I’m sitting in a cafe enjoying a daim chocolate cake and drinking my Breakfast tea, not that I’m taking breakfast now, it’s just past 4 PM! But here in the UK, people drink breakfast tea all the time. And what’s in a breakfast tea? A friend once told me it’s a combination of Earl Grey, Assam and Darjeeling! Should I believe her? Why not? I guess it doesn’t matter anyway... As long as it’s tea! My guess is that the shops simply serve you whatever tea they’ve got as breakfast tea.
Across the room is an elderly man drinking coffee. He’s so old even the staffs of the cafe are worried about him. His hands and feet seem to shake uncontrollably. Parkinsons maybe? Perhaps a mild one, or it’s just that his muscles are weak. He seems lost and lonely. Sitting there staring into nothingness. He won’t be the first lonely old person I’ve seen. I saw an old lady the other day eating all alone in a cafe, and another man on yet another day in the same cafe. All elderly, all lonely, yet they worked at their fish and chips so purposefully I could imagine them being there simply because they wanted to eat fish and chips!
The man tries to get up from his chair, but he seems to be really struggling at it. A cleaner comes up to help the old man. He pulls the man on his feet and for just a moment, I thought the old man might fall to the ground. But alas, he stands... thinking hard what he should do next. Another lady staff walks over to him and asked if he was alright. I couldn’t hear what he mumbled to her, but she seemed satisfied and left him standing. He stared at his coffee, and stared around the room. I tried not to stare back.
After a moment, he moved his feet a little, getting a little exercise, thought he’d have enough of standing and started to sit down again. Once again, that male cleaner came over to help him. I’m really amazed by his kindness. There are some other guys around, guests of course. But they do not even look at the man. He sat for a little while more, all the while staring into nothingness. Occasionally, he glances at the newspaper on the table. I imagine he was thinking back to the old days when he would bring his wife here to the cafe, drink some coffee, and eat some sweet cakes, before heading off to the movies or the theatre. Finally he stands and leaves. After the little exercise just now, he had regained some strength I think, as he did not need anybody’s help this time. He took his bag (it was an ancient document bag, could he be a professor???), took a final glance around the room, and left.
Another elderly lady walks in; this time she is pulling a small luggage bag. She orders a tea, sits at the table next to mine, and starts the staring ritual just as the man before. But oh, this lady is not as old as the other man. In fact, she even knows how to use a hand phone! She seemed to be punching in an awful lot of numbers on the phone. Then she puts the phone to her ear. She makes a call. Speaks the briefest of moment, and puts the phone down again. She fiddles in her pockets and brings out a packed biscuit. A smart move I’d say, instead of paying 50p for a cafe biscuit.
I write about these lonely elderly people. But of course, in the UK, it’s not just common for elderly people to eat alone. There are many young people who do this too. Like the girl sitting across from my table. And myself, typing away on my computer while having tea to avoid staring into nothingness. Is this the British way of life, you think? Perhaps; perhaps not –but they do have many cafes with very small tables and seats facing directly out a window, which, in my opinion, are designed for the very purpose of enabling customers to eat alone without feeling too awkward!