Characters: The Hidden Pleasures of a Coffee Shop

There’s something about the ambiance of a quaint, cosy coffee shop in the centre of a historical city- with bustle on the outside and soft buzzing on the inside. A place laced subtly in life’s simple pleasures, like a cup of coffee that warms your hands, mouth and soul; surrounded by rustic beams and voices as dimmed as the four little lights dotted about the panels above you. There’s an unspoken tranquility about it; an almost celestial one that slipped through my fingers as I switched from a coffee-drinker to a coffee-maker in the middle of a worldwide pandemic: a simple pleasure no longer.

How hard can this be? I thought, yet it was fleeting as I examined the loud, intimidating machine in front of me competing with raised voices around me.

The smell of fresh coffee grounds dominated with a lingering scent of disinfectant, my feelings of tranquility and warmth, replaced with stress and an icy coldness from 8 hour shifts in masks and gloves with no breaks, to implementing distances on people who were once never apart. An atmosphere which I once considered as my place of escapism- that now ironically- I wanted to escape.

“Would you like milk with your latte?” I asked the young girl at the counter, though she needn’t have responded with words for her look of bewilderment from her eyes alone communicated my error.

Though in the days of dark adversity, I somehow found warmth in those dimmed little lights just one last time. There is one of life’s simple pleasures that resided here that my eyes would skim over without a second glance but one that became so essential to soothing the sores of my anxiety-ridden mind that will never be taken for granted again: Characters.

The importance of characters in life I have -until now- so greatly undermined. Some have hurt my stomach from laughter, some have made my eyes sore from tears, yet without them, my workdays would be unbearable. From the woman who stumbled in at 11am asking if we sold alcohol, to the middle-age mothers, with masks below their nose, declaring with bangles jingling on their wrists that Covid is a hoax.

Or the businessmen who meet every Thursday morning, focused and unaware of the chaos that surrounds them.

Even the students who sit quietly for hours on end, so unaware of just how much their stillness is needed. Or Peter, the jovial but equally as humble old man who despite being a famous artist, chooses to sit alone with a tea and scone in this dainty little place. Their diversity as characters has never been so admired as it is by the waitress that serves them. They’re little pleasures hidden in plain sight.

As the jingle of the bell signals the comings and goings, I can’t help thinking that there’s something about the characters of a cold, busy coffee shop in the middle of a world-wide pandemic: They’re what keeps it warm.

Image source: “coffee steam 1” by waferboard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

COVID-19: Hospitalised During a Pandemic

There are three places I’ve never wanted to get familiar with in life: prison, Fubar and hospitals – yet recently – the latter became like an old friend who’s overstayed their welcome after arriving for tea unannounced “to catch up”.

I say this because hospitals have been in and out my life like an old friend for various reasons; a problematic kidney when I was born, a severe migraine when I was ten, and the loss of a loved one at thirteen, and again at fourteen – so not really a friend at all.

On November 18th, 2020, the day after my 21st birthday, that ‘old friend’ came unannounced – but this time was different. This time it stunk of disinfectant, operated like a war zone, and exuded an icy, cold distance from its staff who examined me from meters apart, to its interior that had me feeling like nothing was within my reach – not even normality.

And like an old friend, I felt obliged to stay… I did just take a seizure after all, I thought.

Arriving at the front doors, my boyfriend and I were greeted by staff standing armed with disinfectant like the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace – but I’m afraid the only royalty there was in its name: ‘Inverclyde Royal Hospital’.

After checking in, I was directed to a specific part of the building & with my hand wrapped in my boyfriend’s, proceeded to the lift where a receptionist stopped us: “You can’t go with her, sorry.” 
As if hospitals weren’t already a place where you could be in a crowd of people and still feel so lonely, I thought as I said my goodbyes.

Though I understood that we were in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I still couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t just saying goodbye to my boyfriend, but goodbye to all the necessary information I needed to provide the doctors with about my seizure, as my memory was corrupted – and my boyfriend was my only witness.

Still, I rattled my brain hard for the memories of what I was told happened and relayed them to a petite, curly-haired Irish doctor who stood 2 meters away from me in a vast, four-bed room on J- ward.

Though I soon became familiar with the doctor, the nurses passed in and out of the room like little heroic enigmas, tending to the elderly women in the room yet unsure of me. I could see their brains doing overtime, trying to figure out why a fully clothed girl in jeans is lying on top of a hospital bed. That, and the fact that I pulled the average age of that room down considerably. Yet still, they tended to me, albeit with slight distance and confusion, taking my blood pressure and temperature but never prying for information or engaging in chat.

I can’t say I was disappointed that they never engaged in chat, I’d have been no use anyway. I was still trying to come to terms with both the trauma of my experience and my fragmented memory but though my mouth struggled to speak, my eyes and ears couldn’t have been more alive. As the hours ticked by waiting, that’s all I would find myself doing – listening and observing.

I couldn’t help but be startled by the sight from the bed beside me, a poor, old woman strapped up to the ventilator, the mask on her face signifying a very different message than the mask on mine, as I heard her every struggled breath. When she wasn’t struggling to breathe, she was shouting ‘Help!’ And ‘Sandra!’ repeatedly.

This is real, I thought.

Though I couldn’t have been sure that she had fallen victim to this virus, I could only be sure that what she was experiencing couldn’t have been far off of it – and the reality of losing my breath, depending on a machine for the oxygen in my lungs, falling victim to this virus. It all became too real to me.

Yet, what picture I could paint clearer in my mind – and what ached me the most – is if that were my loved one lying in a hospital bed, deprived of the one essential natural source that should not be taken from us by anything other than time itself. That ached a harsh reality through my person.

It reached 6pm, and I had become well acquainted again with my ‘old friend’ for the past 9 hours. It stayed not only for tea, but for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and yes, it truly overstayed it’s welcome – but I feel no anger towards it, for there was lessons certainly learned – and realities that I was forced to face.

This is real.