Monday, 19 January 2009

SNAPSHOTS: The woman at the cafe

A post that Lilly at wrote over the Christmas/New Year holidays reflecting on conversations ‘overheard during the festive season’ reminded me of the importance (especially as a writer) of ‘active observational and listening skills’ i.e. being keen observers of the world around us! This short piece was written (some time ago) while I sat people watching at a Starbucks cafe in Birmingham – an activity I so enjoy doing as I love creating stories around the people I encounter through my eyes and imagination (smile). It fascinates me the glimpses or snapshots we get of people's lives (in this way) - real or imagined or fabricated (lol)! I often wonder what story would be written about me if I were the one being observed in this way (giggle)!

The woman at the café

She orders a skinny latte and settles herself at a corner table, overlooking the honey stones of St Martin’s and the aluminium-bubbles of Selfridges. She rises again – as if an afterthought – and unbuttons her knee-length coat, revealing a dark striped skirt-suit. Underneath, a marigold blouse, its frills spill out of her suit-jacket, which she also unfastens, removes, and hangs over her coat. Taking her seat again – cross-legged and boasting three-inch heels – she rummages through a large leather handbag and pulls out a mini-glossy: Vogue. Her latte arrives and she caresses the mug absent-mindedly, while flicking through the magazine. After a few minutes, she takes a delicate sip. I notice her face, heart-shaped; it whispers that she’s forty-something. The mannequin-stretch of skin over sinew declares a daily gym routine – more Esporta babe, than L.A. Fitness.

Suddenly, her phone rings. I recognise the Escala signature ringtone. Half closing her magazine, she picks up the call. Leaning into the phone, her long hair falls around her shoulders in cascades of chestnut-brown. She listens, and then responds. As the conversation continues, she has stopped taking sips from her drink and begins to tap the table edge, as if playing an imaginary keyboard; her nails are neat, well-manicured. The call ends and her fingers freeze. There is a strange look on her face, tight – somewhat agitated. Her blue eyes have darkened. They turn and stare out of the glass panes. The evening sun has faded inviting the shadows, so I cannot tell what it is she is looking at – if anything. She remains rigid for several seconds. Then, without warning, she collects her bag for a second time, from the floor, and begins to search for something. She empties its contents on the table, around her drink, and on top of the now abandoned magazine. A couple of things fall to the floor: a lipstick, an inhaler. She lets out a curse under her breath as she retrieves them. She starts to inspect each object, paying close attention to the paper items. Halfway through, she pauses – opens up a slim glasses-case and puts on her designer pair before carrying on with her search. Her lips are pursed. When the waiter comes to ask if she wants anything more – she is abrupt, with a terse nod of her head. After many minutes of frantic movement, she stops. Her whole body visibly shakes and she allows her bowed head to be cushioned in her hands. She doesn’t make a sound but her trembling body tells the story of someone awash with some curious grief. After a time, as if remembering her public surroundings, she straightens herself and picks up a napkin. With it, she wipes her eyes and blows her nose. Her breathing calm again, she tidies her face using a small decorative mirror – a gift from her mother, or a lover? She touches up her pale cheeks with a foundation brush and applies some lipstick, strawberry-rouge. By this time, she is sporting a forced smile. Raising one hand to the air she motions to the waiter. I think she is going to request the bill, instead she asks for another skinny latte.

By Catherine Mark-Beasant


rebecca said...

Wow, nicely done Catherine. So sad though. A lesson that if we were to really pay attention to the world around we could see the different textures of emotions - pain, love, hate, joy - that lives amongst us. I, for one, walk dreamily along day after day absorbed in my own thoughts. I wonder how many have watched me and wondered what story my face and body told that day.

I liked this very much. I liked the story - so well written - and I liked how you came about the story. A definite lesson here for this wanderlust spirit whose Muse sometimes does not wish to visit. :)

Sarah said...

This tugs at my heart, but I think it must be because it is so well written.

Kudos to you!


Lilly's Life said...

Catherine, thanks for the link. Iloved that story and it made me wonder what had happneed to her. I ma sure I have done something similar too, many times over. I love people watching I really do. Lots of cafes for you to go to in Melbourne to do just that! You are a brilliant writer.

June Saville said...

Hi Catherine
I have been known to make up an entire history about someone I observe in a coffee shop. Right then and there! My friends will tell you it is so.
June in Oz

Cynthia said...

What an excellent observer you are.
And you have the ability to translate what you see. I feel most
of this comes from your inner
heart and writing talent of course.

lissa said...

I like all the details and the way she moves, and I think your assumptions added more emotions to the piece and it seem to be just what she was thinking, you've captured her so perfectly

I feel like I am right there, sitting where you are and watching the same scene, I wonder would I write the same thing if I had written this

Random Hiccups said...

Well done! I also love writing (obviously) specifically writing about the people I see while I am living life. Great job! :)

Sarah-Paige said...

Hello Catherine
This piece is amazing, I felt as if I had been sitting in that cafe watching her alongside you!

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and for your lovely comment.
I often people watch too...and then try and put their emotions into a poem :)

Also I want to wish you the best of luck in your pursuit of raising awareness for AIDS/HIV. That is a fantastic cause to put your wonderful talent to :)


CathM said...

@Rebecca: Thank you for your insightful thoughts!

@Sarah: Thanks for your positive comments!

@Lilly: re link to Lilly’s Life... you are VERY welcome as your blogspace is great fun, engaging and entertaining! And thanks for your generous comments on this piece!

@June: Thanks for the comment. And it’s been great having some ‘deep and meaningful’ convos at your blog zone!

@Cynthia: I appreciate your kind words!

@Lissa: Thank you for your thoughts. Hmmmm... I do wonder what you would have written if you’d witnessed the same scene (lol)!

@Random H: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I will keep tabs on your blog too!

@Sarah-Paige: Thanks for visiting and for leaving such positive thoughts!

@Faith: Welcome to my blog-o-sphere and joining up as a ‘blogging comrade’!


Ms. Catherine

The story opens like the opening of the door of a large and stalely building, a castle with nice sight-seeing inside. Here is the smell of the things to come :
1 She rises again – as if an afterthought..

2 I notice her face, heart-shaped;
it whispers that she’s forty-something.

The it runs with literary richness:
A couple of things fall to the floor: a lipstick, an inhaler.

(One polite suggestion: if you mention here the color of the lipstick, a lady needing an inhaler would be using, it would have been more telling about the character of the lady involved.)

This space is utterly small to tell what I felt while reading the piece of writing here.

(By the way I am glad to know that I am on your reading list. We shall keep meeting here.)

Naval Langa

Cherie/ Butterfly Dreamer said...

I love the sense I was sitting nearby and watching.

Ponderer said...

People watching is one of the best insights to lives of others for no one is truly alone in this world. Enjoyed this Cath ! Cheryl

DJ Rogue said...

Very well done Cath. I enjoyed it immensely!

CathM said...

@Naval: Thank you for your comment and suggestion.

@Cherie: Thank you!

@Cheryl: Thanks for your thoughts.

@DJ Rogue: Thank you for stopping by and reading! Cheers!

Athelas said...

It's wonderful that although you clearly interpret the character uniquely and give the scene emotion, you stay somehow objective enough to keep the reader an observer through your eyes.

Does that make sense? lol. It's a complement anyway if it doesn't.
It's great to know there are so many people watchers out there (I'm assuming this from the above comments).
Thank you for commenting on my blog!

CathM said...

@Athelas: Welcome to my blog! Thank you for your wonderful comment. A great compliment and totally understood!