The sun is barely awake, despite it being closer to noon than dawn, and the dim light isn’t enough to draw the chill from the air. A tall woman marches through it, her strides long, her shopping bags full. She’s wrapped up in a thick hoodie, and she’s got trainers on her feet; she was ready for this mission and she chose to accept it. Even so, she clears the stretch of pavement spread beneath my window in less than a minute and nothing, bar the busy traffic, is going to keep her from the hot tea waiting at home.
I notice the man in red plaid as we both stand at the station because as he approaches he limps, but he carries no stick or crutch and is too young for it to reasonably be joint pain. Perhaps he fell down the stairs, slipping on a discarded magazine; he could’ve easily had the limb bashed or crushed during a rugby game, so that’s a possibility; maybe he was attacked by a gang of wild dogs. I don’t ask him. He sits opposite me on the train, and the black curls of his hair shield his eyes as he dozes.
Warm afternoon light, too warm for this time of year, streams through the street-side windows and touches the tanned skin of one of the café’s two baristas. Her hair’s tied up in a large bun, the front shielded by a colourful bandana and her white sleeves have been pushed up past her elbows to get some relief from the heat. I catch the shy glances, and a small suppressed smile as her colleague squeezes past. She watches the barista in the grey cardigan take our order, the clean, wet cloth still in her hand; I know that hidden pain.
She goes home, after the café closes and everything’s packed away, and she goes home alone. Her headphones shield her from the voices, the noises, the world, hands stuffed for heat in the pockets of her jacket, never walking too slow as she walks home, alone. The apartment she returns to, alone, is dark and cold, open windows welcoming in the night to fill the emptiness. The couch she sits on to devour a takeaway is worn down soft from nights spent with a laptop, or the television, or a game. Her bathroom has no shelves of its own, and must make do with cheap plastic stuck to the wall with large clear suction-cups; there are only two of these, as together they can easily carry the load for one.
The silence is isolating, and that’s good, she feels. The café is warm, and busy, but it hurts too much to see her there every day, being so happy and so kind and so funny and so beautiful and then coming home alone, without her. But the apartment isn’t devoid of life, or company, and she remembers this as she goes from windowsill to windowsill with a cheap plastic watering can. Their green leaves, their tiny, hardy blooms remind her that there’s more to her life than just work and who she sees there.