My Reflection Behind the Counter

Earlier this afternoon I went to one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall coffee shops. This is a typical and favorite activity for me. I like to change up the location, though, because I never want any one place to get too comfortable for me. I find inspiration in the unknown and the possibility of surprise.

I just finished the refill of my coffee–even though I told myself about a month ago that I shouldn’t be drinking a whole lot of coffee. This is my first one this week, so I think that is ok.

I have been to this coffee shop before. THey close at 4PM, so any time I need a nighttime place, unfortunately, I cannot come to this gem of a hideaway.

I used to go there more often before I had a regular lover to with whom to spend much of my non-working hours.

Today, upon returning there, I noticed they had a new barista behind the counter. This is nothing surprising. Turnaround for any service job in LA is extremely high. I get it. Plus, when the staff changes it helps keep me anonymous–just the way I like it.

But, upon walking into the nearly empty cafe. I felt a different much more welcoming energy. It was an energy that said, “Hi there, come in, take a seat, can I get you anything? Can I take your coat? Is it warm in here? Too cold? How are you feeling? You just sit right there and do your writing and I’ll be right here to rub your back if you need me to.”

Yup, that energy.

When I walked up to the counter, I noticed a small book on the counter. The avid reader in me felt the way any mother I assume would upon finding that a motherless child all alone in a store. I felt for the book and felt very called to speak up for it.

I asked, “Did someone leave this book here?”

I heard a beautiful and mysterious voice reply, “No” in a faint and implacable accent as a woman with my own shape, haircut, eye and hair color, posture, and height turned to me.

Did I know this woman? I knew I didn’t, but felt I did.

“Well, who’s book is this? Is it yours?” I tried to hand her the book thinking that she had left it there.

“I just placed it there in case someone wanted to read it while waiting.”

I fell in love. For a moment. Was this foreign woman for real?! Who was she? Was she a psychic, because I could swear she was reading my soul like a book without ever asking me a question.

I wanted to start a conversation with her. I wanted to ask her about the book. But everything about her presence told me everything my soul wanted to know in the instant my brain thought up the questions.

I ordered my simple drink with the typical LA quirk thrown in there. I could tell she was thrown a bit by my request for coffee ordered in French. She was not a frills kind of person. No pretension.

I explained to her that I wanted a coffee and steamed milk–almond milk, if she had it (which I knew this place did.)

Any other barisita that didn’t know what a cafe au lait was, would make me nervous and perturbed. But, with her it was endearing. I completely trusted her from the moment I walked through the door.

She took her time with it, too. Something else that would annoy most others…and me sometimes, too. But, I loved the time and care she took with the cup, the coffee dispensation, the slow attentive pouring of the milk.

I left a $5 bill on the counter not having a clue how much change I’d get back. And she didn’t even notice it until a good 10 minutes after I had ordered.

The whole experience felt like home.

I sat down to write. Got distracted by the expanse of the internet and email replies and questions for friends and family.

I could feel my attention focusing more and more, though. I just wanted to write. Write about a woman. Her? Did I want to write about her? Did I want to talk to her? Who was she?

I wanted an excuse to see her once again–just to see if I was making up a character. And if I was, so what.

I asked for a refill–something I knew this place didn’t do for free. She said, “Oh yes, I don’t thing I did it right. I think I didn’t give you enough coffee the first time.”

I just smiled a small genuine smile and watched her.

She returned to me my cup, and I asked her where she was from. I scolded myself in my head the instant after asking because a larger part of me just didn’t want to know–just wanted it to remain a mystery.


Not what I was expecting. I was expecting something in Eastern Europe.

“What’s your name?” I asked because now that I’d opened that door, I might as well know the woman’s name.


“Oh, like the monster.”

Her face replied with confusion.

“You don’t know the legend of the Loch Ness monster?”

“No.” She shook her head with a tiny penetrating smile.

I felt ashamed. And stupid. I think I felt like most guys feel when they are talking to a pretty girl that they want to get to know better or sleep with or something.

I told her the abridged version of the legend and was so shocked that she had never heard of it.

She told me her real name was something much longer and harder to pronounce, but the first syllable was ‘Ness’ so she had just chosen that.

I didn’t ask her anything else. I didn’t ask her how long she had been in LA or the US. I didn’t ask about her heritage or her religion or her family. I didn’t want to know her story.

I was grateful to have shared a story or my heritage (I have a lot of Scottish blood in me on my mom’s mom’s side.) and got back a story from her. She was a story all to herself and just the powerful stranger I was looking for on a rainy day in an empty coffee shop of where I found anonymous inspiration that will very soon all be forgotten.


About heathencomehome

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