About twice a week, I take a walk down Chambers street to a small square park spanning two streets lengthwise and two streets widthwise. At the left corner of this park, a two-seater bench faces the northern façade of a local bar. Its convenient location across from four large windows allows you to study the interactions of those sitting at three wooden tables in the establishment. This is a favorite pastime of mine, especially when I’m feeling estranged from society.
On this Tuesday evening, the three tables by the windows were occupied. The table at the far right was a two-seater occupied by a young woman and man deep in conversation. The middle table was a four-seater occupied by four young lads. The table at the left was another two-seater occupied by a lone woman drinking a glass of red wine.
I decided to focus on the pair first. I watched as the man took a sip of his drink and then raised his eyebrows at his companion. He began to speak, then paused dramatically, allowing her space to respond. She laughed in a polite manner and swiped a strand of hair behind her left ear. Emboldened, he began to gesture with his hands and make semi-obscene movements while she watched with a cocked head and furrowed eyebrows. His increased enthusiasm seemed to miss its mark, but five awkward minutes passed before he realized this. Their conversation became strained; the man spoke about four times the amount of the woman, who drank just as sparingly as she responded to his words. The man drank liberally, finishing two whiskies in a fifteen-minute span and ordering another five minutes later. As their conversation dwindled, I tired of their interaction and redirected my attention to the group of rowdy gentlemen at their left.
The largest of the bunch (he must have been over 6’3’’ and pushing three-hundred pounds) had just returned with two dark-colored beers in his hand. He handed one to the skinny redheaded fellow (who was quite attractive) and then raised the other to his lips. The attractive redhead laughed at something the man across from him said, whose looks were generic and undistinguished. The last of the four had his eyes glued to a football match. I couldn’t see his face, but I did admire his mass of curly black hair. The men were as interesting as any group of conventional young men. They laughed, stared at the TV, slapped each other’s backs, punched each other, bought rounds of beers, took frequent bathroom breaks, and intermittently called out to the young, hot waitress. But they didn’t transfer their rowdiness to any other patrons. They kept it insular to their middle table.
I quickly lost interest in their interactions, so I turned my torso and neck to the left and began to watch the lone woman. Out of the seven individuals who occupied the three tables, she might have been the only one who possessed a goal higher than the pursuit of pleasure. With poise and determination, she sipped at her drink and studied the rowdy gentleman in front of her.
I found this lone lady to be complex and intriguing. Her expressions and movements were subtle, yet with close observation she was remarkably transparent. Although her mannerisms were closed, her posture was open. It signaled that she was a woman of firm conviction, who understood her wants, desires, and needs, but who was also aware of the fact that other’s opinions and perspectives differed from her own. Moreover, she was carefully dressed, but not in a stiff, put-together manner. Her makeup was neutral, her hair was wavy and natural, and her taste in jewelry refined. She had a simple elegance to her, like a Parisian woman. Her beauty was exquisite, but understated, too understated for the rowdy gentleman across from her- used to push up bras, low necklines, full-on makeup, and tight mini dresses- to fully appreciate.
She finished her wine and looked out the window. Her gaze fell to the right of where I was sitting, where the leaves of a maple tree were beginning to change color. Her eyes were hooded, adding to her wise, somber appearance, and her mouth was wide and thin. As she turned her head, a waiter grabbed her attention. She responded to him with a courteous nod.
Once the waiter left, she shifted in her seat, crossed her legs, and refocused back onto the tree. It dawned on me that she was sad about something. Either that, or she was as grievously lonely as he was. She leaned forward and cupped her head with a bony, narrow hand, posed in this position until the waiter brought her another glass of red wine. She gracefully sipped her wine with her body angled towards the middle table of rowdy gentleman. But she wasn’t watching them. Her eyes were dazed.
Ten minutes later, she finished her drink, asked for the check, and paid in cash. She left a five-dollar bill on top of the black bill fold and walked away from the window.
She reappeared at the corner, crossing the street towards where the park was. As she passed by the bench, she dropped her silk scarf at my feet. I picked it up and confidently handed it to her. She was about to smile at me, but when she met my eyes she pulled back and locked her face in a firm expression.
As she crossed the street, she loosely circled the scarf around her neck and then quickened her pace until she became indistinguishable from the other pedestrians.