This is part of a series of short stories featuring Joan, the protagonist. I just wanted to explore her as a character. I thought it would be fun! If you want to know more about her, read ‘The Drive’.
A Cup of Coffee
Staring outside the window and watching each scene as it tried to keep up with the speed of the train: that was one of Joan’s favourite things about travelling. . Green trees with full branches would flash pass and just when she thought that beauty had presented itself in full, another image would appear. Sometimes, it was just a clear sky, plain with no clouds in sight. Below it was a field of daffodils, bright and yellow. Skies and flowers didn’t have to worry about their value. All they had to do was exist, die and then exist again.
As the train reached Joan’s stop, she thought about her value in relation to the sky and the flowers that grew beneath it. A nineteen year old with a slight need to colour code things and have them in the right order, she was still trying to figure out how she could matter in such a large world when she was so small. What was her place in this vast world? Before Joan think more about the importance of her existence, a voice from the speakers announced that the train had arrived in Brighton. She came all this way to meet Emily, one of her good friends who had come up to study. They had promised to stay in contact, and since it was Emily’s birthday Joan had to be there. Apparently they were going out for a sophisticated meal to mark her 20th birthday.
Joan stepped off the train after patiently waiting in a small queue. Twenty. It sounded so mature, so different from nineteen. Then it again it wasn’t the same as twenty. Emily would be one year wiser, one year older. Joan scanned the platform looking for Emily’s familiar blond her. How could she get any wiser? Surely that would be impossible. She knew the answer to most things. But, Joan couldn’t seem to find answers to anything. Too much thinking about things that perhaps didn’t really matter for now. That was the problem.She was always thinking about this or that. Yet, the answers never presented themselves in a clear or logical way.
Joan leaned against a wall which faced the exit of the station; she wanted to keep eye out for Emily. Within minutes, Emily strolled into the station and gazed around trying to search for Joan. She was not the best at spotting people especially without her glasses. In front of her she could see, vaguely, someone who might be Joan. Like must things which Emily had done in her life, she took a gamble and walked confidently to the stranger that might or might not be Joan. If it wasn’t Joan she would politely excuse herself. That was the plan. No harm done.
‘Jo!! It’s so good to see you.’
A little startled, Joan looked up from her phone and was relieved to find her friend smiling at her.
‘Emily! I didn’t even see you walk in’, she said, hugging her friend. ‘Happy Birthday. You know, you’re old now. Like really old.’
‘I’m only a few months older than you. So, you’re going to be old very soon too.’
‘I can’t believe you’re ten years away from thirty.How does it feel?’ Emily’s eyes widened and she had a look of intense concentration. ‘I never thought of it like that. Ten years till thirty. Well, at least they say the twenties are the best years… I think.
‘Hmmm, I guess that’s true. But, how do you feel?’
‘The same’. She paused for a moment. ‘Yup, nothing’s different. Maybe maturity and all that stuff will kick in tomorrow?’
Joan didn’t know, but she nodded, because Emily was always right. ‘So, are you excited for tonight?’
‘Of course. Only a few people are coming. I didn’t want anything too big.’
‘Are these people from your course?’
‘Some of them are and three of them are my house mates.’
‘ Oh, that will be nice.’
‘And you’re here too!
‘Well, you did threaten me, so I had no choice.’
‘Ha-ha. You’re very funny. Start a comedy show’, Emily replied and then poked her friend in the shoulder. ‘Anyway, we’re nearly home. We’ll drop the bags off and grab some coffee? There’s a really nice cafe in town.’
‘Good plan. I could definitely do with a coffee.’
Emily was right about the cafe. It was quaint looking and small. There was a seating area outside with pale blue metal chairs and tables.
‘It’s nice, isn’t it? asked Emily.
‘ Yeah, it’s really pretty’, Joan said, observing the flower garden at the entrance of the cafe. ‘We should definitely sit outside since it’s warm.’
‘Literally what I was thinking.’
‘You sit down and I’ll get the drinks. I don’t want to strain your old ankles.’
‘Alright, alright. Just get the drinks.’
Joan walked inside the cafe. She was greeted by a fresh smell of coffee, which she loved. Getting the drinks was nice and easy. Cake. Might as well get Emily carrot cake. She could eat tons of that and she deserved it since it was her birthday.
Joan finished making the order and was told that it would be out in a few minutes. She smiled gratefully and went back outside. As she approached their table, she noticed that Emily was in a conversation which a random guy wearing a bright yellow t-shirt. The sun was out, but why on earth would he wear such a bright thing. Was he trying to blind everyone? When Joan got closer she could her them laughing.
‘Hey, I’m back’, she said.
‘Jo’, Emily said, still laughing. ‘This is Chris. Chris this is Joan.’
Chris did small wave and grinned. ‘So, you’re the wonderful friend Emily’s always talking about. It’s an honour to finally meet you’, he said, pretending to bow. Joan felt as if she had known him for years, an old friend that she hadn’t seen for a while.
‘Very courteous, but a little old fashioned’, she said, smiling playfully. ‘Darn. It usually works.’ ‘Chris, sit’, interrupted Emily. He sat opposite Joan and rested his arms on the table.’So, Joan are you’re a student too?’ ‘ Yeah. I’m studying psychology. And yourself?’ ‘Interesting. My sister’s doing the same thing. I’m doing law.’ ‘Is it as brutal as they say? asked Emily. ‘Well, if you have no morals. I like it though.’ A waitress came with their coffees and cake. ‘Carrot cake! Thanks Jo’, said Emily, beaming. ‘Guys, the other day I read this article about how to find inner peace and being happy. It was pretty good.
Chris rolled his eyes and sighed. ‘Not one of those things again. Being happy is simple. It’s a choice.’
‘But, that choice isn’t always easy. Some people are happier than others because they’re in good situations.’
Chris turned to Joan. ‘What do you think? Those self-help guides are just quick ways to make money out of people.’
Joan tried to think of something to say, something that she believed was true. ‘I think it depends on how you define happiness. My idea of happiness might be different to yours.’
‘Obviously it’s not a universal thing. But it is easy. I get out of bed in the morning and i either choose to be miserable or choose to be happy’, said Chris.
‘But for some people that’s difficult. What if they’re depressed? What if they’ve lost a loved one?questioned Joan. Emily nodded in agreement.
‘It’s all a state of mind.’
‘Tell that to all the unhappy people in the world’, retorted Emily.
‘But it’s true’, he said.
‘So you’re saying that people can think their way into happiness?asked Jo.
‘Not alone, though. Human strength alone isn’t enough’, said Joan. ‘ I don’t think we can truly rely on ourselves because we’re too fickle.’
‘That is kind of true’, agreed Emily. ‘That’s why mediation is good for the soul and mind.’
‘Yeah, but who are you mediating to?asked Chris. ‘If there is some force, energy or whatever you want to call it, I’m sure it doesn’t care about whether we’re happy or not. It’s indifferent. Trust me, we all look the same to it. I don’t think any of us are the apple of its eye.’
‘How do you know that? Joan folded her arms and looked into the distance.She was still confused about whether she was significant at all, whether she could be happy in life by relying on her on human body. Yet, she hadn’t completely rejected the idea of it. What was it? ‘You can’t prove they we’re alone on this earth. We might be, but I don’t think everyone could know for certain.’
‘Well, the priests seem to think they do. Religion, I think, is man-made.’
‘Oh Chris, no one’s talking about religion Chris’, said Emily, hitting his arm. ‘Don’t be so serious. Personally, I’m not a fan of it. But, if people find their happiness through believing in something then that’s okay too. Whose knows? Maybe one day I’ll encounter it. But until then, I’ll live my life’. Emily was cheerful and said her part with absolute confidence.
‘There’s nothing out there’, Chris continued.
‘That’s your opinion’, remarked Joan.’I don’t agree with it’, she said more carefully. ‘I didn’t say you had to agree. I guess we think differently’, said Chris, with a bitter smile. ‘Anyway, sorry to ruin the fun. I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you guys tonight. It was nice meeting you Joan’. He could only manage half of a smile. Joan, looked him in the eye quickly, gave him a brief smile and then turned away. As he walked away, Joan couldn’t decide whether he was one of the most interesting or cynical person she had ever met. Yet, she still felt like they were old friends that could never agree on anything.
That night at Emily’s meal laughter and chatter could be heard. Joan had never seen her friend look happier; and Joan felt that she was in the right place, at her friend’s side. Across from her was Chris. Occasionally they would glance at each other but not long enough got for either of them to say anything. The night progressed and everyone seemed to find themselves in conversation. When Chris finished his conversation about immigration laws he looked up at Joan, who was just near the end of laughing at a joke
‘I bet I can tell a better joke then him’, said Chris with an easy smile. ‘I see you’re having a nice time.’
‘Not more than Emily! Someone ordered her to many drinks’, replied Joan nonchalantly. Why did it matter if he spoke or not? He was just a guy full of pessimistic opinions.
‘I wanted to say sorry for earlier’, he said. ‘I hope I didn’t offend you or anything. We’ve just met and I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. You have your beliefs and I have mine. Either way, I don’t see why we can’t be fiends’ , said Chris, hopefully.
Joan smiled lightly. ‘To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I believe in. It’s a bit blurry. I certainly don’t see things the way you do. But, I think the world would be a dull place if we all shared the same opinions.’
‘Nicely said, Joan.’
‘What can I say? I’m good with words.’
Chris grinned fully and there was a light In his eyes. ‘You’re alright. I’m not that impressed’, was his reply.
All they could do laugh, not loud laughter, but like the sound of gentle and steady droplets tapping a window.