I was the first to arrive and ordered a cappuccino. I sat alone for several minutes. At first I was taken with the snowfall outside. It was beautiful. The glassed-in area where I sat provided the perfect view. More minutes passed and the snow stopped falling. I realized I was still alone—not in a much-needed solitude kind of way, but rather in the overly watched or completely ignored by others kind of way. I felt a tinge of loneliness.
Two other people joined my corner of the room, also choosing seats that allowed them to look out, not in. I looked at them, hoping for a nod or facial tic of camaraderie, but they wouldn’t look at me. The woman was already consumed by a paperback and the man found a stray newspaper to accompany his lunch. He didn’t also eat the newspaper. That would’ve been something, wouldn’t it have? I thought as much as I overly watched him. I wonder if he knew—or cared.
For reasons I’m not sure of, I deliberately avoided looking toward the growing lunch crowd and instead focused on those approaching the building, one after the other. Grumpy people who sprang to life when greeted by someone they knew. Then mothers with slow toddlers who weren’t slow at all. The little ones took three steps to their mothers’ one. The mothers walked slowly with looks that said they thought their little ones walked slowly also.
As the snow began to fall again, there were those who hid their faces beneath scarves or coat hoods or just looked downward. Still others, all of them young, looked up bare-faced in hopes of catching the biggest snowflake of all. It occurred to me I’d also hidden my face on the way in, and I promised myself I would not do that on the way out.
One daring glance toward the crowd gave me reason not to look again. There was no color, just drab browns, grays, and a lot of black. Conversation was loud, but not lively. There were many grim faces and a few who talked to their lunch companions as if they knew they weren’t listening. And certainly many of them weren’t; their long gazes at other people and other things said as much.
I turned back to my two unknowing companions. The bookworm was gone and the man was rummaging through the remains of his french fries. He had a look that suggested he thought the newspaper might’ve tasted better. I looked out the many windows again to see a glorious snowball fight between teenagers. I wanted so much to join them, but feared I’d get there and be turned away.
My friends arrived one by one, and I realized that as alone as I hadn’t wanted to be, I did now want a few more minutes to be by myself in the crowd. Fortunately, my friends came with color and attention and they, too, had noticed the snowfall and all the children.
Some time later I walked to my car, still carrying an awkward mixture of loneliness and the desire to be alone. It started to snow again and I remembered to leave my face bare. A larger snowflake than I’d expected got me right in the eye. I blinked repeatedly and may have snorted. Two cars away a small child was looking right at me, smiling wide and wildly.
And that made my day.