All I wanted was a cup of simple black tea, but he had to make it complicated. He showed me a menu with things like “Foggy Grey,” “Athena’s Lightning,” “Fairy Spice,” and “Humbert Pumperdink.” I probably made up the last one, but it made me giggle. I figured the “Foggy Grey” was probably my safest bet and ordered that and a sandwich. He brought me a French press full of water and tea leaves and a small mug and said he’d bring out my sandwich. I sat at my table looking at this press contraption and wondering how it worked and I must have looked crazy lost because after he put my plate on the table, he pressed the water and then poured my cup of tea. He stood there with a sweet and open expression, waiting for me to taste the tea and fall in love with the flavor. I obliged him with a sip and when my whole face puckered, he laughed. You know the laugh I’m talking about. It’s full and round and wraps its arms around you, making you feel so safe that you start to laugh too. When our belly laughs turned to quiet giggles, he winked and went back to work.
Three hours later, I stretched and reached for my cup but stopped moments before it hit my lips. There was no way it was going to be any better cold, so I wandered over to the bar and dumped a metric ton of sugar in it. Again, a slight exaggeration, but that’s what it felt like it needed. I turned around and leaned against the bar, stirring it with a fettucini noodle – no plastic spoons, because that’s the kind of place this is – and watched him wipe down tables. It was a simple and menial task but he smiled and talked to the few people left in the cafe. I watched his head bob in time with the local music piping through the overhead speakers and realized that just being in the vicinity of him made my day exponentially better.
I went back every day for four weeks, and every day was the same. We shared pieces of ourselves without words or noise but with secret smiles that introduced our eyes and soft glances of fingertips during the exchange of food. We had a connection and though I wanted more; I was afraid that if I demanded it, I would lose what we had. So I said nothing with my voice and shyly reached across the counter to push the hair from his face with my spirit. I looked away and smiled before going back to my table.
Eventually, I realized I needed to move on. I felt like a thief stealing more than my share. Guilty that by taking what he gave so freely, I was keeping someone else from experiencing the same peace I had gathered. I chose my final night and spent hours at my table in the corner, just watching him. When I gathered up my things at the end of the night, he came to my table using his cleaning rag as a pretense to be next to me. I hid my face and smiled. As I turned to leave, he called out and asked if I would join him that evening. I remembered why I was leaving and though I wanted to say no, to let someone else enjoy him, I couldn’t be that selfless and so we met later to listen to a local band.
Over the weeks and months of being with him, I cannot think of a time when I wasn’t happy. I woke up thinking of him and fell asleep with him. When I walked into whatever space he inhabited, his entire face lit up with joy. With genuine happiness of being connected to me, even if it was only by molecules of air. He made me smile more and people smiled back.
As my crow’s feet deepened, the cracks in my soul healed. The blackness that used to surround me moment to moment was now gone. There was a lightness in my chest, a quickness in my step. I judged less and healed more. I made time to help the stranger get her groceries in the car, to smile at the children in the restaurant, to dig my hands into the dirt, and to connect with Mother Earth while surrounded by chickens and pigs. I was present.
There came a point when my soul had completed its healing and was overflowing with peace and happiness. I knew it was time for me to share. I looked at my barista and realized he knew at the same time I did. We spent one last night together, holding each other and releasing positive thoughts for each other and humanity into the universe. In the morning, he was gone. When I went to the kitchen, there was a French press with water and tea leaves, a small mug, a container of sugar, and a napkin with a heart.