Copyright is held by the author.
IT WASN’T so much that Jonah liked getting up at 4:30 each morning; it was just the way it was. In decent weather, he could ride his bicycle. But now, it was the dead of winter and a bit too early for buses to run, so the long walk extended his journey. Thankfully, the solitude of his steps, the crunch of the snow and the sharpness of the cool air gave him quiet enjoyment. He arrived at Maxine’s Neighbourhood Coffee Shop just as the bakers were pulling out the first of many trays of treats, disguised as healthy breakfast food.
The coffee smelled great, almost as great as the first sip tasted. It was a good thing he liked it — nobody had warned him that gallons of the strong, dark brew would be absorbed by his pores, his hair follicles, his clothes and shoes. At first, he was surprised when a fresh waft would hit him when he climbed in the shower or when he changed his shirt. His room-mates had taken to calling him Bean, not entirely based on his lanky stature.
This was his ritual — get up, work the busy morning hours, then head to class, the library, maybe shoot some baskets with the guys, play a video game or two, study, and hit the hay by 11 at the latest. Not much sleep, but enough. And no student loan, which was more than worth a bit of fatigue.
He enjoyed his job. His self-esteem had survived the embarrassment of friends occasionally seeing him in his white uniform. He’d long stopped aspiring to be the coolest guy around, so it made sense he could settle into being “Young Jonah,” that nice lad amongst the sea of older ladies that filled out the staff. He still saw himself as the quiet, slightly invisible boy he had been in high school, even if others now noticed his warm brown eyes, lovely smile and intelligent gaze. He was unaware, as young men often are that those older ladies smiled at him with pride, the way grandmothers take measure of potential new suitors for their granddaughters.
Much like catching a glance into the occasional living room on those early morning walks, Jonah thought his regulars offered him a glimpse into their lives.
Every morning, he could set his clock by the first customers of the day. Edwin and Marion walked their winter-loving Icelandic sheepdog, looped his leash to the rail outside, gave him a treat and headed in. Slight but straight-backed, they pulled off woolly tuques, bought two small white coffees, shared a multigrain bagel with cream cheese and headed home.
Edwin always held the door for Marion; he always held her arm, gently, just by her elbow as they placed their order. She always chose the same table, cut the bagel in quarters, placed two pieces on the spare plate, and handed it to him. Nice couple, Jonah thought, when he met them. At first, it just seemed cute that Edwin watched his wife so attentively. But in time, he began to see more clearly: her growing unsteadiness, occasional confusion about where the ladies’ room was located, the gentle repetition of her questions, and of his answers. Dementia? Alzheimer’s? Somehow, the label wasn’t as important as them having more coffee dates.
Most mornings, he moved between the counter and the drive-through window, two distinct connection points for the local customers.
Did his friends need to know that the mailman took his coffee black with four sugars? Or that every morning, Mrs. Baxter picked up an extra-large double-double in her pyjamas? Or that Mr. Abdul drank decaf and did the crossword while his daughter was at swimming practice? Or that there was a nice couple from Argentina who took turns driving around with their early-rising twins in the back seat, while the other of them caught an extra hour or so of sleep? No.
They certainly didn’t need to know that a 2003 silver Honda Civic was driven by the most captivating girl Jonah had ever seen, and that she liked Earl Grey tea with milk and a fruit-berry muffin before heading to psych class. Of course he’d noticed the text book; it was always on the seat beside her.
On days like this, as his window slid sideways and her window slid down, he enjoyed knowing that the same bracing, fresh wind that filled his lungs, also reached hers. He hoped she also liked winter, and he suspected she did because she always kept her window down while he filled her order.
“Good morning,” he’d say. “What can I get you?”
If he day-dreamed, he’d imagine hearing “The usual please, and maybe a date sometime?” But of course, what he did hear was, “May I please have that muffin warmed up?”
“Absolutely,” he’d answer.
These insights seemed sacred — like they should be respected in the way he hoped doctors and nurses protected the privacy of those they treated. They were also gifts; little reminders that sometimes, small connections aren’t really small at all.
Someday, he would be something more than Young Jonah, something different, and he knew that. But for now, he was content to get up at 4:30, make the cold, crunchy walk and pour out morning greetings, one cup at a time.