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“Hello, welcome to Black Beans Coffee Shop. What can I get you?”
Like a broken record, it was always the same question. This was then followed by the same dry and rehearsed response. Then, mindlessly, the barista turns and begins to put together the customer’s order. As soon as the order was complete, the barista would stand in front of the register and hand off the order to the customer, in return for some form of payment. Everything was done very robotically and structured, never falling out of line or adding anything to change the routine that was in place. Each straw sat still in the glass holster on the counter, every plastic fork was in the correct compartment and would never be mixed in with the plastic spoons, and every bottle of water was turned to face forward, so that the labels were easy to see, as if they were standing at attention. Everything had its place.
With everything in order and everyone following a meticulous routine, there was no room to convey any kind of attachment or emotion. A structured schedule did not allow for the various interruptions of emotions. The Barista greeted each customer politely but also plainly. He was indifferent to their appearances, personalities, and desires. Each customer was just another order of coffee and a pastry. There was nothing to distinguish one grey-haired customer from the next.
“Thank you,” the customer replied to the Barista’s greeting with a faint smile before placing her order. “I would like a blueberry muffin, please.”
The Barista jotted down the order then looked up at the customer. He watched while she just stood there, smiling politely at him. The Barista gave her a sideways glance. Why was she just standing there? She should have moved down the line and waited in front of the register. She needs to be waiting there so I can charge her for her order.
“I would also like a …” The woman began as she took note of the Barista’s confused look.
“Ah yes, you would like a coffee as well.” The Barista replied quickly as he realized she was not done with her order. He scribbled down the rest of the order, working rapidly to return to the normal routine. Then he looked up at the woman again and realized she still was not moving down the line.
The petite woman stood in the same spot, biting her bottom lip. She looked down at the counter as she tucked her short blonde hair behind her ear. When she looked back up at the Barista she smiled a patient smile and softly said, “Actually, I would like a Chi tea.”
The Barista stood completely still, staring at the woman. He understood what she was asking for but it was like the words had slammed into a brick wall inside his head. Black Bean’s Coffee shop did offer tea, but no one had ever ordered it before. It was not normal and it did not follow the rehearsed routine.
The Barista looked around at all of the coffee mixes that surrounded him. He blinked a few times as he tried to process what he was being asked to do. He stepped back and looked around as he searched for the instructions on how to prepare tea. He found the instructions in an old dusty binder behind stores of Black's Black Bean Coffee. The instructions were written out simply, step-by-step. The Barista did his best to focus on the details of each step. Once he pulled out the paper cup and began to mix the ingredients together, the woman stepped down the line to the register.
Step-by-step, the Barista mixed together the ingredients for the woman’s Chi tea. When the deed was done, he cautiously handed her the warm cup, and watched as the smile grew across her face. He could see the way her eyes lit up when the steam brushed against her cheek. In turn, the corners of the Barista’s mouth turned up at the sight of her pleasure. It was a genuine smile. The woman handed the Barista the money to pay for the muffin and tea and followed the path out the door. Then, in a blink of an eye, everything was back to normal. The next grey-haired, with a black sweater customer was waiting to be served their coffee and pastry.
“Hello, welcome to Black Beans Coffee Shop. What can I get you?” The Barista said, as he began his routine once again. As the day went on, the strange events became nothing but a memory that slowly faded away to the back of his mind while the normal order of the day took over again. The same pattern of the customer requesting coffee and a pastry then stepping in front of the register to pay for their food.
Each customer followed in the footsteps of the person before them. Once they received their order, they walked a direct path out of the coffee shop and enjoyed their order on their way to their next destination. Despite the fact that the coffee shop offered plenty of seating for the customers, no one ever sat and enjoyed their food at the shop. The customers just stuck to the assembly line that they were used to and proceeded to leave once they received their order. The oversized arm chair beside the window was never used, as it always sat empty when the shop was open. Small iron tables that were scattered about the shop remained perfectly clean, for no one ever placed their coffee down on them. Even the dark, wood floor barely ever needed mopping. No one ever spilled their drinks before leaving the shop.
Throughout each day, the customer’s recited their orders with distance in their voices. Void of any feeling or emotions. Then they dug through their wallets while the Barista put together their orders. The greatest connection between the Barista and the customers was the 30 seconds that they made eye contact when the Barista first greeted the customers. After those first 30 seconds the customer and Barista acted as if they were in two separate worlds. Their worlds never collided. They only bridged as the customer received their order, but then the bridge collapsed and both people were traveling in different orbits.
Day after day everything remained the exact same. The Barista was used to the order in which things were done. The order and structure provided comfort and stability to everyone. The woman who ordered the Chi Tea earlier that day was nothing but a glitch in the system. After she had left, everything fell back into place. The Barista automatically went through his day just like normal. The next day, when he went into work, he continued to pursue his routine as he unlocked the double glass doors, then flipped around the plastic sign that read “OPEN” in bold, red print. Like clockwork, at nine o’ clock the first costumer opened one of the doors and the sound of little jingle bells rang out.
“Hello, welcome to Black Beans Coffee Shop. What can I get you?”
The customer dragged his feet across the worn part of the wooden floor until he came to the register where they handed the Barista the money for his order of coffee and a pastry. As if they were stuck in a rut, the customer followed the worn path back out the door. In a timely manner, the next customer arrived. Again they shuffled across the shop, following the previously laid out path up to the counter. Once they placed their order and exchanged with the Barista, they too stepped along the depleted path and exited the Black Beans Coffee shop.
When it was time for lunch, the Barista made his way to the back room and sat on the small, black stool in the far left corner of the crowded room. Using his lap as a table, he unpacked his Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Carefully the Barista, peeled way at saran wrap around his sandwich then picked off the crust around the sandwich. The Barista ate the crust first, then began eating the sandwich itself. Promptly after finishing the sandwich, the Barista pulled out his apple from the paper bag and took precise bites until there was nothing left but the core of the apple.
After spending the normal amount of time eating, the Barista returned from his lunch break and looked down at the watch on his wrist. The thin red second hand clicked forward, and signaled that it was officially one o’clock. The Barista mechanically moved to his spot behind the register. He looked towards the door and out at the deserted street. According to the normal routine, the next customer would not arrive for another ten minutes. So, continuing on with his regimented schedule, the Barista began to restock the shelves. He slid open the door to the glass display case beside the counter, and carefully placed fresh blueberry muffins on the shelf.
Through the glass of the display case, the Barista noticed something unusual. He blinked a few times, thinking that his eyes were simply playing tricks on him. When the sight in front of him did not change he slowly and cautiously stood straight up. His jaw dropped as he watched the woman from the day before pour herself into a book. She sat at a small table in front of the window just a few feet away from the Barista. The Barista stared at her in shock. The customers do not, no, they cannot stray from their predetermined path. The customers come in and order their coffee and pastry then leave. They never felt the need to stop and sit in the coffee shop.
The woman sat with one leg bent up under her while the other dangled and floated just inches above the floor. Unconsciously, she extended her leg forward and the tip of her foot dragged over the floor as she retracted her leg, eventually letting it hang once more. She sat curled up with her elbows close to her body as they rested on the table. One hand rested across the opposite arm while the other hand was clasped around her jaw. Unsure what to do, the Barista just watched the woman. Her dark eyes flicked back and forth as she read the words printed on the pages of her book. One side of her mouth turned up into a half smile showing her enjoyment in what she was reading. With her free hand, the woman picked up the corner of the page she was reading and flipped it over, so that she was rereading the page she had previously read. After just a few seconds, the woman flipped the page again so now she was continuing to read the next page. Over and over, the woman flipped the pages back and forth, unsteadily shifting in her seat while the smile on her face faded away. The more the woman flipped between pages, it became clear that she was confused about something. Her smile was replaced by pursed lips and furrowed brow. The Barista noticed her dark eyes narrow into thin slits as she concentrated more and more.
After a moment or so, the woman lifted her head and slightly opened her mouth. The sound of realization escaped softly from her lips then the smile reappeared on her face. Slowly, she unwrapped her fingers from around her chin and lightly placed a finger down on the page she was reading.
The Barista looked around the coffee shop, trying to find some explanation for this odd behavior. The Barista did not know how to react to this strange behavior. First, the woman ordered tea instead of coffee and then she came into the coffee shop took a seat before pulling out a book to thumb through. The Barista glanced down at the counter top as he cleared his throat in an effort to catch the woman’s attention. When the woman did not look up from her book, the Barista quietly walked across the shop to the woman's table. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back while he dug his toe into the ground, trying to come up with a way to address the woman.
“Hello, welcome to Black Beans Coffee Shop. What can I get you?” Were the only words he could think to say when trying to greet the woman. It was all he knew how to say when greeting someone inside the Coffee Shop. The words came out in a rushed jumble. The Barista’s eyes widened as he realized how he had sounded.
At the sound of the Barista’s awkward greeting, the woman jumped back a bit in her seat and stared up at him nervously. She slowly closed her book and turned to face the Barista.
“Hello,” she said quietly. “Can I help you?” she asked the Barista curiously.
“I would like a muffin and cof…” The Barista replied instinctively. Then he realized that the woman did not want to know his order. She wanted to know why he was bothering her. The Barista nervously shoved his hands in his pocket and looked around the shop again. It was just a matter of minutes before the next customer would arrive. Time was going by and the Barista had not finished restocking the shelves. When the next customer walked in, the shop would not be ready. The Barista had broken from his routine.
After an awkward moment of silence, when the Barista did not respond to the woman, she decided she needed to be the one to make the first move. She tucked her hair behind her ear again and smiled a friendly, warm smile at the Barista.
“My name is Meghan.” The woman spoke slowly while she tried to read the Barista’s reaction. The Barista continued to look around nervously as he remained unsure of what to do. “I am new in town,” Meghan continued when the Barista kept silent.
“I… I am…” The Barista began to introduce himself but the bells above the door rang out, signaling that the next customer had arrived.
Panicked, the Barista swiveled around and faced the incoming costumer. The customer froze in his tracks and stared at the Barista and Meghan. Fear was cast over the costumer’s face as he observed the drastic change to the normal, structured, and organized way of things. Everyone stood frozen in time unsure of what to do next. Finally, the Barista rushed past the customer to his spot behind the counter. Out of breath, he said, “Hello, welcome to Black Beans Coffee Shop. What can I get you?”
After a brief stall, the customer continued on his path towards the counter and told the Barista that he wanted a pastry and coffee. The Barista very quickly wrote down the order, then began to put everything together for the customer. While the customer moved down towards the register, the Barista stepped out of his path and around the half-unpacked box of muffins in order to ring the customer up and charge him for his order. Meanwhile, Meghan watched while the costumer looked on with confusion at the Barista, who whipped away a bead of sweat from his forehead as he tried to recover from his deviation from the schedule.
The Barista rapidly pressed the buttons on the register and quickly exchanged money with the customer. As the customer turned to exit the coffee shop, he looked at Meghan and shook his head. It was clear she had broken from the routine and she was the cause of this mess. With a few short steps the customer was gone. The Barista looked over to Meghan and exhaled. He had never been so panicked before. Until then, everything had come so simply and effortlessly. Things seemed to always just fall neatly into place because no one had ever changed the routine. No one ever had a reason to panic about something when everything always worked out in the same repetitive manor.
When the customer came into the shop and the Barista was not prepared or in his normal spot, it opened the door for change. It allowed him the chance to break from his normal routine and think about another way of doing his job.
At the sight of the Barista’s exhausted look, Meghan began to giggle. She found his fear to be unnecessary and extensive. To her, the entire situation with the customer was just a normal everyday interaction. She did not understand the way that the town relied on their routines and schedules. Meghan was used to the rapidly changing world she had lived in before. Knowing that the Barista was still scared out of his mind, Meghan stood up from her seat and walked across the coffee shop over the counter where the Barista still stood frozen behind the register.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to cause such a commotion,” Meghan said with a polite smile.
It was all too much. The Barista did not know how to handle all of this change. Suddenly, he was being shown that there was more than one way to do things. Out of nowhere, this strange woman appears and the world that the Barista was used to, the predictable and unchanging world, was being turned upside down. Unable to cope, the Barista just stared at Meghan. He was not use to socializing with the customers, and yet it seemed as if Meghan was giving him no other choice but to talk with her.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Meghan asked, her voice soft and gentle as she tried to make up for the dramatic events she seemed to have caused. “Here, maybe I can help you put these away,” she said as she slipped behind the counter and lifted the muffin that the Barista had put down when he first noticed her sitting at the table.
After she had placed a few fresh muffins on the shelf, she turned around to see the Barista completely stunned, his face frozen with fear, his dark eyes open wide as he tried to process what was happening, and his terrified shaking hands hanging empty at his side. Meghan realized that people probably did not come behind the counter like this. She realized that in her efforts to help the Barista, she had only made the situation worse. Slowly and cautiously, she stood up, keeping her eye on the Barista as she made her way back around to the front of the counter.
“I am really sorry,” she said again.
The Barista was in shock. What was he supposed to do? She had put the muffins on the shelf. "Should he take them back down and put new ones out?" He wondered as he watched her place her hands on the counter top. He watched her as she ran her fingers over the cold marble and made her way to the front of the counter. When she was standing directly in front of him, he watched as her lips parted ever so slightly. His bottom lip quivered as her bright eyes became glassy and filled with water and he listened to her shaky voice as she continued to apologize. Continuing to just stare at Megan, The Barista saw raw emotion for the first time. Megan's face had turned a pale shade of pink as a tear fell from her eye.
"I did not mean to make such a mess of things," Megan continued in her unsteady voice, "I am not exactly sure what to do," she admitted.
Something inside the Barista jolted, "Neither am I," he admitted with a smirk.
In turn, Megan smiled and took a deep breath. "I think we can try to figure this out together."
Together, they restocked the shelves and wiped down the counters. Megan was careful to let the Barista take the lead. She followed his patterns and watched as he carefully ventured off of his normal path with her. Before long, the two of them had broken from all rehearsed routines and were enjoying each other's company in the coffee shop.
This was the first time the Barista had made a real connection with someone before. It was the first time he could relate to someone and understand them on a personal level. They had formed a bridge beyond the mundane interaction of the customer and the barista. This bridge would not dissolve the moment Megan walked out of the shop like all of the others. On this day, the Barista's world would change for good. He would no longer be stuck in the same empty and emotionless life. Now, he would look to build bridges with all the people he interacted with.