doing nothing

It was with no little glumness that I took a table in a crowded Saturday afternoon coffee shop.  I was bored and irritable and had no plans for the whole of the weekend, just as I hadn’t for the few days preceding and following it.  My last in-person conversation occurred sometime around midweek.  This was the best I could do for entertainment.  I selected a new album on my iPod, opened Madame Bovary and lifted a mug of coffee to my lips.  Half hour or so here then I’d duck into the cinema.

I knew some people would kill for this level of quality alone-time but I wasn’t one of them.  This was regular for me.  To the point of extremely dull.  In fact, none of this was especially noteworthy up until this point.

A dark-skinned girl in her early to mid-twenties took the recently vacated window bar seat a couple of steps in front of me and started crying.  At first I wondered if it wasn’t itchy-eyed hayfever as I’d seen a few others suffering with, but this was too persistent.  Her shoulders shook, she was properly bawling.  Facing directly onto a busy street I could see the occasional passer-by double-taking her and looking back; a middle-aged lady with concern, a young attractive woman with distaste.

I took out an earphone, considering saying something.  “Do you want to talk about it?”?  Maybe?  Suddenly aware of myself, I wished I’d been in a group, part of a couple, even with my mother: some company who’d give me more credibility than I had being some lone guy.  I hate that about often being a lone guy, the immediate untrustworthiness, the potential threat, the caution quite reasonably exercised.  I probably wouldn’t trust me to look at.

Her hands kept wiping the tears away.  Facing the large expanse of window pane it seemed a literal cry for help, almost a sideshow for shoppers.  Men might at the most face a wall in a public place; not the street.

Could I just toss a portable pack of hayfever emergency tissues onto the window bar in front of her?  Would that gesture be enough?  I wasn’t reading my book at all.  I still had one earphone in, one out, dangling on the table in front of me, prepared to listen to a reply, if I felt brave enough to ask a question.  But she had her back squarely to me.  I had no chance of just catching her eye.  It could only be a bold extension of support, not a subtle ‘here if you need me’ glance.

This limbo went on for some time.  She managed to drink some of her drink and intermittently stem the flow of her tears, but never completely.

I felt crap.  I was crap.  I shouldn’t worry about such potential perceptions.  Of course she would most likely ignore my offer, shrug it off.  And the majority probably wouldn’t extend an offer of help.  Most people would sit and watch and do nothing, as I was doing.  I don’t consider myself a do-goody Christian, and I’m not religious in any way, but these were not valid reasons not to offer at all.

After a few more minutes she collected her handbag, turned around in her chair and left, never appearing to register me.  Her face was washed pale, her eyes empty and shattered.  She turned right out of the doorway and for a moment I considered following her down the street, still wrestling with my guilt at sitting and watching her and doing nothing for so long.  Chasing her down the street would have been more strange than saying something inside the coffee shop, offering a tissue.

No.  I replaced my spare, dangling headphone into my ear and tried to concentrate on the book.

I felt considerably more glum than when I’d sat down.

Ten minutes later I left for the cinema, where I watched Swinging With The Finkels, a knuckle-chewingly terrible Americanised comedy set in London and starring Martin Freeman – a good albeit slightly typecast comic actor.  It made me even more miserable.

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One Response to doing nothing

  1. annajskye says:

    hello, I like your honesty in this post ….I probably would have done the exact same thing as you and felt just as guilty when the moment for action had gone.

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