Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Early in January right after I came back to the Netherlands from the Christmas break, I had a job interview near Utrecht. I had never been in Utrecht before and since I spent a good thirty euros on the train there and back (quite a fortune for my student budget), I decided to make the most out of it – if I don´t get a job, I'll bury my sorrows and if I get it I´ll have a little celebration. Plus, I really needed something to look forward to that day, because to get that job was a top priority, and I was overly anxious. As life usually goes when you try to have important events under control, the journey there was a little disaster. Not only my train was cancelled, but also my tram was late, so I become super stressed. I was only a second away from a meltdown. To explain, my financial situation was terrible at that time; I started imagining all sorts of dreadful scenarios - a cycle of thoughts that is very hard to escape once you get trapped in. Fortunately, as life also usually goes when you think everything has broken down and the world is about to end, being late ten minutes didn´t lessen my chances at the interview. On the contrary and, thank God, I got the job quite easily.
As much as I would feel stuck in the morning, I was feeling high on the series of fortunate events whilst I was wandering through Utrecht in the afternoon. The weather was stunning, just as if the country wanted to encourage me that everything is going to be fine after all (I genuinely believed that). Being high on sunbeams, I realized I had been starving since I had only eaten breakfast that day. So, I googled the best cafés in the city and chose the one nearby that offered all-day English breakfast (I developed some cheeky taste buds for bacon last year in the UK). It took me a beautiful ten minutes’ walk there and Utrecht was showing itself in its very best.
My café of choice was cute and tiny. Packed with all sorts of cool people and handsome tattooed hipster baristas. It surely is a famous place because even though there were no visible tables to sit at, people would still come in and sit on the window sills or heaters. Knowing that I was going to order food, I asked a cute guy at the bar whether they had any seats left. He surprised and a little bit annoyed looked at me, looked at the room, and then again at me: “I can see two tables you can sit at.” As much as I wanted to see those tables, I couldn't find a single one that was not busy. The barista saw my confusion and pointed at the room. “We, here, don´t mind sitting with strangers and getting to know people over a cup of coffee.” Damn, I could hear that arrogance in his voice, but I was too satisfied with myself that day that I didn't have the capacity to say something back. I smiled at him and walked to the tables. The room was busy and noisy, but it was true some people would sit together even though they didn´t know each other; it was clear to me because they were quite distant and not talking. I was trying my best to spot an empty chair since I was dying of hunger and after a few minutes, I saw a tall blonde guy standing up. There was one more man sitting with him but I assumed they were both leaving, so I almost ran there to secure the place. I came to the table and asked whether they were finished. The tall blonde guy said he was, but his friend was still staying. I didn't think in that moment and promptly asked the other one if I could sit with him. That was an awkward moment because the blonde guy gave his fellow companion a big bright smile and the other looked like he would want the earth to swallow him in that second. I acted as if I had not seen anything and just gave an encouraging smile to the now almost red face guy at the table. Eventually, he smiled back, and so we sit together after his friend left.
As I am writing this now, thinking about the whole situation, I feel a little bit bad that I recklessly interrupted that kind man's afternoon. It is not easy for all people to have a conversation or feel comfortable with strangers instantly, something I tend to forget since I´m usually one of the social butterflies. Anyway, the deed had been done. The guy appeared to be shy but intelligent and nice. He was in his twenties, Surinamese, having a sort of ´university professor look´, he even had round black glasses which emphasized the look. For the first few minutes, we didn't talk and the poor nervous man was changing his gaze from the door to the bar, to the windows and back – anywhere but me. “Okay Simona, you are an intruder here, come on, make him comfortable and start the conversation, you have to now!” So, I took my little soul and asked him what his name was and where he was from. To my great surprise the conversation flowed very well. The guy just needed a push but after that, he would talk and talk and talk. A stone fell from my heart since I didn't have to initiate everything, and I was genuinely amused listening to all his stories. Some were quite random but super cute. He explained he had to visit his parents that day because he works in IT and he had to fix their computer. He said it with such an annoyed face that I burst into a laugh – the curse of IT guys to fix every computer. Some of his stories were also really useful, like that he used to wor
k as a tour guide in the Hague. He gave me tips of what to do and see outside the mainstream I already knew. We chatted for a good two hours; I finished my tasty fry up, he finished his cup of tea, and we still wouldn't stop talking. As the evening approached we both agreed it was time to go. He left first, thanking me for a great time and wishing me all the best. We didn't exchange numbers and I have to admit, I even forgot his name. But sometimes it be like that. Some people we meet along the way, exchange thoughts, spend a nice time together, then say bye and never see each other again. But there is no feeling of regret or sadness, only a simple pleasant memory. I left the café shortly after him catching the next train home. The annoyed barista looked a little less grumpy as before. I would even say that when he smiled at me, he meant it genuinely: “So I see you´ve found a friend here, haven't you?”
I decided to share this story because as I write above, it always brings a pleasant picture to my mind. It is not one of those deep philosophical essays or great interesting adventures. Some people would even consider it a bit boring but that is why I like it. It's simple and genuine and those things tend to matter the most in life. It keeps reminding me that no matter how distant and unconfident people may appear (looking angry, not interested or not talkative) if we give them a chance and see them, they will grow in our eyes – that is the power we can give to others. It is my own experience. It has never helped to get angry at an angry person or stay shy with a shy one; things won't change that way. Sometimes we must be those brave ones. All the more in these odd and difficult times of the quarantine. It takes only a few seconds to send a warm text of “Hi, how have you been?” to someone who is not coping well. Only a few seconds for that text to lessen his or her tough situation. Only a few seconds until he or she texts someone else; and so, we keep connected. And we empower others.
By: Simona Poorova