have wanted it all my life.
That little Chinky boy who was made to feel so different, is the same Chinky boy who sits in front of this keyboard today. Some things change, others don’t. A lifetime of fitting in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today, it doesn’t.
I had no idea that this would happen when I stopped drinking. That the voices would stop. The people would stop caring. That I would look into the mirror and see nothing but what stands behind me.
I miss something. It’s not alcohol. I don’t want to drink alcohol. But I miss something, of that there is no doubt. Like the man in front of me sipping his ice water. Something is not quite right.
He has just scratched his head.
That says it all.
A simple head scratch.
That’s what my life is like today.
But that’s ok. Tomorrow is a different day. Some people say it will never come, but I know it will.
When it does I will try once more to forgive myself. It’s never easy, but I get the feeling I am inching closer every time I try.
He gets up from his chair, walks over to the counter and the girl gives him another icy cold water.
Neither of them smile, neither of them say anything.
It’s as if he isn’t even there.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Caie cc @flickr.com