I’m sitting in cafe reading a book on my e-reader. An acquaintance approaches me.
Acquaintance 1: Hey.
Me: Hi, how are you?
Acquaintance 1: I’m alright. Pauses. Is it your day off?
Acquaintance 1: Looks down at my e-reader. I prefer actual books to those things.
Acquaintance 1: Yeah, I just need something more substantial in my hands when I read. There’s something about turning actual paper pages that I enjoy that you can’t do with one of those. Points at my e-reader.
Acquaintance 1: And, not sure I see the need for them when we have libraries full of books anyone can borrow from. It’s kind of sad, honestly. All those books gathering dust.
Me: I nod and continue reading to myself.
Acquaintance 1: But you seem to like it.
Me: Yes, I do. I smile.
Acquaintance 1: Pauses. Looks down at the newspaper in his hands. You should read this. Pushes the paper my direction. It’s about the changes they plan on making in the neighborhood soon.
Me: Oh. I glance at the article, though I don’t take the paper.
Acquaintance 1: Seems puzzled. Leans towards me. Points to a particular paragraph. See, here’s something they want to do. They want to tear down the Mission Bridge and put up a new one. They say that it can’t sustain the amount of traffic coming across it now on a daily basis. Can you believe that? That bridge has been there for more than 75 years. Crazy!
Me: Yes, crazy. I take a sip from my coffee and continue reading to myself from my e-reader. A line catches my eye: “Altered is Zarathustra; a child hath Zarathustra become; an awakened one is Zarathustra: what wilt thou do in the land of the sleepers?”
Acquaintance 1: Seems puzzled. Well, I guess I’ll leave you to your reading.
Me: Okay. Take care.
Acquaintance 1: You too. Walks away.
I’m sitting in a cafe watching a movie on my laptop, earbuds in. Another acquaintance approaches me.
Acquaintance 2: Hey.
Me: I remove an earbud leaving the other in. Hi. How are you?
Acquaintance 2: Good, thanks. Leans into my screen. Watching anything interesting?
Me: A favorite movie of mine.
Acquaintance 2: Oh. Pauses. Off today?
Me: Something like that. I smile.
Acquaintance 2: Looks around as if searching for something to say. I haven’t seen a movie in ages. I actually got rid of my TVs a couple years ago. I haven’t watched TV since.
Acquaintance 2: Yeah, those things can be such a time suck. There’s nothing good on anyways. Mostly commercials. People trying to sell you stuff you don’t need. Or the news, and who wants to watch the news? So depressing.
Me: I hear some dialog coming from the one earbud I have in: “Sooner or later your’e going to have to realize, just like I did, that there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
Acquaintance 2: Eyes my laptop. And I try to stay off my laptop if I can help it. Laughs.
Acquaintance 2: Seems puzzled. Pauses. Well, I guess I’ll let you get back to your movie.
Me: Okay. Be well.
Acquaintance 2: You too. Walks away.
I’m sitting at a cafe listening to music on my laptop, earbuds in. Another acquaintance approaches.
Acquaintance 3: Leans into my face as if to get my attention. Waves a hand there. Hey.
Me: I remove my earbuds. Hi. How are you?
Acquaintance 3: Good. What are you up to?
Me: Listening to some music.
Acquaintance 3: Oh, are you off today?
Me: Sure. I smile.
Acquaintance 3: You should get out and enjoy the sunny day––not often we get them around here. She laughs peering out the cafe window.
Me: I follow her gaze. It is nice, isn’t it?
Acquaintance 3: Yeah. Pauses. Hey, you guys should come and stay this weekend with us in the country. You would love the cabin. Oh my god, it’s paradise!
Me: It sounds like it.
Acquaintance 3: So, we can count you two in?
Me: No, but thanks. It’s really nice of you to offer.
Acquaintance 3: Really? If you just get out there in the open space, be out by the river, do some hiking, . . . oh man, it can do wonders! You have to come!
Me: Thanks, but no. I hear in my headphones, “me siento cada vez menos viva / derrotada y confundida / sin saber qué hacer / no logro entender. “
Acquaintance 3: Frowns then forces a smile. Fine. Don’t ever say we never invited you anywhere.
Me: I smile. I won’t. Thanks again.
I’m sitting in a cafe, having a coffee, laptop open, checking my social media. A friend approaches.
Friend: Hey there. How are you?
Me: Hi, I’m good, thanks for asking. How are you?
Friend: Doing alright. Just out for a walk, taking in some sun before it passes away forever. He laughs. What are you up to?
Me: Oh, reading through my social media feed, nothing constructive really. I laugh.
Friend: Hey, nothing wrong with that at all. Who wants to be constructive all the time? He smiles, then . . . I’m not interrupting am I? Just noticed a friendly face and wanted to say “hi.”
Me: Interrupting? You’re asking if you’re interrupting me?
Friend: Well, yeah––it’s the considerate thing to do, right?
I pause. I close my laptop. I smile an honest smile. A sincere, unforced smile. And all at once I exist. And I’m something more than another’s means to an end. I’m no longer here to simply validate the rightness of another’s way of being by expressing what they assert is the wrongness of my own.
Me: Right. I guess it is. And no, I can honestly say, you’re not interrupting me in the least.