“Sir, we’re closing the store in fifteen minutes,” the waitress said to me, smiling as always. I was so absorbed in reading that I did not notice her presence until she lightly tapped my shoulder. I bookmarked the page and closed the book. I looked up to her and gave her a little nod.
“Just one more cup please,” I requested. “I’ll finish it in ten minutes.”
“No problem. Just a moment.” She motioned for her colleague to prepare another cup of coffee before she went back to the counter.
I stared at the book on the table. I couldn’t believe I was already halfway through “Norwegian Wood” in almost an hour. Haruki Murakami usually slows down my reading pace. It was my second time reading this book and the words felt as if they were still as fresh as the smell of a newly opened book.
I brushed the book aside when the waitress came back and put down my third cup of coffee. One of the waiters was wiping the entrance door with a glass cleaner.
“I don’t think she’s coming tonight,” I whispered to myself.
I was feeling cold and restless. I wrapped my hands around the cup and felt its warmth. I savored the intoxicating aroma and was delighted at how my coffee was creamed to a perfect, soft brown. I looked again at the entrance door. The waiter has now put up the “Closed” sign.
“Yeah, she’s not coming back tonight,” I admitted. I gazed at my coffee, trying to console my heart for yet another night of frustrated anticipation.
It has been a month since I found…and lost her.
I was carrying my tray, looking for a quiet spot when I saw you at one corner, seated at a table for two. You were writing on some papers and occasionally typing on your laptop. I was drawn to your direction and asked if I could share the table with you. I know you were surprised. After looking about, thinking why in the world would I want to share a table when several others were obviously unoccupied, you said “Sure”, and you pulled your bag from the chair across so I can be seated.
I inquired if you were reviewing for an exam, and you said you were just beating a work-related deadline. You did not look at me and I felt very awkward.
I pretended I was drinking my coffee so I could watch you intently, though it really burned my lips. You were very gentle and refined. You looked beautiful and fresh and natural even without make up or lipstick. It was a sight to behold when some strands of your hair dangled on your face, and you gently took and carried them behind your ears.
I offered some cookies, but you politely declined with a shy smile. Your smile revealed a sparkling set of white teeth and I could not help smiling back. At this moment, I knew I am attracted to you.
Then, your phone lit up and I recognized your wallpaper. It was a cover of “After Dark,” one of Haruki Murakami’s books.
“Are you a fan of Haruki Murakami”? I asked and your hand stopped mid-air. You put your phone down and did not reply to the message you just opened.
“Hell yeah,” you said, eyes wide open. Now, I have your attention. I laughed. I said I am a fan, too. I was amazed at how a common interest revealed through a random encounter could make strangers instantly connect with each other. That’s how I felt when I looked into your eyes.
I saw a kindred soul.
In the next hours, that was the topic we talked about. I told you about his four books I have read so far. You agreed with my impression of the novels. We both liked the tone, the story, and the style of writing – introspective, nostalgic, perfect for introverts like us. You asked me if you could borrow my books and I said we could exchange. You don’t actually own one, you confessed, because they are expensive and I said that’s okay. I could give you the books tomorrow. You said I made you so happy and my heart was beating so fast.
I asked if we could connect through Messenger or Instagram, but you said you don’t have social media accounts. You are an epidemiologist and you are a “massive introvert.” At this point, I knew I like you.
It was getting late and it was time for you to go. How I wished I could stop the time. You told me you’d see me tomorrow to claim the books. I was smiling all the time until you left. I followed you with my bright eyes as you walked toward the intersection to cross the street. While the traffic light was at red, I saw your head turned. You waved. You said something I could not decipher from your lips. Then, you smiled at me. I was mesmerized.
After a minute or two, I came to my senses and realized I did not have your phone number. Excited, I hit the table when I rose from my seat. My half-finished coffee spilled over the table. My eyes were still looking out on you through the transparent glass wall. You were now to cross the intersection as the pedestrian traffic light turned green. I left my ID on the table and promised the waiter that I would be back.
I ran out as fast as I can. Crowds from both sides of the street hurried through the crossing as the 60 seconds started to count down. At the crosswalk, I tried hard to find you.
I have seen so many faces, but none of them belonged to you. I called out your name but no one responded.
I kept searching till I reached the other side of the street. You were not there either. The mass pedestrian traffic has cleared. The vehicles now took their turns in the busy intersection.
I have lost you in the crowd.
One, two, three tomorrows came, but she did not show up. Every Mondays and Tuesdays, I try to visit this coffee shop at the exact time that I first saw her. I always carry the books with me, hoping that in each tomorrow that I don’t give up, we will see each other again.
I stood and headed toward the door. “Enjoy your evening Sir,” the waiter said as he opened the door.
I still remember that night. The night when she gracefully walked out this same door. The night which I thought would be followed by a tomorrow filled with another spontaneous conversation with her.
The night when I did not take my chance on what turned out to be love.
Then, I cried.
I still remember that night. The night when love could happen so fast.