A Chance Meeting with a Hat

They met that day because he was wearing a hat that reminded her of something her grandfather might have worn during the war. She wasn’t well-versed in starting up conversations, but she knew it was something people did all the time, and she wanted to try it out.

She took her seat in the stool beside his at the coffee bar, quietly. She’d hoped he would notice her and also that she was being careful not to disturb him. The bar was empty but for the two of them, and she questioned herself and what she was doing now that she’d been bold enough to position herself in “his” space — when a bar that sits seven people has only one person sitting at the very end of it, that person’s space arguably consists of a two-stool radius, and she’d quietly invaded it, positioning herself as close to its nucleus as possible, without sitting in his lap.

For a few moments, she sat rigidly beside him and struggled to come up with a list of conversation-starters. The barista was gingerly removing almond croissants from a large pastry box with a pair of shiny tongs and setting them inside a glass display case.

On any review site, this cafe was noted for being “trendy,” largely because its aesthetic was a sort-of polished industrial and its male baristas all carefully groomed their facial hair. The music, of course, was chosen to enhance the atmosphere, to make the steely fixtures and dark wooden counters and sidewalls seem like the environs of an art gallery — its tempo was always relaxed and involved some electric instrumentation and ethereal keyboard sounds.

On this particular morning, the baristas could not decide on a song to play, and when no other customers seemed to be coming in, two of the three men with well-groomed facial hair headed to the back of the cafe and began sifting through their music libraries. After playing ten seconds’ worth of four different songs, they appeared to agree on a fifth to let play through.

So, as she sat right next to the man in the interesting hat, being careful not to move at all — not even to drink her $6 latte — the degree of her discomfort took a hike as the sounds of gongs or church bells or some such thing resounded. After a short time, all she could hear were church bells, and she imagined them as ringing ominously atop an ancient church on a stormy day.

Because of the gonging, she now felt that the last thing she wanted was to strike up a conversation with him. She saw the situation as she thought he must surely have seen it (and might remember later to his friends or coworkers): He came in for a coffee before going into work, sat down, and a strange woman took a seat right beside him, awkwardly, as all the stools at the coffee bar were empty, and then some strange church bell music came on and the strange woman’s eyes just grew bigger and bigger, and still she didn’t move (not even to drink her coffee).

So, finally, she moved to check the time. And, when she did, he stood up to leave and picked up his coffee cup on its saucer, to carry it over to the dirty-dish bin. But as he did so, the thick sound of church bells was pierced by the shrieking of some kind of angry bird sound, jolting him and spilling the remnants of his coffee onto her old messenger bag that she hardly cared for.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” he said in horror, grabbing his unused napkin from the counter and bending over to dab at the spill.

“That’s okay,” she said and meant it. “I like your hat!”

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