Monday, December 31, 2012

Notes From A Coffee Shop

by Ben Howard

There’s a picture next to me on the wall. It’s not my wall, and it’s not my picture, but it is next to me and now it is in my mind. It’s a picture of a woman. An Ugandan woman I learn by way of the caption. She is tall and dark and beautiful. Her hair is cut very short. It’s almost shaved. She is wearing all black and looking slightly to her left and down. She is smiling. It is a beautiful smile. 

There is a little boy to her left as well. He is young and he is bald and he is very cute. He is wearing what look very much like turquoise pantaloons with balloons on them. It is precious. They are standing outside of their home in what is presumably Uganda. It has a thatched roof. There is a water jug in the background. It is beautiful and moving. Poverty juxtaposed with beauty, confidence and strength.

Below the picture is a caption. It says that the woman’s name is Jane. She was orphaned and abducted at the age of seven and was forced to be a child soldier for two years. The caption tells me that Jane is healing from her experience and wants to be a psychiatrist to help others in similar situations. When asked about her captors she says she wants to see them again so she can forgive them. It’s a beautiful and peaceful sentiment.

The picture is on the wall of a coffee shop in Nashville, but it’s a coffee shop that could be in any trendy city. The table I’m sitting at looks like it came from a Goodwill store, but not a bad Goodwill on the shady side of town. No, it came from one of those nice Goodwill’s in the suburbs that get fancy things from semi-rich people with family size BMW’s. Everything in the coffee shop is covered in wood. I think it all came from a barn, but it was probably an old barn that nobody used because I’m pretty sure people only have ironic barns now. I’m next to the door of the barn where the picture is hanging, but its been painted some shade of gray-blue because a cool barn would be full of gray-blue doors.

In front of me is a window and in the window is a table covered in a burlap table cloth. The table is covered in handmade jewelry and keepsakes. There are all sorts of necklaces and bracelets. There are some cool t-shirts and sweatshirts on the table. They have one in the color of the gray-blue door. There are pictures on the table too. Pictures of kids. African kids. I look at the one in the middle and it makes me smile. It’s a little boy squeezing his eyes shut. It looks like he’s playing a game. Or maybe he’s praying. The other shows a little girl coloring. She looks happy, enthralled by her crayons and the picture she’s coloring.

Above the table, hanging in the window from a wire are drawings. A chalkboard to the left of the window tells me that the drawings are part of the art therapy from children affected by war. The pictures all have a big heart in the middle. One has the word “Amani” written all over it. It means “peace” in Swahili. Another shows a village burning. In the middle is a sentence that reads, “God loves me so much most people died but I was save.” There is a big red heart in the middle of the picture. I can’t stop staring at it. It is beautiful. It is heartbreaking.

I take a sip from the ceramic coffee mug that contains my Too-Sweet-Chocolate-Coconut-Espresso Drink and think. I think about how strange it is to be sipping a Too-Sweet-Chocolate-Coconut-Espresso Drink with tears in my eyes. Looking at a child’s picture of genocide. Hanging in the window of a coffee shop.

A woman in a white scarf and brown boots comes over and looks at the jewelry. She picks up a t-shirt and scans the pictures hanging above. She puts it back down, sips her coffee and walks away to scan a nearby bookshelf.

The faces of injustice hang on the wall. The pictures drawn by the hands of the oppressed decorate the window. There are trinkets and baubles you can buy to support them. To remember them? You can decorate yourself in the trendy justice. You can remember the problems in the world over a cup of Too-Sweet-Chocolate-Coconut-Espresso Drink. Then you can check out the barn door. It’s gray-blue. There is a picture hanging there.

I pick up my bag and walk over to the table full of jewelry and t-shirts. I pick up a necklace. It’s red, almost maroon, and made of small wooden blocks. I roll the blocks over in my hand before I place the necklace back on the table. I look over my shoulder. Jane smiles. I smile back. Then I drop my head, shift my bag to the other shoulder and walk out the door.


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