I should mention this is a piece of fiction unless otherwise noted.
I used to be a so-called “hopeless romantic.” My favorite type of movie? Rom-coms. My favorite type of novel? Anything with some romance. How did I envision my life? I was the main character in all the stories: the hero, the one who goes on a journey, falls in love at the end, and lives happily ever after, complete with their partner, soulmate, forever love.
How did my real life turn out? Pretty uneventful. I bought into the narratives Hollywood sold and packaged, believing I would be that one in a million. I would find that person and it would be us against the world. The first day of school, walking into the room, catching the attention of the unassuming attractive person in the corner, making eye contact, falling in love. My friends didn’t help much either. We were all drunk on the same liquor, intoxicated past the legal limits. We all watched the same films, read the same novels, and dreamed the same dreams.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a dream, and nothing wrong with romance and love, but how much love did I miss growing up because I believed in the one, the only, romantic love? How many moments did I miss sitting, laughing, smiling, crying with my friends because I was obsessed with finding my one and only “true” love? How I missed those days…
The ground starts to darken outside, the brick pavement turning from chalky red to a deep crimson as droplets of rain fall from the clouds graying over the mid-afternoon sky. I see people on the street opening up their umbrellas, rushing under the overhangs of businesses to escape the wet. I sip my already lukewarm cup of tea and nibble at a stale scone as I stare out of the fingerprint-smudged glass in front of me. My open Word doc on my computer sits empty. I am deep in my mind, reminiscing. Moving to a new city is exciting, but no one tells you how lonely it feels. How hard it is to make friendships as an adult. I sit here remembering all that I left behind. How eager I was to get away from it all, to chase something “bigger,” something “better” than before.
At this moment, I find myself clinging to my hopeless romantic, hoping I might strike up a lively conversation with the person sitting a few seats away from me. Maybe we will share an interest in freshly baked scones and artisanal tea. Maybe we will share about our past selves, our lives in another time, another place, maybe we find we are meant to be together, that some higher power put us together in this cafe on this Tuesday afternoon to stare through fingerprint smudged glass as the passersby try to escape the falling rain. I find myself projecting an entire future into my fake romantic cafe partner.
A few hours, several cups of tea, and some stale scones later, my fake romantic cafe partner packs up her stuff and walks out. She brushes against my arm as she passes, walking through the narrow passageway to the door. We don’t even exchange glances.
Maybe she’ll come back. Maybe one of these days we’ll notice each other, always sitting here on this Tuesday afternoon with a cup of tea and a scone, intensely staring out the window with an open Word doc. Maybe she’ll glance at a few words and ask me what I am working on. I’ll share about my work as a writer, and she’ll share about her job as a consultant. We’ll carry the conversation into the night…
Long story short, I never see her again. I come back to the cafe, the same time every week and see different faces every time. I mean, I wasn’t trying to see her again; I simply was just showing up when I normally show up. I am not trying to see her. I mean, I don’t know anything about her. I quietly give up in my mind.
Weeks go by, but routines remain the same. Every Tuesday sitting in the same seat with the same cup of tea and scone staring out the fingerprint smudged window with an empty Word doc sitting in front of me. The blinking vertical line stares at me, eagerly waiting for me to uncover the next paragraph, but I sit without a word in my mind. A growing pit in my stomach echoes a sense of sadness, longing. Something is different about today, the sun shines against a blue sky announcing fake spring. A short break from the gray clouds and rain that usually blankets the city. The streets are alive as people take advantage of the suddenly warm weather. Couples carry picnic baskets filled to the brim with cold cuts and charcuterie boards.
In this seemingly endless moment of joy on earth I find my own feelings of longing and loneliness amplified. Perhaps I was happier when I could share the same feelings with the sky. Knowing that mother nature herself had her bad days, but today we are out of sync. Today the cafe sits empty, today the chairs remain neatly tucked beneath the counter, today the fingerprint smudges on the window are even more apparent. Unable to camouflage behind a gray sky, the bright sun exposes how long it's been since the window was last cleaned.
Perhaps that's why no one is inside today. The outside is once more beautiful than the inside. The outside, in all its shining glory amplifies the ugliness of the indoors and draws its willing victims to picnics under the sun to bask for a moment in its warmth before returning to its normal moody self. Maybe the sun is meant to burn the whole…
I get up before my thoughts get too ahead of me. I close the lid of my computer. The blinking vertical line will have to keep waiting. I finish my tea and scone, tip the barista and walk out into the bright sun. The sun has sipped every bit of moisture from the earth. I see the remnants of somebody's spilled coffee from this morning, long dried into an amorphous patch of brown. I head to the park a couple blocks away. As expected, it's crowded, the field filled to the brim with couples on blankets, with picnic blankets, and charcuterie boards. I keep walking. Past the park, past the mid afternoon traffic on the main road, and into the city's financial district. The city suddenly transitions from a dusty red to a tepid gray. The newest part of the city, the sidewalk, is made of concrete rather than brick, the buildings, shiny glass and metal spires that grow into the air. It is both stunningly beautiful and horrific at the same time. There is no life here, and under the bright sun, amplified through the glass, it is as sterile as a surgical suite.
I wander through this part of the city with little expectations. It's a desert devoid of anything except office buildings and high rises.
As I pass an alleyway between buildings, something catches my eye. A single yellow flower peeking out from around a shiny metal pipe. Probably one of the pipes that ventilates the massive office buildings, keeping it a cool zero degrees on this hot day. Curiosity gets the best of me, and I begin to walk down the alleyway. As I get closer, I see a single yellow chrysanthemum peeking through a crack of the otherwise sterile pavement. In this part of the city, where no life can possibly grow, I wonder how this flower managed to seep its way through the tiniest crack, and blossom.
I keep walking down the alleyway.
When I come back to the cafe the following week, everything seems back to normal, but somehow different. The gray skies have returned, the stale scones and tea are exactly the same, but the fingerprints on the window have disappeared like an apparition frightened away by cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth. Along the window counter there are small vases, each holding a single chrysanthemum. The yellow reflects on the now clear glass as I stare out into the street again. The brick is a dark red from the rain that poured earlier that morning. Everything feels back to normal. I open my computer and let the words flow...
As the sun begins to creep down, I leave the cafe. On the way out, I tip the barista and ask where the flowers came from. She directs me to a place just outside the financial district, I step outside and begin to head downtown.
The rain begins to pour as I pass the park a couple blocks down. The field is empty this time, the rain and darkening sky deterring anyone from being outdoors. It's strangely peaceful as my shoes make a soft squishing sound walking over the wet grass and earth. The smell of rain fills the air, the soft scent of humidity and grass. I look up and continue to walk towards the financial district illuminated by fluorescent bulbs as office workers clocking out. As I approach, I note that the gray weather makes the district feel even grayer. The clouds and darkening sky camouflage the office buildings and skyscrapers like a chameleon would a tree; Its skin perfectly matching the color of the backdrop. It is in the sea of gray that a hint of yellow peeks from around the corner of a building where the brick turns into concrete. The edge of the financial district. I slowly approach as the rain thickens. No longer able to stand the water as it begins to seep into my clothes, I search my bag for an umbrella. I shuffle my belongings around as rain begins to drip into my bag. Nothing. I must have left it in the cafe as I was walking out. Swinging my bag back around my shoulder, I keep walking. The water runs down my spine pulling me into the present. I have no choice but to accept this current situation. I keep walking closer and closer to the yellow flower in the distance, its color contrasting the darkening gray surroundings continue to draw me in. Like a miner who just discovered gold, I am strangely mesmerized.
As I near the flower, a sudden gust of wind blows it back around the corner. I pick up my pace. I am nearing where the brick pavement ends and where the concrete begins. Even though my destination is out of sight, I think I know what to expect as I round the corner. I look into the distance as the city begins to settle into the night, the rain, still pouring, has started to lessen. A crack in the clouds is beginning to form. I look up and see the stars, their light peeking through.
I turn the corner, and am overwhelmed by what I saw. In a little yard tucked between buildings are rows and rows of planter boxes filled with yellow chrysanthemums. The boxes form a little path which I begin to trace with my eyes. I am fully present, the cold rain dripping through my clothes to my skin, the stars above, peeking through the clouds, and the sight and smell of flowers, so many flowers. A drop of water lands on my tongue and I taste the acidity of the city downpour. I raise my head slowly trying to take in the moment. No thoughts in my mind, no worries of the past, no projections of the future. I am here, and I am now. As my line of sight moves slowly deeper and deeper into the garden, passing rows and rows of flowers, I take in a breath, and at the other end, I see…
Editors: Amelia P., Marie H., Nicole O.
Image Source: Unsplash