As I noticed the sign on the door asking patrons to please wear face coverings, it occurred to me that the last time I walked into the coffee place was nearly 18 months ago.
Given that the storefront had not in any way changed, and the only alteration in its surroundings was a new smoke shop (there always has to be one tucked in any plaza), it felt more like 18 days since I had been there. Certain nostalgia had in fact pulled at me in the morning, and soon enough there I was, reality matching what I had daydreamed about.
But I checked my dishonesty immediately. Who was I kidding? No doubt 18 months had passed, and months of the most tremendous nature.
Yet, I could not help being satisfied that upon entering the coffee place, it was as I remembered it. I asked myself whether the coffee itself would taste as rich as it did in my recollection. The reason it used to make sense for me to drive so out of my way to that place was the powerful coffee.
I therefore placed my iced coffee order with particular zest, some of which was nonetheless required to be heard through the mask. I then sat down where I typically would, and glanced around. At that point I was transported again to a moment in time when pestilences, to individuals of common sense, were a thing of the Middle Ages or of the Bible.
I even began to persuade myself that I was still in school; still convinced of heading into Finance; still keen on discovering more of the city. Surely, the place would fill with groups of chatty college students and extrovert hipsters any moment; any moment, a patron whom I recognized as a regular would recognize me as a regular.
I watched as the espresso shots fell through the iced milk, the body of my drink darkening. Via several currents, the coffee fell in as curious a manner as it would have 18 months ago. I believed that it would taste magically good, and that, on that first sip, I would wake up from the uncanniest of dreams involving a Chinese wet-market, a flash recession, and a sack of the Capitol.
It tasted as good as that I had had two days before at a place much, much closer to home. And according to the second sip, it was only slightly better than what I could make myself.
I sat back looking out to the passing cars. At once, those thoughts about a simpler, easier past appeared impertinent.
This average coffee told me that the past had likely been an average world, and that any further attempts to romanticize pre-pandemic life was an idle exercise, if not a perverse one. “What had been had been alright, but it was also no longer,” I murmured to myself, “and so I must move on. Live in the present. Choose to live in the present.”
Somewhat disillusioned but at peace, I read as I finished the glass of iced coffee. I doubted I would return anytime soon. Making frequent visits to this coffee shop would be a habit of the past—a relic of a time when I had the luxury of hating to stay home too many days in a row.
Having reached my car, I looked back at the coffee place as you do towards a good friend whom the opening of a new chapter in your life will force you to forgo for a while.
I have not been back since.