I closed the book ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop.’ Did I know anyone resembling Takeo in my life? Meanwhile the barista served a plate of ensaymadas garnished with fluffy cheese to the bespectacled Filipino man dressed in white formals sitting next to me on the community table. I looked at my plate of ensaymada with one bite left and the cup of cappuccino. It was the most tranquil combination. I put the book in my bag and took a look around the cafe. There was still the group of six office workers comprising of two women and four men chatting away animatedly. I wonder what exciting thing had happened to all of them that day. There was also the lone student silently tapping away on his laptop with great concentration. The guard with the gun was still walking around time to time giving indifferent looks to its patrons. Outside the coffeeshop people were walking about in the boulevard. The night felt as if it had just started. I took the last remaining bite of cheesy savoury emsaymada and walked out too.
I felt drawn to this coffeeshop located on seaside boulevard in Manila. I had been there the previous night. I was craving coffee after a traditional Filipino dinner of Ginatang Santol.The coffeeshop looked so friendly and welcoming like a book cover that draws you in. I wanted to feel at home then and this was the place to experience that. It’s a longing that everyone comes across during their travels…to feel at home in an unknown locale. Not all the time but definitely when you have been feeling unsettled for quite some time a dash of homely feeling does the trick.
And in this context coffeeshop for me always does the trick. The thing about cafes is that when you look at it from outside, everyone inside feels like a part of a warm informal family. I stepped inside and was welcomed by wholesome chatter. I wanted to understand all of it and chat away too. I absolutely disrobe the awkwardness which I might feel at times in a huge unknown crowd that knows I am not one of them. Here in the confines of a cafe I very much become one of them. I sat on high chair by the corner. It gave me good view of the entire cafe alongwith all it’s coming and going. The plump girl with beautiful features and a red lipstick is glued to her phone. Time and again she looks up around alertly as if to check she is still in that cafe and not transported to the moon maybe? Did she come here after work? What was the latest gossip going on in her life? Where did she get those earrings?
I took out some postcards to write. It had become a ritual unknowingly. One of them had a vibrant photo of a traditional dance during a fiesta with dancers dressed in orange plume headgear with spears in their hands. I wanted to see this beautiful savage dance. I thought of Temple coffeeshop in Siem Reap where I would go every evening to write postcards. It overlooked the river and frequently I would I would see monks on motorbikes gliding by in their orange robes the colour of the sky at that time.
I thought of Excelsior cafe in Tokyo the one in Shibuya, where once more I discarded my difference and sat along with others at the community table. I scribbled on postcards with Hokusai paintings while others were diligently studying their online courses surrounded by colourful stationery. I felt like a comrade in this little country called cafe.
I went to the same coffeeshop on the seaside boulevard the next night. I came across the same plump girl. She was not a stranger at all…just a silent companion.