The atmosphere in the coffee shop is harried. A few hours earlier, the coffee shop was much quieter and bathed in the soft light of the very early morning. Few people entered and exited as though they had all the time in the world, pausing to look at the paintings on the walls, speaking in soft tones and sipping at their mugs slowly. That time has now passed. The coffee shop is now receiving the tail end of the usual morning crowd and the tinkling of the bell on the back of the door seems to be a constant echo throughout the small shop. The air seems frantic as last-minute stragglers dodge traffic as they hurry to the coffee shop, hoping to get their morning fix before hastening to arrive at their workplaces on time.
The barista does not mind the frenzy. He does not raise his voice at customers who all but bark their orders at him. He does not roll his eyes as a young girl hangs her apron on a hook and enters the break room without asking his permission, well aware that her services are needed on the floor. He does not flinch when his newest waitress drops a tray of glass; he simply repairs the shards of glass with a flick of his wand, accepting her nervous apologies with a smile and a comforting hand to her shaking shoulders. He does not panic when he enters the supply room and finds an empty box which is usually filled with packets of cinnamon.
The barista is used to the business of the coffee shop. More, he enjoys it. Though his hands appear to be a blur as he pours milk from a jug to a cup and simultaneously stirs another cup, though he does not have a moment to stand still, though the line of customers almost reaches the door, the barista continues to make orders with a slight smile on his face. He enjoys every part of his work, from mopping mud treks to watching the joy spread across the face of a young waitress when she successfully masters the art of carrying two plates on one arm. He attacks his work with the same youthful energy that he did many years earlier when he was working in an even smaller coffee shop as a dishwasher, dreaming one day of owning his own slice of heaven.
Carefully placing the lid on a steaming cup of coffee, the barista places the cup on the counter and taps his wand on the side of the cup. A second later, a burly man places his glowing token in a small jar on the counter, picks the cup up and hurries out of the coffee shop. Glancing at the thinning queue of customers, the barista cannot help but feel some relief. Yes, he adores every part of his work, but even the sweet aroma of coffee beans that he has grown to love is not enough for him to forget the pain that is slowly spreading across his lower back. Against his better judgement, he had spent the previous evening helping his daughter move furniture. Though he had arrived home with every intention of spending a quiet evening with his wife, it had taken one pleading look from her dark brown eyes and he had agreed. His wife had warned him of the strain he would likely place on his back but he had scoffed at her. Rolling his shoulder and grimacing at the pain that suddenly shoots down his side, the barista reflects that, as usual, his wife was correct.
A thump startles him out of his musings and the barista turns his head to the doorway and is greeted by the sight of a young man apologising to another man who he had accidentally pushed into the wall in his haste to enter the coffee shop. The pain in his back forgotten, the barista shakes his head and smirks to himself as he opens another carton of milk. Every day since that cold morning a few weeks ago, the same young man has found his way to the coffee shop. In a few short weeks, the young man has tried almost every concoction the coffee shops orders and has sat at every table in the coffee shop. The barista does not know if the young man has started to recognise him, but he would not be surprised if the young man does not even remember the colour of the baristaís hair.
The young man does not come to the coffee shop to make small talk with the barista. He does not come to the coffee shop for the lively atmosphere or the warmth that permeates the air as customers laugh with one another. The young man does not even come for the coffee or the muffins that the baristaís wife has been told many times are the best this side of the River Thames. No, the young man comes for something else entirely.
Every morning, to the baristaís endless amusement, the young man orders a cup of coffee (one the barista is sure is never appreciated the way he believes his coffee should be), sits at a table and waits for his daily glimpse of a young woman who, the barista is well aware, is becoming the most important person in the young manís life. The young man never speaks to the young woman. Instead, he sits quietly and watches her. His eyes rove over her, taking in every detail of the lines of her face, the slight flare of her hips, the locks of her hair that never seem to sit in place on her slim shoulders.
If it were any other young man, the barista would have approached him by now and spoken to the young man about his behaviour. The barista is a soft-spoken man, but can speak with a steely determination; the barista is sure that, should he wish, he could scare the young man away from the coffee shop permanently. Though the barista does not know the young woman very well, he has grown very fond of her through the snippets of conversation he has shared with her over the past few months. He almost feels a fatherly protectiveness over her and looks out for her much the same as he does for his own daughter. And the young woman is certainly not going to say anything. The barista is certain that she has never felt the young manís unwavering gaze and the barista can only marvel fondly at how clueless the young woman is to how her exuberant energy draws in everyone around her, not least of which is a young man who is slowly falling for her.
But the barista is reluctant to say anything to the young man who is so obviously smitten with the young woman. The young man gives off a quiet air of utmost politeness and the barista would wager a guess that the young man may well be an artist from the way his eyes carefully catalogue everything about the young woman. The young man does not leer at her as the barista has seen others do in the last few months. No, the young manís eyes linger over her form with a deep appreciation. Though part of his eyes is filled with deep affection, the other part is filled with a wonder and admiration that the barista has seen many times in his wifeís eyes. She still fawns over photographs of ancient architecture she took when the two of them earlier in the year, and the barista has spent many a night patiently listening to his wife as she regales him with tales of the trip, as though she has forgotten that he was there by her side the entire time.
But, more than that, the barista cannot bear to see the young man look as lifeless as he had that first morning when he first saw the young woman. The barista has experienced heartbreak earlier in his life and, if sitting on a small stool every morning and staring longingly at the young woman is enough to bring the spark back to the young manís eyes, the barista is more than happy to allow the young man to do so.
This morning is no different. The young manís brown eyes sparkle as he approaches the counter with a smile. The barista cannot help but smile back, the young manís happiness and energy is infectious. As the barista steps to the side and begins the process his hands have long since memorised, he quietly watches the young man as he waits for the cup of milk to boil. The young manís gaze sweeps over the shop but the barista can tell from the way he lightly drums his fingers on the counter that he is paying no attention to the decor of the shop; the young man is only concerned with catching his daily glimpse of the young red-headed woman.
As the barista stirs in a teaspoon of sugar into the cup he holds in his hand, he watches as a brief moment of panic flashes across the young manís face. The young man frowns and jerks his head from side to side, his eyes scanning the room once more, glancing at each person in turn. An elderly woman with a string of diamonds around her neck that twinkle under the lights which levitate near the ceiling of the shop. A middle-aged couple, each reading different parts of the newspaper as they sip at their mugs. A man in a suit, waiting impatiently for his friend to finish selecting a croissant. Yet none of these people are the ones the young man is searching for. The red-headed woman is not in the coffee shop and the young manís shoulder slumps as disappointment washes over his face.
It takes a few moments for the young man to register that his coffee has been made and, even then, he reaches for it listlessly and sighs heavily, staring into the mug, not moving from his spot in front of the counter. The barista is pleased to note that he is far from the hollow man who sat in the coffee shop a few weeks ago, but the barista can see the obvious sadness in the young manís eyes. If the barista did not find himself so moved by the young manís dedication to a woman whose name he does not know, he probably would have laughed.
The young man closes his eyes as he realises that he is too late this morning and has missed the young woman. Dejected, he picks up the coffee mug and walks slowly over to a nearby table, but the barista is not watching him anymore. The tinkle of the bell sounds through the shop once more and the barista smiles at the sight of the young woman who hurries in, looking more harried than usual. The sound of her laughter as she trips on the small step near the door as she does every morning rings through the coffee shop.
As the barista watches, the young man suddenly freezes in his silent contemplation of the wooden table and his head snaps up in the direction of the young woman who hurriedly makes her way over to the counter. Instantly, the young man straightens up and his eyes sparkle once more as the young woman starts her daily teasing of the barista. The barista laughs as she points out a few grey hairs on his head, all the while watching from the corner of his eye as a soft smile slowly spreads across the young manís face.
Yet, the young man makes no attempt to stand up, walk over and make conversation with the young woman. He sits at his table, like he does every morning, and simply watches her as she orders her usual cup of coffee and hums softly to herself as she idly looks around the coffee shop , his grey eyes wistful and adoring.
As the barista makes her coffee, he glances once more at the young manís face, full of longing, and shakes his head and smiles. Perhaps today is not the day when the young man plucks up the courage to speak to the young woman, but the barista hopes it will be soon. For all the amusement that the young man brings to the baristaís mornings, the barista knows what joy a woman can bring to a young manís life and hopes the young man can find the courage to speak to the young woman, and experience that joy.
Though, stealing one last glance at the gentle smile on the young manís face, the barista wonders if the man has not already found that joy.