I promised myself (not just an in-the-air promise – an actual written down promise) that the next time I had a lull, I’d take a morning for myself. And here I am – almost all current deadlines met, book edits on the way but not here yet – doing just that. I’m getting my hair cut, and before that, with nine minutes to spare, I’m having coffee and a scone at a sunlit, polka-dot-clad table in the coffee shop next door.
It’s quiet here this morning and I can hear everything. One person had her bank card swallowed by the machine, and couldn’t find her mascara. I totally get that, I tell her as I’m paying for my coffee. One time I forgot to put mascara on and everyone at work kept asking me if I was sick. “I know!” she says. “We have to paint on our happiness sometimes, don’t we.” Indeed we do.
Two uniformed girls walk in and ask for a table for four. I think about my time in school and how we never went to coffee shops. It must be a different world in school today, when four friends can meet for cappuccinos on a week-day morning. Then two elderly ladies walk in and join the girls. I don’t know if they are their grandmothers or their neighbours or why they’re meeting here this morning but I know I got it all wrong and everything about their rendezvous makes me happy.
I walk in to the hairdressers with my takeaway coffee and take a seat at the unforgiving mirror. Another woman arrives and takes a seat to my left. She knows her hairdresser better than I know mine (which is why I have more stray greys than she does I guess), and they greet one another like friends. “How are things?” asks the hairdresser. “Not great,” says the woman, and bursts into tears. She’s been up half the night with her mum. She takes turns with her siblings to look after her. The people in the hospital won’t listen to her. Her mum won’t listen either, but it’s not her fault. And she’s exhausted. Her husband keeps telling her they need help, but they can’t seem to get it. “Sorry,” she says to the hairdresser. “What am I like? But you know when you’ve had no sleep and you just can’t cope with anything.” It’s her day off work today, and I want to cry listening to her story but I’m glad she has this breathing space and a listening ear.
The woman to my right is talking about phones – hers keeps ringing but she refuses to answer she says. Apparently our thumbs are evolving because of how we use our phones she tells the hairdresser. She heard Ryan Tubridy (though she never normally listens to him) saying we can’t expect our children to put down their phones if we won’t. And she realised he was right. So now she puts her phone in a bowl in the kitchen every evening at 6pm and gets her husband to do the same. Breathing space.
Another woman arrives and goes straight to the basin. “What did you do for St Patrick’s Day?” asks the hairdresser. “I just cleaned my house – Sunday is my clean-the-house day,” she replies. “But St Patrick’s Day was Friday, not Sunday,” he points out. “Oh, that’s right,” she says. “Well if it was Friday, I did washing. Friday is my washing day. Twelve hours straight washing.” My hairdresser and I meet eyes in the mirror and smile. We don’t chat much – she seems happy with her thoughts and I’m happy with my book. Breathing space.
And now, after one more coffee for luck, it’s time to collect the kids. And it’s fine – it’s more than fine. I feel grateful and privileged and fixed.