As I sit at my table-for-one in a well-known coffee chain, I can’t help but fidget with my phone, tap away aimlessly on my laptop and avoid the gaze of all the other single women around me. We’re all here for the same reason; we’ve had a quick look around the shops and now we need a coffee before we head home to the husband/boyfriend/kids/pets.
Not one person has uttered a sound since I walked in; we’re all sat in total silence. The only noise comes from the foreign waitress calling out order numbers and delivering rubber-like sandwiches to us all. We all try to say “thank you” but, due to having not had a conversation in hours, our voices come out as more of an embarrassing croak than speech.
Looking around, trying to avoid eye contact whilst doing so, I’d love to imagine that each of my new, silent companions has a story. A story that could make a page-turning novel involving adultery, mystery and crime. In reality, it’s probably not the case at all. Each woman probably has a mundane life, plodding along from one day to the next, occasionally stopping at Meadowhall (our current location) for a stop of retail therapy and excitement.
We simultaneously sip our mochas/cappuccinos/lattés and ponder about our thrilling existence. Did we switch the telly off? (At the plug, not leaving it on standby – that’s a fire hazard.) Did we set Sky+ for Loose Women? Did our other half remember to let the dog out?
As we silently waste an hour or two of our hectic lives, a couple walk in. They’re mid-fifties, tall, slim and giving the impression that they’ve had a domestic whilst shopping. The silent ponderers all glance up, collectively siding with the wife, hating the husband for the way he has behaved. Suddenly, he makes the case against him even stronger.
“Shall I get us a table, love?” He asks, loudly.
The ponderers are startled. How dare he break the silence? How dare he come in here with his testosterone, clumpy shoes and loud voice?
The wife looks horrified; she knows exactly what we’re all thinking. She narrows her eyes, nods and turns on her heel toward the counter. He looks around and pulls out his chair (loudly, obviously). One woman clears her throat and looks directly at him. She’s the leader of our pack now. She’s marking her territory. Yes, he’s welcome to sit there (if he must) but he has to abide by our rules.
The poor wife returns, sets her tray down gently and takes her seat. Passing her husband his coffee. Coffee? How boring of him, how surprising. He thanks her and picks up the sugar sachets. One, two, three. Three sugars? Typical. The wife picks up her handbag and searches around. Out she pulls a pen and notebook, crossing off the items she has bought from her shopping list.
“Did you pick up my prescription yesterday?” She asks the husband. He slurps (loudly) his coffee and looks over at her.
‘Typical’ we all think.
She rolls her eyes, we roll ours with her. Our pack-leader, the throat-clearer from earlier, rises to her feet. The scene is tense, will she go over and say something? No. She simply picks up her bags, and heads to the exit. As she was pack-leader, we should probably all leave too.
I look around, the ponderers are in a state of sheer confusion. We don’t know which way to turn. Should we leave?
Two more rise to their feet, pick up their bags and go.
A bead of sweat appears on the forehead of the rest of us. Whose turn is it now? Could we leave the wife with her husband?
One more leaves.
I literally cannot bear it any longer. I close my MacBook, sip the last bit of my coffee and head for the door. Glancing back at my comrades, I silently bid them farewell and head on to face the rest of my day.
Maybe I’ll get in my car, drive to meet my lover, murder him in cold blood and nobody would ever know. In reality, I’m going to get into my car, head home, stop at Tesco for some tea, feed the guinea pigs and settle down in front of the TV with a brew.
Probably exactly like my coffee-shop friends, actually.