Welcome to the café.
In times of weakness, in times of sadness; in times of doubt and in times of duress—the café calls, its enamoured walls painted with the colours of warm company. The air lingers with the faint aroma of Familiarity, the feeling that you’re not the only one, and you smirk at the shrewd irony.
You enter, searching for a place to sit, to remain with your thoughts as you so often do. The seating is perfect here—one chair at each table. With nobody else as company, yet surrounded abundantly by faces just as lost as your own. Each one sipping on steamy mugfuls of the house favourite: Hope. There is no obligation to communicate here, no anticipation of a dialogue—each in their own delicate, contented bubble, silently trying to figure out how to piece together every scattered fragment of their life.
The tempers of the mind are so palpable here; it’s almost as though every one knows what the other person is thinking, but lacking the bravado to talk about it. You wonder if somebody sitting at the next counter might guess what you’re contemplating. The mind is the only thing truly private to us, really, and you shudder at just the thought of having it stripped bare mercilessly. But the café is a safe space, a haven for those who cannot handle their brainwaves anymore. The servers know you need to be left to your own devices—it’s the best way people like you can function. You’re exhausted from trying to satisfy people’s confidences in you, and so you’re offered a refreshing cup of Courage. You smoke a whole packet of cigarettes but the nicotine can only fill your lungs, not your soul. Yet you desperately try to fill the void with whatever you find; you feel you’ve reached a new low but in reality there is no up and there is no down. There’s just you, floating in the grey abyss of what seems like an illusion—the friends, the family, the significant other…they seem so distant now. They look at you, plead you to come back to them, but how can you when you haven’t even returned to yourself?
You sit in the room of your thoughts, dishevelled and dazed. You look around, at the mess, wondering if you can ever have a life again. This is isn’t the first time this has happened and neither is it the last. You know that pretty well by now.
All of a sudden, the light around you dims. There’s almost darkness everywhere, but you can still see a few of the faceless persons about you. In no time at all, a spotlight shines on you. First as shadowy as the world in an eclipse, but gradually, beginning to get brighter. And brighter. And brighter—until you can barely see beyond your own table. You almost feel as though you’re getting abducted. You’re scared at first, terrified till your eyes adjust to the light. Your brain gains cognizance of the happenings around it. Eventually you decide you can get through this. Just sit it out, you think. It’ll be over before you know it. You realize the faces around you have vanished. There’s only light everywhere.
Now, you’re forced to think about what’s bothering you. You’re forced to focus. You’re pushed so as to get your gears moving, to figure a way out of this conundrum you’ve got yourself into. And then you finally get it: live it. This is life, you think—it has to be seized. Nothing is ever permanent, or everlasting. Neither is this. You keep thinking about it, staring at it like a laser beam, turning all your moments of ignorance towards it into complete attention. What is it going to do? What can it even do? You’re strong enough. You’re brave enough. Hell, you just drank a whole mug of Courage. Shame on those who disbelieve you, you know you have it in you. Make loneliness your friend. Keep it by your bedside, to say goodnight to before you sleep, and wish good morning to when you wake up. Refuse to acknowledge its threatening aura. Refuse to delve into its depths. It is nothing but an illusion, and an illusion is like a glass—it can be shattered. Shattered, into a million tiny pieces, dissolving into oblivion.
Challenge this audacious monster; wrench its very soul out of its body. Breathe it all in, for this…this, my friend, is life! And once you have defeated it, you will realize—you complete yourself. You’re the other half of you. You’re your own soulmate, for there is no one else on this earth like you.
Voilà, the spotlight fades away. You look around, and you find yourself outside the establishment you just ventured into. You turn to look at the café but a striking feature amazes you—a lock on its gate.
The lonely people’s café has closed its doors forever.
by Rhea Sugwekar
Art – Savni Ranade