Coffee Shop Strangers

By Julie Wan

Hissing milk cuts through the humdrum buzz of a freezer. Syncopated footsteps tap to the crisp sound of grinding coffee. The baristas perform their number while I, sketchbook in hand, quietly spectate. Like an antiphony, I respond to this sensory information with soft, graphite strokes. 

Soon, more performers file through the stage door, their clinking wallets and casual dialogue adding to the symphony of the room. I rough out their costumes, the v-neck of a scrub top or the embroidery of a college crewneck. In my back pocket sits an eraser that is seldom used. Why alter improvised scenes?

Bodies flurry in and out the door, faces frown at laptop screens, eyes run across book pages, mirthful laughter escapes mouths between sips of coffee. Among the eclectic pool of strangers, I can find solace in my insignificance. I like feeling unseen. I’m afforded a glimpse of a stranger’s day, a moment of mundanity where I withhold judgment and simply observe. 

When fleeting interactions go as quickly as they come, observational drawing helps me focus on the present moment. Each pencil stroke is an anchor grounding wandering thoughts, a reminder that dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is a fruitless endeavor. Each stranger captured on the smooth, cream page is a challenge against my need for perfection, whether the proportions are slightly wonky or the eyes don’t sit right. It seemed fitting for these quick sketches to be flawed, an ode to our imperfect existence.

In an off-kilter way, I feel at home among this community of strangers. Our lives intersect in a transient interlude, the catalyst being our shared love for this ambient atmosphere and a warm cup of java. At my local coffee shop, my humble role as just another obscure face in passing gives me a sense of solace and belonging.

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