I sat there, feeling ill, so ill, while all around me life moved on, as though I was still a part of it. But I wasn’t. I could only observe. Sitting in the over-60’s cafe sipping metallic tasting coffee and listening to some of the oldies hit songs being hammered out in the next room with frail and tuneless sounds emitting in an effort to make it all sound so happy. Others shuffled past me with a sausage roll, scone, or piece of cake, placed on small paper plates bending in the middle, while drinks slurped into saucers. Others offered me a gappy grin on their way past, their walking sticks bashing into chairs. I prayed they wouldn’t ask to join me at my small table. I wanted to be alone, invisible even, and take what life I could from their own feeble frames, but knowing that I could never give anything back.
Another solitary observer across from me gave me a weak smile. I gave one back. I wondered what she was thinking about me. Perhaps she was a regular and was curious to find a new person in the cafe. I didn’t want to extend the gaze though. I looked out of the window – young children on swings and slides, mothers chattering to friends on the bench. Dogs on leads. Normal. All so normal. But I still felt so ill. If only this normality could heal me. Perhaps it will.
Someone strolled past whom I vaguely knew. He didn’t catch my eye and I was pleased. I wonder whether they can tell by my facial expressions that I’m so ill? I hope not. I don’t want any fuss. An elderly waitress stops at my table and asks whether I’d finished with the remains of a rather crumbly scone. I looked up apologetically and nodded. I couldn’t tell her that it fell to pieces on impact with the hard butter. I guess she thought, ‘what a waste’. Perhaps she’d got up at 6.00 that morning to cook them – out of the kindness of her heart. Yes people do go beyond the call of duty and so I apologised again.
It’s Spring and I notice the blossom between the young green shoots. Idle chatter in the background. No one meaning any harm. Just quiet mediocrity. I so wanted to be a part of it. But if I had not been so ill I might never have felt so comforted by the mundane and humdrum. Instead I might have found the sounds around me too intrusive. The coffee, foul, the out of tune communal singing irritating to the ear and the ‘listened in’ conversations so banal.
But instead my illness showed me this mixture of life, this innocence, this slice of every day, so humbling, and it comforted me. Life goes on, whatever and however I feel.
Mary Leadbetter: 16/04/19