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The Scrivener: Twitching In The Busy Crowd

Human ants, scurrying around, working, shopping…

Brian Barratt, sensible chap that he is, sips a coffee and surveys the scene, allowing himself time to get to know people.

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Ants. More ants. Lots and lots of ants. Scurrying around, intent on their work. In and out of the hole they go. Searching for food, caring for their queen. Each has a status and a job defined by its social structure. Occasionally, two will pause and twitch their antennae together.

People. More people. Lots and lots of people. Hurrying around, intent on their shopping. In and out of the supermarket doors they go. Buying their food, caring for their families.

Occasionally, two will pause and exchange a few words.
Allegories have their limits, of course. We might compare our communities with those of ants, but we know we are not the same. True, some of us are slaves to a dominant ruler. Others have to perform duties they don't necessarily enjoy. Many are so caught up in the daily round that they have no time to pause for reflection.

Sitting with a cup of coffee at the pavement café, you have time to reflect not only on ants, if you wish to indulge in that sort of thing, but also on the people in the crowd. You've been in and out of those supermarket doors, done your shopping, and can exchange a few friendly words with folk you meet.

Take the people who run the café, for instance. They are a little community unto themselves. And at this point, it gets personal, so I must start using the perpendicular pronoun.
The family and helpers at the café provide me with strong black coffee, in a proper cup and saucer. They're Italian, so they know how to make coffee. I have no wish to drink a weak substitute from a plastic beaker at a franchise outlet, thank you. The other cafés where I get real coffee are run by Lebanese and Sri Lankan families, by the way.

When I asked the matriarch of the establishment what her surname is, and heard the answer, I immediately started singing, out of tune, 'Mamma, quel vino č generoso' from Mascagni's melodramatic opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Yes, I was right. They are from Sicily. We had a good laugh, mainly at my pronunciation.

The baker, who starts his daily task at some unearthly hour of the morning and knocks off before lunch, is her son. And a very good baker he is, too. If Mamma is the Queen of the nest, then he is surely the head Worker by a long way. He also happens to own the company.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the daughters came out to clear the tables. She usually works in the splendid bakery and kitchen at the back, and doesn't often serve at the counter. She explained why. She is deaf, and wears a hearing aid. We have something in common. I wear two hearing aids which I control from a little gadget in my shirt pocket.

We both understand what a deaf person needs in a conversation — we looked directly at each other so that we could see each other's face. We agreed that it is frustrating, downright rude, when someone turns their face to the side and speaks to the air. Those huge Italian espresso engines, hissing or silent, present their own problem. It works both ways. She can't hear what customers say if she is behind the coffee maker. I can't hear what the lady behind the coffee maker is saying.

When she told me that she is a hair-dresser, I commented on the blonde-flecked dark hair of some of the children and teenagers who occasionally appear in the café, apparently family members. Yes, two or three of them are her own kids and she is responsible for their hair styles.

Her youngest son has earned a nickname from me — he is Mr Fidget. During one of my coffee-and-thinking times, he sat at the table just inside the shop window, in effect next to me. A 6-year-old bundle of legs, feet, arms, hands, fingers, head, face, eyes, mouth, that didn't stop moving. He then rushed out to look at something, ran around, paused, gazed at me for a moment, and gave me a spontaneous sunshine smile before dashing back inside to fill the kitchen with his fidgets.

A couple of the other ladies who work there are not family members or even sisters, even though to my eyes they seem to have similar facial features. I've been told who is or is not a family member, and who is whose parent or child, but that bit's so complex I'd have to write it all down in order to remember it. Even so, I love 'em all.

We're not ants, but it's good to be able to twitch antennae with people we meet in the busy crowd, isn't it?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008.


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