It was about 6:45 when she pulled open the old glass door of her usual coffee shop, bells breaking the morning quiet with a jingle that announced her arrival. She quickly met eyes with her usual server, and he smiled at her warmly as he, without prompt, began to prepare her usual coffee.
With a deep breath, she took in the sweet smell of coffee beans and warm milk, it dulling the edge off of the coolness of her breath which she could still see before her. Her eyes closed gently as her lips curled slightly, and she shivered as the outer cool gave way to inner warmth.
As she waited to begin, she surveyed the shop around her. It was like all of and none of the others in the city, she always felt. It was hers, on her little corner, in her little part, of that big ol’ city.
The walls were adorned with newspapers from ages long lost. Every morning, she’d read a new one and learn about an old Aunt who’d won a knitting contest in the town that week or a successful rescue of a cat from a tree by the local fire department or a 25 year sentence for some nefarious banking tycoon.
She’d read each story a thousand times by now, but each time she relished the chance to read one anew. She took comfort in the familiarity but also always found something new, to take note of and to like and to learn.
Today, she read about a local romance. There was an anniversary celebration in that paper from that day. Celine and Jesse Montgomery; married, 45 years. The two had met somewhat later in life, but they enjoyed a whirlwind romance of the type that would have otherwise only come to a couple twenty years their junior. Now, aged 75, the pair spend their days tending to the grandchildren and entertaining the lazy old dog.
She smiled as she imagined their life. They were long dead by now, but she could just picture herself walking up to some brownstone in the neighbourhood and seeing old Jesse stubbornly fixing the front porch light. She could picture Celine opening the door to bring him out a glass of tea. She could picture the two then stopping for a good sit as morn turned to eve, content and happy and complete.
A knowing grunt beckoned her to turn to her server, collect her coffee, and move to the window seat she always sat at. She placed the coffee before her as she took her seat on her stool and produced a book from her bag.
She began by opening the book to the page last curled, which she immediately straightened beyond recognition, before clutching the book in her left hand. She’d lick her right index finger, and then with smooth motions: scan, shift, scan, turn; scan, shift, scan, turn; scan, shift, scan, turn. It was rhythmic, fast, satisfying.
Her feverish attention would be drawn in stray moments to the people outside, strolling past, living their own lives. She liked watching them. She liked being ignored by them. She liked being seen by them.
But best of all, she liked being noticed by them, say by the unusual he she always sees, who tends to catch her dark eyes with his and for only but in that moment, each day, the two shared a lifetime in a look before he disappeared again into the crowd.
She sipped her latte and stared at the crowd and flipped her pages until ritual’s end. And as she did every day, she sighed ever-so-perceivable as she recycled her cup and left with the same jingle to which she’d entered.
But she’d be back again tomorrow, and again thereafter, willing slave to the ritual and to the book and the window and its protection from the hurt that lay beyond their walls.
N.b., Ritual is an app that allows you to order ahead from restautants and coffee shops. Its success has been largely driven by the company’s consumer-first approach, which it follows Uber in executing successfully on: it makes the ordinary person feel extraordinary.