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October 13, 2023

The other day at the coffee shop

The other day, I experienced something that was incredible. I wondered if I was in the middle of a candid camera show because I couldn’t believe what was going on. I was seated at the coffee shop where I usually write when a stranger who looked like a movie star joined me at my table. A handsome fellow, salt-and-pepper hair, light-green eyes and a smile that could make my legs go weak.

The man looked like Doctor Zhivago, a famous face from my youth. He took a large white envelope out of a cross-body leather bag and placed it in front of me. My heart, my eyes and my mind light up. I hesitated before opening the mysterious package.

— “What…what can I do for you, sir?”
— “You’re the one, Madame Cora, who’ll do it all.”
— “What do you mean?”
— “I hear you’re pretty good at talking to women and I need someone like you to gauge their mood.”
— “I…I’m not sure I really follow you.”
— “I’d like you to query your female readers in your own special way to discover if every woman is a priority for herself.
— “Meaning?”
— “Ask them, do you make yourself a priority in your life? Are you your number one priority? Do they care for themselves, not with skincare or entertainment, but by questioning their existence, who and what they are, what they expect and want in life? Don’t try to reason. Simply ask them the questions contained in the envelope and note down the responses you get.”
— “What? But…?”
— “But what? Ask them if “each one is her own priority.” Ask them if they are consciously and truly at the centre of their own life projects each day.”
— “Who are you? I think you’ve forgotten to introduce yourself.”
— “Don’t worry. You see, I’m writing a romance novel and I need to know more about the future woman of my dreams.”
— “Does this woman already exist in the flesh and blood?”

Feeling uneasy and uncomfortable, I don’t know what to say. My heart goes boom, and all I want to do is to plunge into the green pools of this stranger’s eyes. My reason spreads its wings, ready to flee and yet, something keeps me here, seated at the table. Is it the heaviness of age, shyness or all the sensible words that I scatter on the page every Sunday that render me immobile?

Each time a good-looking man approaches me, my heart flutters and my alphabet soup sticks to the bottom of the saucepan. I’m worried, even terrified that the Adonis will transform into King Kong.

— “So, Madame Cora, will you help me?”

I want to tell him that I’ll cook him my specialty, spinach puff pastries! To tell him that my fingers want to uncoil his pretty salt-and-pepper curls, and that he looks exactly like Doctor Zhivago, the hero from my teenage years. If only I could magically go back in time and turn into the angelic young girl I once was. A man broke me, and I’m still grumbling about it even today…

— “Sir, will you ever tell me your name? How can I really help you? Do you want to create the perfect woman? I’m an insatiable reader and, believe me, I already know that this woman only exists in cheap romance novels. So, I’m sorry, but I will not question my dear readers. I have come to know them through thousands of their comments. They are courageous, thoughtful, caring and generous, and know first-hand of the challenges life throws at us. Do we really have to be a priority to ourselves? Our life projects are often knocked about, thwarted and mishandled, and yet we still move forward against all odds. The lives that we have the privilege of bringing into this world make us courageous, committed mothers capable of cajoling the instability of our own lives.”

The man in front of me makes sputtering noises, his fingers tremble and he finally manages a few faint “thank yous” under his breath. And then he storms out! He remembered to stuff the white envelope back into his bag before leaving; taking with him the existential questions I will never read.

Comfortably seated, I try to think. A heavy tear falls on a silver strand of hair lying on my table.