#436 Incongruity: a lesson in people watching

I haven’t been writing again and it’s becoming an uncomfortable itch. I want to write. The words are often there, but making myself actually make time for it is hard. It’s not quite as brainless as crashing out on the couch with a mindless novel on my Kindle app. But the other weekend we were in a café for brunch and I saw someone that made me really itch to write again.

You ever go people-watching and try to make up stories about their lives? It’s not an activity I participate in often. If I’m sitting somewhere relaxed enough to just observe people, my mind is still occupied with twenty million things and although I might be looking I’m not really seeing. I’m generally spaced out trying to pay attention to everything clamouring for attention in my head. Yeah, I might need to practice mindfulness or meditation or something to deal with this problem, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that the three of us were out having a family brunch at a table smack in the middle of a busy cafe. We had beaten the rush that was currently going on and there was a long queue of people at the kitchen counter placing their orders and waiting to make their way up to the cash register to pay.

One lady in particular caught my eye. I’d say she was in her late forties or early fifties. She was there with a man her age that I assumed must be her husband or partner. My first instinct, taking in the most obvious features was that she must be a conservative, buttoned-up lady, with a stern expression on her face. And that was as far as I got at first glance because I went back to paying attention to my food, The Mister, and Hawkeye, dismissing the stranger and the idle thought that came with her.

However my gaze kept wandered back to her while she was still in the queue and each time I observed something new that didn’t quite match with the previous impression. By the end of our brunch, I was completely fascinated because every single observation I made pointed to a completely different kind of personality.

It started with her hair. Really, that’s what first drew my eye. She was blonde with her hair put up in a very conservative twist. Not a hair looked out of place. But what actually caught my eye was the hair ornament. She had on a little circular scrap of lace held in place with a hairpin over the knot. It didn’t look to actually be holding up her hair in any useful way, so I figured it was of some other significance. Between the hair style and minimal-to-no make up and her unsmiling expression, I made my first impression of her as being an extremely conservative woman. Was she deeply religious? Was the scrap of lace a symbolic nod to covering her head? It was the lace which initially kept drawing my attention back to her before other thing began catching my eye. I was curious and at some point in the middle of our brunch I even nudged The Mister and asked him what he purpose he thought the lace ornament served in her hair.

The Mister’s thoughts were decidedly unhelpful. “I dunno, to have something to put under a teapot?” He looked at me quizzically, silently wondering why I was tormenting him with such a ridiculous question. “It’s basically a lace doily, I’ve no idea why she has it in her hair.”

I huffed, telling him about my thoughts that maybe the lace was symbolic. He shrugged and went back to his food.

The next thing I noticed about her was that her to, which I initially paid no attention to, wasn’t actually a regular blouse. It was long sleeved and high necked, and those two facts contributed to my instant first impression of a woman covering herself fully. But then I realised that it was actually a sports top. The kind I would wear cycling to work on a breezy, early autumn day. It’s the kind of shirt you wear because it’s comfortable, not because it’s fashionable.

She was also wearing a skirt which went all the way down to her ankles, but again on a second or third glance I realised that it was quite a colourful skirt in many shades of blue, slowly flaring out toward the bottom. With each glance at her, the skirt took on an ever hippier sort of look to it. I could easily see such a skirt on some 1970s wild child with flowers in her hair.

Her shoes were sensible white canvas sneakers. At some point when she and her partner were close to the till, my husband caught an exchange between them and told me he thought they were American tourists. So the shoes were sensible if you planned to do a lot of walking. Or if you’re the kind of person who likes wearing sports tops purely for their comfort and not for athletics, they were shoes that spoke of a preference for comfort over style.

But it was the last observation I made that left me inordinately curious. Having finally made their way to the till and paid for their food, the lady took her coffee and went to carry it to her table before returning to the till to get the rest of their food and it was at this point while she was carrying the cup and saucer that I caught a glimpse of her hands.

She hand silver rings.

On every. single. finger.

Large, dark silver rings that would not be amiss on a goth chick dressed in all black, with a nose ring and tattoos. Or on the hands of a biker enthusiast. At least one of the rings was a heavy serpent coiled on the knuckle. I had no time to catch any more detail and it was the last time I saw her passing our table.

It was such an incongruous sight to see that I sat there, stunned, trying to put together a story or a picture in my mind of what the lady might be like, when all the pieces refused to go together. Her perfectly ordinary partner gave nothing away to help me. Was she a no-nonsense conservative woman as her hairstyle suggested? Was she covering her head out of a sense of religious or moral obligation like a modern version of a married woman’s lace cap, or was she merely into country-style fashions and had a thing for lace? Was she a bit of a free-spirit hippie like her skirt suggested or did she simply like the comfort of the skirt the same way the sports top exuded a desire to simply be comfortable and unbothered about being fashionable? Or was she a goth, or a gamer, or some other edgier sort of person as her rings suggested? Perhaps she considered herself a modern spiritualist, consulting her healing crystals at home to channel positive energies?

I could not figure her out. And I could not simply dismiss her like most people I observe around me, with a single glance and barely a thought. She was too interesting, too unique, and too inexplicable. It was a stark reminder about how we make snap judgments about people on a daily basis, no doubt dismissing multiple facets of their personality in the blink of an eye as we slot them into preconceived character pigeon holes.

I will never know what sort of person she is as I will never see her again, but she left me with a deep sense of wonder about the human character.

And with a burning desire to write again.

1 Comment

  1. Grandma biker. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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