I pressed my lips to the mug. Even before I allowed the tea to meet my lips, I felt the heat being conducted through the ceramic clay that made up the container. I kept my lips there and blew onto the dark, glinting surface of the coconut vanilla tea. Finally, once this ritual was complete, the tea slowly filled into my mouth, bit by bit. I swallowed the hot liquid and an immediate warmth swelled throughout my body. I sat back in the cushioned, green chair and let my eyes take long, slow blinks as I took in both the darkness my eyelids provided and the room surrounding me. With each blink came a deep, continued breath.
The chair I settled in had not been given arms, but regardless, it held me softly with its cushioned structure. I noticed myself hunching over and allowed the chair to hold my back as I relaxed into the embrace. Moving my head from side to side and up and down, I stretched my neck until the tension subsided.
The scenery around me was busy with displays made of tea canisters, bags of coffee and other knick-knacks. The shelves were adorned, from head to toe, with gifts and bundles of trinkets. There were signs with inspiring and meaningful messages like, "family is forever" and "enjoy the miracle of each new day", and mugs with funny sayings about coffee printed on them. As I sat in that green chair absorbing the sights before me, I leaned my head back onto the chair and looked up. The ceiling was as old as the building I sat within and the dark, forest green color was projected from the ceiling by the embossed pattern that was impressed on the metal tiles.
My attention was caught by the sound of a customer coming through the coffee shop door. The door creaked loudly which alerted me to stand to my feet and prepare for action. The door creaked back in the opposite direction as the unknown customer shut the door behind them. The door was in a completely different room, making the people who came through invisible for their first 10 seconds of arrival. Once the door had been shut, footsteps could be heard coming down the ramp that led to the basement. I strode behind the coffee bar and waited until a face rounded the corner.
I received a closed smile as the woman pensively stepped toward me. Her kind eyes were framed with miniscule wrinkles and her mouth showed signs of laughing throughout the ages. The wrinkles suited her; she was aging with grace and beauty, and if the shapes of the wrinkles were any indication, with happiness. She furroughed her brow in thought.
"What can I get for you today?" I asked her in the manufactured voice I had adapted since working here.
"I'm trying to decide between a latte and a regular coffee," she replied. A smile broke out as she said the words. Then her mouth twisted into a pursed formation and her eyes became slits indicating that she was making her final decision.
"Well," I said, "we have a chocolate flavored coffee today, so the plain coffee might not be so bad. You could go with the sweeter flavor but it would be better for you than a latte, or you could just go all out," I forced a very believable chuckle, "I don't know if that helps?" Oftentimes, I find myself rambling like this in an effort to break the silence of a customer making a decision. It makes time feel faster and lighter. The ramblings were instinctual, the emptiness of the air made me feel as though I was obliged to fill it.
"I think..." She paused, "I think I'll do the flavor of the day, 16 oz, black. But I think I'm going to get one of these coffee bundt cakes, too." She was pointing at the glass case containing the baked goods.
"That sounds good," I said.
I poured her coffee and packaged up her individual sized bundt cake. I punched in the price for both and gave her the total.
"Would you like to start a punch card with us?" I said in the manufactured voice that had returned once again.
Out of habit, I reached for the stack of cards as she made a playful frown and said, "I'm not from here or else I would." My hand stopped in mid air, and dropped to my side, and I just smiled.
I took her money and settled the deal. As she was settling down into a seat we began a conversation.
"Where are you from?" I asked out of genuine curiosity. When people meander through my small town, I'm always interested in how they came upon it.
"We're from the Cincinnati area," she said covering her mouth after taking her first bite of cake. "My daughter is here on a tour of the university. I hope she likes it here, this is such a beautiful place."
We talked. We exchanged ideas and she asked for advice to give her daughter about college decisions and classes to take in preparation. It was in this 15 minute encounter that I was able to experience the origin of her wrinkles. She was animated, friendly and personable. The words I shared within the confines of our conversation were easily expelled from within my mind. She produced a comfort that permeated throughout the room, encouraging more and more ideas to surge through our meeting.
As we continued our conversation, I began to consider the wrinkles. She may have had her insecurities about them, but from this perspective, they were something to be attained and sought after. To be weighed down by such an incredible amount of kindness and joy that one's skin displayed these smiles and laughs is a dream. I hoped that the smiles I was sharing with this woman would leave remnants on my face as soft and as affectionate as her own.