I am a part of all that I have met.
- Alfred Tennyson
I'm sitting in my coffee shop, the one I go to every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to write in, and there's this elderly gentleman there same days as me. He's friendly. We smile. I wave at him, or nod my head in acknowledgement. I like to keep to myself. Like the British. But he's persistent and one day we chat. He tells me I move my lips when I "study".
"I'm not studying," I say. "I'm writing. I have to hear the words out loud to know if they flow or not."
"Well, that's alright. Everyone has their own style for learning," he says, not really hearing.
Whatever. I think. He's nice.
Days pass, same, same. Try to avoid chatting. Smile, nod, wave. I'm a waver. Like a kid.
Sometimes, I look up from my laptop and more often than not, he's watching me. "Do you know that you look like you're about to cry when you work? he asks.
"Oh, well, I probably am going to cry," I say, sorta surprised and only able to respond with a bald-faced truth.
"I'm working on some personal essays. They make me cry sometimes."
"What's your genetic heritage?" he asks me next, just like that, out of the blue.
Now, Canadians discuss their heritage a lot, because even though most of this generation was born here, most of our grandparents' generation was not, so none of us are really sure where home is and we like to talk about that displaced feeling and what it's done to our identity. But I've just been to the doctor to donate a sample of my DNA for testing and I'm thinking about that. Wondering if this guy in the coffee shop wants my DNA, too and because I've also just read an article about genetics and cloning. So I fake confusion to buy time, but it's not all faking because I really am a little confused by his use of the word 'genetic' in his question to me.
"Ah, do you mean my background, where my parents were born?"
"Ya. What's your background?" he asks.
"Dutch. And Welsh." I say. Not so good at buying time.
"That's why you're so white," he says, as if I just answered a deeply troubling question for him.
That and my malfunctioning thyroid, I think. "Oh?" I ask.
"Ya. Genetics was my first degree. I know these things. You wanna coffee? I'm going to get another."
And there, in that little moment, I make a split decision. This guy's a little odd, I think, but so am I. This splendid isolation isn't always so splendid. In fact, it didn't serve the Brits too well in the long run. I decide to to say to hell with my island mentality and jump on the community bandwagon.
"Oh. Sure. Thanks." I say with a smile. He leaves to get us our coffee.
He's nice, I think. Chatty, but nice. Probably just lonely.
I get back to work while he gets our coffee. I read what I've just written out loud. People are looking at me from their empty tables and smirking. They think I'm the crazy one, but none of them are getting a free coffee.