Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

Lakeside Arts, Nottingham

When she sat down with her coffee, she noticed the group of eight or ten women at the table in the bay window, but assumed they were friends who had been to the exhibition, like her, and had gone for a sit down and a drink.

At first, she did not pay them any particular attention, but from where she was sitting, they were in her direct line of vision, so she gradually became more aware of them.

She noticed that there was another couple on the edge of the group of women: an elderly man, with a walking aid next to him, and his wife or partner. At first, it was not obvious that they part of the group, but as time went on, she noticed that they interacted with some members. The man’s disability had made it difficult for him to be physically seated with the group round the table.

It was when she realised that most of them were holding books, and what seemed to be the same book, that her interest was aroused. From what she could see, the style of printing on the cover suggested that it might not be a modern book. By then what had started as being the normal chatting among friends had changed. Many of the conversations seemed directed to one particular woman, who was obviously some sort of group leader. The conversations seemed animated, but voices low, so the quiet activities in a coffee shop in an art gallery on the edge of a university park were not disturbed. What could they be talking about? She wondered, what was the common interest they shared?

The apparent leader was an attractive blonde woman, probably in her mid to late thirties, wearing a trendy bright orange blouse. The ages of the other women in the group ranged from early thirties to perhaps late sixties, the observer thought. Given the location, and from their smart causal appearances, the observer guessed that the women were from an academic or professional background. Clothing was fashionable, age appropriate, good quality without being obviously ‘designer’. Jewellery was likewise, she thought; understated but noticeably good quality.

coffee and croissantAs the observer drank her coffee, and as the group continued their discussions, she looked round at the few other people sitting in the cafe. A middle-aged man sat on his own, reading a newspaper, clearly not in any hurry, making his coffee last as long as he could. A family group of grandparents, mother and young boy finished their drinks and prepared to leave. The young boy was watched across the road ahead of his mother and grandparents, who clearly were not in the same rush to get there. A young girl went to the counter, asked the price of the cupcakes, and shortly after, went back clutching some money. After spending time making her selection, with the help of the counter assistant, she sat down and blissfully ate her cake, keeping one eye on the door she had come from. The counter assistant moved between a kitchen area at the rear and the serving area, keeping an eye out for customers. A few students came in from the exhibition, looked at some of the jewellery in the display cabinets, picked up some display leaflets and left.

The observers’ attention was drawn back to the group of women when the wife or partner of the man got up, and went into the art exhibition room. The focus of the women round the table seemed to change, and some put the books back in their bags, or started talking to their neighbours. One or two passed near the observer, on their way to the Ladies. The group leader appeared to draw the group back together briefly, and then became just another member of the group, chatting across the table. Very soon, some of them started to get ready to leave, and goodbyes were said, although a couple went to the counter to get drinks, and appeared to be continuing their conversation.

No one had noticed the observer, sitting quietly watching them from a distance, absorbed in her thoughts. There were so many questions that could have been asked: the ‘what’, the ‘who’, the ‘why’?

But she said nothing. She realised that she had finished her coffee, and looked at her watch. As she gathered her belongings together, and checked that she hadn’t left anything she looked over to the window a last time, before walking out of the cafe to rejoin her husband, who was waiting for her outside the exhibition. Together, they left to continue their journey and share their separate observations and experiences.

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