Maybe it was the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans. Or perchance it was the names of influential authors decorating the walls – Faulkner, Hemingway, Kipling, Yeats, and Steinbeck. Whatever the reason, the quiet bookstore situated off the bustling city street was a personal sanctuary for Evan.
Others found solace in the smoky confines of a pub, the noisy background and alcoholic influences drowning out the stressors of any given day. Evan never subscribed to this form of social medication. It wasn’t because of some moral dilemma that he shied away from this modus operandi for so many others. He had tried it himself on my different occasions – beer, wine, vodka, and scotch – they all placated his animosity temporarily, but it returned tenfold when the short-lived effects released their grip on him.
Evan was a thinker. He wasn’t one to push any occurrence, good or bad, to the mental filing cabinet before investigating it from every perspective, certain that there was some hidden nugget of wisdom to be mined from every experience. There was no amount of alcohol, smoke, or codependent bearing of the soul hunched over on a barstool that would ever allow him to reach his objective – a quiet and reflective journey within that allowed him to arrive at the same place he had previously been and see it as if for the first time.
That is why Evan found himself seated in his favorite bookstore café, looking left then right as if to absorb the information and knowledge in the books surrounding him through the power of osmosis. Four paces to the right in cooking and he has, at is fingertips, the steps required to create the most perfect flan in his kitchen. Eleven steps ahead in the music section and he too could learn how to play the melodic syncopation of the ukulele sounds streaming from the speakers above him. Seven strides to the right into the shelves of fiction and he is presented with a plethora of adventure stories, hidden caverns filled with elusive treasure, protected by the most ingenious measures, concealed to everyone save for those few who chose to look closer with a discerning eye. Evan wanted to be one of those few.
With both hands wrapped around the glass hot to the touch, Evan was unable to see the steam venting from the hot liquid confined to its container. The small dollop of whipped cream on the surface was preventing that heat, that metaphorical tension, from escaping. Slowly, however, that whipped cream succumbed to the influence from the espresso below, dissolving into the mocha flavored java, allowing the inevitable release of heat. The physical realities of the natural world had a way of opening Evan’s mind to the more esoteric complexities of the world that were unable to be seen by the human eye.
The rustic wooden chair that he sat upon creaked with every subtle movement. Leaning onto the table built from splintering wood, its four legs rocked back and forth from its imperfect construction. We all have our own problems, imperfections, and stumbling blocks, thought Evan. It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we respond to it. He had read that in at least one of the volumes surrounding him right now, perhaps in several of them.
Sometimes Evan found himself in this sanctuary out of habit. Today, however, a specific catalyst accounted for his presence at the café table. As he loosened his tie in an attempt to quell the hostility beginning to resurface, he recalled the events of the staff meeting earlier that day. It was one thing to disagree with a colleague’s opinion. That was natural and necessary. It was quite another to backhandedly undermine another colleague’s suggestion in the name of personal gain. As deeply as he contemplated the scenario, Evan could not find an angle that made any logical sense other than pure, unadulterated greed. His patience for this bureaucratic and political landscape of big business was waning with every supporting circumstance.
Looking back up from his coffee, eyes perusing the other patrons in the café, Evan noticed a couple three tables over, just out of earshot. A middle aged man and a slightly younger woman sat across from each other. The man was slouched over the table, head in his hands, right leg bouncing up and down with anxiety. The woman held a much more composed demeanor, sitting more upright, reaching across the table with her left hand. The diamond ring on her left finger sent Evan’s thoughts running rampant.
Was this woman a mistress, now just breaking the news that she was, in fact, married? Was the man hiding something from the woman across from him, attempting to work up the courage to share it with her? Or maybe the two individuals were brother and sister, figuring out how to deal with the failing health of their parents, one handling it better than the other? Evan surmised that he had perhaps read too many far-fetched novels filled with unexpected plot twists, but the possibilities were endless. His curious nature was too strong.
Feigning indifference to the developing situation, Evan rose from his customary table, laptop in tow, and meandered towards the periodicals, picking up the closest magazine within his grasp. Wandering slowly back into the café area, he chose a different seat, slightly closer to the couple. Flipping through the pages of his recently acquired magazine, he could hear the exchange of voices between the two.
“What are we going to do,” the man pleaded with desperation.
“It’s OK, we will get through this,” reassured the woman.
“But, the mortgage, the college fund for the kids – heck, the electric bill – how are we going to get through this,” he questioned with a bit more urgency.
“Honey, just because I lost my job doesn’t mean there isn’t another one out there for me. It might take a little time and patience, but we will get through this.” She reached across the table and tenderly took hold of his hand.
As the man’s hands uncovered his face, Evan could see the tears running down his cheek. He thought once again of the whipped cream in his coffee cup. Just like the steam trapped within, emotions always find a way to seep through the barriers suppressing them. Sometimes, it takes more time, more persuasion, and more reflection to bring those emotions out into the world. Sometimes we need to be able to accept those feelings ourselves before we can even contemplate sharing them with others. There is always another angle, thought Evan.
As if controlled by his subconscious mind, he leaned over and retrieved the laptop from its case. His eyes drawn to the author’s names on the wall, his gaze fell upon one in particular – George Bernard Shaw. Evan recalled a quote from this great playwright – Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
Looking back down at his open laptop, a blank document and a blinking cursor greeted Evan’s eyes. It was both a challenge and an opportunity, a blank canvas awaiting the unique brushstrokes that only he could compose. And with that thought, his fingers began to dance across the keyboard – Maybe it was the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans …