It was a Friday evening, and I was waiting in a café down the street from my car mechanic, while my car was having an expensive, and apparently needed and routine, procedure done to it. I ordered a tea, not wanting coffee to keep my up all night, and looked for a place to sit. The seats in the front of the café were occupied, or too close to the frigid draft coming in every time to door opened, so I went into the almost empty dining room. Armed with my iPod and a book, I sat facing the nearly empty room.

A couple tables over to my right sat an older man, who I guessed was in his early seventies. The man sat, like me, facing the open room only he was next to the front window. He had a tall glass of beer in front of him, which he took a draft from as I watched him. His velcro shoes, brown corduroy pants, and checkered button-up shirt with a green sweater, reminded me of traditional grandfatherly wear. He looked like a grandfather, which I realized I was thinking simply for the reason that he was old.

The dining room was dimly lit, with soft lighting and small candles on each table. The candles twinkled expectantly in the dim light, waiting to offer their ambiance to the next couple who came along. As if the empty room was waiting for couples to fill its space, so it could exude its stereotypically romantic atmosphere on its unsuspecting visitors.

Not wanting to seem as though I was opening staring at him, despite the fact that I basically was, I followed the old man’s movements out of the corner of my eye. He sat leaning forward, his fore arms resting on the table. His beer class emptying as he occasionally drank from it. I found myself wondering what he was thinking – why he was there at the café. Maybe his car was in the shop as well. I was impressed and awed by his sitting alone, with no reading materials. Was he alone intentionally? Perhaps he had been planning on meeting someone who did not show up?

As a sat reading my book, sipping my tea, and blocking out the sounds of the bad music the café was playing with my iPod, more people trickled into the dining room. Several others were alone, all equipped with reading materials or cell phones.  A couple sat down in front of me, gazing at each other across the candlelight.

My gaze kept going back to the old man. I tried to pass it off as looking out the front window. The old man was going back and forth between looking out the window at the street and slowly drinking his beer. I could not read from the blank expression on his face, or his body language, what he was feeling. I thought he was maybe sad. After I thought that I realized thinking he was sad was a projection of how I thought I might feel if I were him, sitting alone in a café on a Friday evening, drinking a beer, doing nothing. However, I actually was sitting alone in a café on a Friday evening, and I was not sad. But I had reading material. And an iPod. I realized I would be lonely sitting in a café by myself doing nothing. Why wasn’t he reading? Would having reading material keep one from being sad about being out alone? Perhaps he was not like me, and did not feel sad about being alone with no reading material, after all wouldn’t he have brought something to read if he had wanted to?

The man stood up, awkwardly sliding out from between the booth seat and the table, and pulled on his coat. As he walked away I found myself looking at him with a mixture of pity for being alone, and envy that he had embraced that, without reading material, regardless of the reason why.

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