Why is the line always longest when I'm almost late for work? Is there a new person on the till this morning or is one of the morning team taking an impeccably timed smoke break?
Weight shifts from one foot to the other as I surreptitiously sway out to peer around the people ahead of me. At the front of this shuffling parade of impatience a woman thoughtfully places her order with an in-depth consultation regarding the daily roasts on offer, the types of milk, the size she would be most likely to enjoy without wasting or be left wanting.
And with the beverage, of course, an examination of pastry vs. muffin.
The debate continues as the man in front of me checks his watch, catches the attention of a friend optimistically holding a table. He mimes walking with two fingers and a quick twitch of the head towards the door. I am now one space closer to being a little over 5 minutes late for work.
Maybe there is something different on the chalk board, something I've missed as I examine it again for a total of four hundred and three times today.
The deliberate customer, splendid red ballet flats, black tights just above the ankle--is that pedal pusher length or toreador?-- long black hair in wet curls, looks familiar or maybe I've grown accustomed to the sight of her there at the till. And now she is moving to the pick-up counter shifting the pressure back onto my shoulders to decide quickly and get the hell out of there.
As I shuffle closer to my turn at the till, I notice the lady in the ballet flats has received her brew: steaming, rich, just right. I assume it must be because she carefully raises it to her lips, sips and nods with happy surprise and satisfaction. There is a little smack of approval as the lid is firmly placed and she moves to the door.
And now I stand, money in hand, order given, trite, predictable: skinny matcha, 16 oz, and a blueberry bran muffin. When I have my beverage in hand I am desperate for the comfort of the warm, milky sweetness and that little mood altering, calming kick that drives my addiction.
A sound outside distracts me from my final meditation at the pick-up counter. Is it an animal making that desperate squalling sound? No, a child. A very mad, very upset toddler. A woman standing at the door looks at me as I approach to see the source of the fuss. "Someone isn't having a good start to her day", she says and we, mothers both, laugh at this shared experience.
As I walk to the car, I pass by the scene of all the fuss: a 2 year old struggling in a stroller. The mother trying to tuck her back in and settle the issue is the woman in the red ballet flats. I remember when my girls were at that age when no child can bear the feeling of a restraint on their need to be out exploring, running or wiggling around. Not in a buggy or a car seat or on an airplane. I remember the battles and the launches into space, catching them a moment too late, brushing off the skinned knees, and issuing that standard, "see, that's why mommy wants you to stay in the buggy."
Briefly I consider stopping long enough to say something reassuring to the woman, "Don't worry dear, we've all been there". But something keeps me back, an unusual moment of reticence; maybe her patience won't bear an intrusion, no matter how well meant, just now.
It isn't until I am in the car, buckling myself in and getting ready to start the desperate dash to work that I am stopped by the realization of what is tugging at the back of my mind, what is wrong with this picture. I could not, at any point while in the coffee shop, recall a stroller with the child parked inside the door.
Even now, no matter how I parse the details of that woman, of her moment with her coffee, there is no part of her with a stroller or pushing it through the door as she leaves.
And now I can't forget that wild sound of the child crying.