Unassuming. Generic. The coffee shop is just like the many scattered about the city. Virtually indistinguishable in its normalcy. Day in and out the barista serves coffee to various people. Amongst the college students and harried professionals, she fades into the backdrop. A quiet observer to most and a kind ear to others.
She likes her job. She likes the quiet ambiance and calming music. She likes to meet people and to hear their stories. But sometimes she encounters particularly interesting people. People she couldn’t forget if she tried.
The bell jingles. A young woman enters. Her brown hair mussed from the wind. She orders coffee for two and sits down at a secluded table. The barista sees the young woman nervously twisting her wedding band. The barista can’t help but watch her closely. Something in her always feels for strangers’ plights. A blonde woman enters. She looks around nervously before spotting the brown-haired woman. They sit together, exchanging twin fond smiles. The blonde does not have a wedding band. They are holding hands when they leave.
She thinks of them from time to time. Imagining romantic stories of a scorned partner. Sometimes she imagines them running away together, other times she imagines her seducing the woman away from her dutiful partner. She does this sometimes. Trying to fill the blanks and depths of stories where she can only see the surface.
The bell jingles. A woman enters. In her arms she clutches tightly a beautiful fur coat. The woman spends quite some time perusing the display of little baked treats. She tells the barista she is new to town. She looks at everything like it is her first time seeing it all. In the end she chooses a sea salt coffee and sips it by the window, still clutching her coat.
She sees the woman come by every so often, always holding her coat and always ordering a sea salt coffee. The barista asks her about it once. She simply says they both remind her of home and that she once had a beautiful coat but lost it. The woman seems to be lost in her thoughts for a moment.
The next time the woman comes she does not order anything. Instead she pauses and seems to consider her words. She tells the barista quietly that she’s found her coat and smiles sweetly. She says thank you and leaves. The barista never sees her again.
The bell jingles. She startles, the sun has set, and she is beginning to doze off. A young boy has walked in. He orders nothing but a tea and sits as if he’s made of stone. Something is deeply unsettling, but she never manages to work up the courage to ask for his parents. It’s only until later once she’s home that she realizes she never saw him take a drink and now that she ponders it further, it seems like he was not even breathing. He only appears in the evening once the sun has set. His visits taper off as the days grow longer and eventually, she stops seeing him at all.
There are many customers like that. That seem a little off. A little peculiar. She can never really put her finger on it. There was that man who she swore had pointed ears or the woman that had tattoos in a language she had never seen.
Some customers haunt her more than others. She remembers the man that came in on a rainy day in April. She thinks he looks as if someone took a man and stretched him out like taffy. He is all limbs, skin stretched over brittle bone. He swings his arms as he walks. The second thing she notices is his grin. This too looks as if it has been stretched unnaturally across his face. He only stays for a moment before leaving. She resolves to never think about the strange man, but she wakes up at night occasionally with the memory of his face. She thinks of something her grandmother told her and lines salt on the window sills. It seems to ease her mind.
There was also the old man with a long white beard that hobbled in. He wasn’t very noticeable, even though the shop never got very many older patrons, except for his attire. He had a large, dark red cap on that seemed to be soaking wet despite the lack of rain. He was singing under his breath a cheerful tune. His humming gave her the chills. He sat at one of the tables, grinning and laughing at nothing. She couldn’t help but notice that when he left his cap had turned a brownish color.
Even stranger, later that day two professional-looking people came into the store. A man and a woman. The man had a large briefcase. They scanned the shop and came up to her. Something about their faces were blurry. She couldn’t maintain eye contact. They asked if she had seen an older man with a red cap. She nodded and blinked. They were gone. Later in the news she saw that he was arrested for murdering a family.
After that, people in suits would come into her store. They rarely buy anything and only sometimes ask after someone. She tries to look them in the face but every time she forgets, and their details slip away from her.
Sometimes she wonders at all these strange patrons. In her rare more fanciful moods, she likes to imagine that they are supernatural creatures. She likes her job and she likes her stories more. In this quiet coffee shop sometimes playing make-believe adds some magic to her day.
Quiet and unassuming. The coffee shop is just like the many others scattered across this city. The barista fades into the background yet again. Another day of customers and stories to discover.