Who else? Who else?

Two friends, perhaps in their early 30s, sit talking at the table in front of me. Their conversations are unapologetically loud, punctuated by lots of laughter and “are you f*cling kidding me?!”. Judging by their awkward but tight hug when they walked in, they probably haven’t met in a while.

I sit quietly reading my book, chuckling away to myself. I hear the words literature, theatre, Brecht and Neil Gaiman from the aforementioned table, and my mind automatically assumes I’m invited to the conversation.

In my zoning in and out of that conversation over the next hour, a conversation that began with “how do you get people to notice the literature part of your resume (which is pretty much all there is) as if it’s a real skill”, slowly becomes an entertaining people-mocking session about people I don’t know (I do, however, know much about their idiosyncracies by the end) as also some mentions about some people I think I know (enter comment about the world being too small). References to Victorian British literature and Chickflicks aplenty in the conversation while trying to make a point. As do some facial expressions that depict a whole different range of passion for disappointment in people.

At one point, the girl, heavily pregnant, stretches her neck, and with mannerisms that mimic someone going into a wrestling pit, she exclaims, “who else? Who else?”

I go back to the book. My attention is drawn to them again during their attempt to take a selfie. They cannot seem to be able to look at the screen at the same time. In a conversation about her nickname for him that ensues, I gather that the two of them used to be really close (probably even date) once upon a time, until he came out as gay (clearly, I seem to be surrounded by these men) and “got busy with his people”. She’s visibly livid that others use the unique name that she had for him. “Isn’t it an obvious abbreviation?”, he justifies. “Of course not. It’s so creative”, she argues, hitting him playfully. Thrice. “I can’t believe you have let your people replace me by letting them call you that”, she complains. He pulls her cheeks. She smiles. (How do men get away with that gesture, all the time? How??!)

I am finally called upon to click a picture. As I put my book down, she asks if she can look at it and tells me she’s been meaning to read it. We discuss it, briefly. Me sitting alone for so long surprises her. I laugh. I click their picture. They wave thank you-goodbye to me, hug each other and leave.

Another lady, sitting alone at the table beside them makes eye contact with me. She’s been eavesdropping too. We smile, like partners in this meddlesome form of guilty pleasure, and return to our books.

I think I see the waiters laugh too. Oh, the stories they could tell. I wonder if they compare notes, or if they would recognise the people mentioned in these stories, should they ever show up… or maybe they aren’t as easily distracted as I am?

Jayati Doshi
July 1, 2016

Also published on: https://medium.com/@jayatidoshi/peoplelistening-two-friends-at-a-cafe-fadab54707d7


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