I went shopping a couple of days ago. Having done the bagging up and paying bit I decided to have a cup of coffee before heading home. The cafe attached to the store is a couple of notches up from meah but it’s convenient.
It was pretty full for a cold Tuesday afternoon. Clutching my cup I headed for a bank of four seats by the window. One seat, next to the glass was taken; the customer was aged, even by my less than exacting standards. His full trolley sat next to the aisle seat which was empty. He didn’t look up so I sat on the other aisle seat diagonally from him.
In front of each of us was a low coffee table. On each sat a copy of the Evening Standard, a free paper. The one on the table by me faced away so I glanced at it and spun it round, to read the Trump-blasting headline.
‘That’s our paper, thank you,’ said a sharp angry voice.
The elderly gentleman glared at me.
‘You can get your own over there.’
If I’m honest it hadn’t occurred to me both papers were his, that he was waiting for someone to join him. Equally I hadn’t given it a lot if thought. As the red dots on his cheeks grew with his indignation, I realised he had no cup in front of him. Glancing to the counter I noted an elderly lady being served with two hot drinks. His wife I surmised.
‘I’m so sorry. I thought they’d been left here.’ They are free papers after all and are always being abandoned either for others to read or because people are too lazy to dispose of them. I turned the paper back and repeated my apology.
His anger didn’t abate. He pulled both the table and the paper closer to the seats on his side and narrowed his eyes.
His wife joined him. A whispered conversation ensued. She too gave me a glare, a brief one as she didn’t want to maintain eye contact.
As I drank my coffee I wondered what he thought. It did feel as if he hadn’t accepted my actions as innocent albeit wrong. Rather his continued annoyance suggested he felt I had to have known the paper was his and I was deliberately taking it.
But, as my musing continued, was I wrong to think him angry? Was that just his way? A trifle gruff, perhaps. Defensive. Maybe he thought I might get cross, be violent and needed to stand up to me just in case?
How easy is it to come to judgements about other people? To ascribe intentions to actions. To lack that essential empathy that would lead to a better understanding. He could have had a really bad day, be in pain. Maybe the last person he interfaced with was gratuitously rude.
I finished my coffee and stood up, meeting his beady eyed stare. As I prepared to repeat my apology he said, ‘I hope you’re taking that dirty cup away.’ With that he raised his paper and hid his righteous indignation from my gaze.
Oh well. Sometimes ‘fuck you, grandpa’ is all they understand.