The stranger who paid for my coffee.

It was late in the night, the pages of “A Matter Of Form” by Horace L. Gold have long been read. I just wanted to be in a place other than my home for a breath of fresh air. The next best place that came to my mind was a stall just a stone’s throw away from where I live. It wasn’t a fancy place; only that of a modest one that the locals found comfort in.

The place was crowded and it had life. Behind my face mask, I saw the stall owners chatting with the servers, friends catching up, and families having a late dinner. It was busy for sure but I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. I looked around; my eyes drawn to a spot. Yes, right there. It was right in front of me. One table with a spot for me even though it was already occupied by a man. There’s got to be a way for me to get coffee, I thought to myself. As if this stranger heard my thoughts, he pulls down his mask and smiles at me.

“Would you like to have a seat and join me?”

Now you might say it was naïve of me to just sit with another man waiting for his order. I didn’t think so. I really wanted my coffee. He looked a few years older than me. I could be wrong. Didn’t stop us from exchanging our names anyway. My order has been made. We sat in our seats for a few seconds in silence. Then he asked, “Back from work?”

“No, I came from home. I live around here.” I answered. “I just wanted to drink some coffee outside. What about you? Where did you come from?”

He gave me another smile before he answered my question.

“I came back from a funeral.”

I was in thought for a few seconds and then I shared my condolences.

I was unsure if I wanted to ask for the details. Our coffee arrived and he gestured me to drink. For the next few minutes, we were just sipping our coffee, occasionally I would take a few biscuits and munch on them. He would later offer me a cigarette to which I politely declined. He didn’t bother lighting up his cigarette afterwards. He told me he had lost a family member due to cancer. He probably was questioning why he still had the box of cigarettes with him though. He explained to me it even though he expected her death, he still wasn’t ready for it. It pained him a lot. You could see in his eyes he was trying to accept that fact. 

He told me he hadn’t been in the best mood to talk to anyone. Said he didn’t want to see a familiar face telling him they were sorry for his loss. He just wanted to stay lost in his thoughts but the fact I looked around persistently for a empty spot, he gave in. I think he was just lonely and needed someone to talk to too. The conversation was all about his late aunt whom he grew up closely with. He went on about his agony, fearing of the thoughts which would keep him awake at night. Even as he held his cup, he seemed lost.

“There are some new feelings I’d have to get used to. It won’t let me sleep for a while, that’s why I have to talk to a stranger. I don’t want sadness to be on my mind all the time.” He said after taking a sip of coffee and putting it on the table.

I’m not quite sure what this stranger was thinking of me at that time. As he went on with his lament, he asked what did I do for a living. I told him I was a writer and I had a blog. He looked at me with a fond expression and told me that sometimes he pens down his emotions as words to get the unbearable feelings of his chest. I wanted to tell him to continue writing as long as it helped him to cope. But he looked close to tears and I guess I didn’t have it in me to break him in public.

I think he knew what I was thinking. He switched the topic and we ended having the usual conversations. You know, the ones like Covid-19, Elon Musk, and the Malaysian Education System. Sometimes, he would speak faster than usual when he got excited. His sentences without a full-stop. But he would catch himself back and ask of my opinion. Funny how his words flowed, I honestly thought he could have been a writer himself. He could but he didn’t.

“When you realize the only thing permanent in life is death, gaining popularity on social media becomes a joke.” He finally laughed.

From that statement alone, I was more convinced that he should have been a writer. The words weighed on me for a while. The nature of life and death was still a gray area for me. I admitted to him that while I was slowly adapting to the changes of metamorphosis into young adulthood, life still can hit me with conflicting emotions and dreaded mundanities. 

“Sometimes you just want to move past all the misery, but it gets lost in translation.” I sighed. “Your judgment is clouded and everything becomes pointless. Is death really the only thing that stays?”

I don’t think either of us had an answer for that. I noticed he was smiling more though. Perhaps the accepting that death was the only permanent thing in life was the actual reason that compelled him to approach a random young person. We all return to dust eventually so why not give that seat to a stranger? Yes, he seemed to be sure of that himself. If he wasn’t, his voice wouldn’t have been so rough when he mentions ‘death’ specifically. Not good… he might just cry. How would I know, you’d ask? You see, I wasn’t just listening to his voice. I listened to his eyes because they spoke so much truth. The eyes will tell the truth whatever society permits.

But I also wanted to remind him that something else was permanent.

“Change is constant.” 

“You’re not wrong.” he replied. “Maybe I should be happier for a change.”

I’m not sure what he really thought about what I said. I guess what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself. Heck, time flew. You could give us all the time in the world, it still wouldn’t be enough for us to wrap up the conversation. After some 20 more minutes, he had stood up and let me know he was going home. I nodded. My cup of coffee; half-full. It was cold but for this occasion, I didn’t seem to mind. I considered my meeting with this man a sincere one where the hearts and minds connected. I didn’t know until I got up to leave, that he had paid for my cup of coffee. I wished he had let me know so I could thank him. I’ll probably never see him again. Then again, I don’t know, but I do believe he’s going places in life.

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