“It’s Erin, isn’t it?”
Emmy lifted her head to meet the eyes of an elderly gentleman leaning over her table in the coffee shop.
“Sorry?” she was nonplussed.
“Erin. She told me to go and sit down next to Erin, the pretty girl in the corner” he said, indicating that ‘she’ who had given him these instructions was the owner of the coffee shop. Emmy’s spirit sagged a little, given she had just opened her laptop to begin some writing and thinking, and wasn’t in a small talk kind of mood.
She was faced with two choices: a) reply politely with ‘no, sorry, I’m not Erin’, avert her eyes back to her screen and begin typing purposefully; b) go through the rigmarole of correcting him on her name (which would inevitably take a few attempts because it was rarely caught the first time) and set herself up for an indeterminate period of discussing weather and the ever-drawing-in nights.
Her decision was influenced by the fact that she was kind by nature. Despite not feeling particularly inclined for a natter, she would hate to let this old chap down and resign him to a lonely coffee in the window. Here goes, she thought, conjuring up a bright smile.
“No, my name is Emmy” she said, awaiting a frown and ‘Emma?’ or ‘Annie?’.
“Ahh – Emmy! – suits you far better” came his happy response as he pulled up his chair.
And from there on in Emmy thoroughly enjoyed 45 minutes of finding out all about Donald. The ‘old chap’, whom she had judged as someone who just wanted to grumble about the air getting colder, was actually an ex-Scotland Yard detective superintendent and more recently (to Emmy’s delight) a former Warwick Castle guide – a role for which he donned stockings and wigs and pranced around spouting in an affected accent. Emmy was shown a gallery of photos of Donald’s Bar, the latest installment in he and his wife’s garden, due to be officially opened the following day with a barbeque for 25 guests. He was intriguing, entertaining and brought an infectious spark to her day.
As Donald was preparing to leave, he lowered his voice to provide unsolicited information regarding the gent on the table next to them, whom he had waved at in recognition.
“Senior Police officer” he whispered conspiratorially.
For a girl who once had her phone stolen from a coffee shop through being a bit dozy and unvigilant, Emmy suddenly felt incredibly safe, sitting between these two.
Donald said his goodbyes and kissed Emmy’s hand, casting an air of classic cinema over the scene and making her smile. He vowed to leave a piece of his creative writing behind the counter of the coffee shop the next time he was in, for her reading pleasure. Emmy’s own writing project remained untouched that day, but the inner warmth she felt from engaging with this very interesting stranger meant the morning had seen a job well done.
This encounter was not the first time that Emmy had reaped the benefits of offering more to strangers than a standard polite reply. For example, just a few weeks prior in that same cafe Emmy had exchanged banter regarding a plug socket herself and a guy were fighting to wire technology into. They chatted for longer than was necessary, discovering that they shared a history of personal difficulties and big decisions leading to them quitting their careers. Emmy went on to connect with this man on social media and they would often bump into each other and share a coffee, chatting about self-discovery, the meaning of life and other such topics that Emmy usually reserved for ‘closer’ people.
Emmy realised that the beauty of talking to strangers was that she had no formal connections with them. No back story. She could be whoever she wanted right in that moment. And for Emmy, the person she most wanted to be was her true self…yet had always found it strangely difficult to be authentic with the people she officially ‘knew’. Strangers, on the other hand, got the real Emmy straight up. She found that this genuine self-expression allowed her to connect with people in a refreshing, uplifting way.
As she strolled over the cobbles of Regent Court upon leaving the café she mused how when presented with a chance, one must take it. If someone you don’t know proffers a conversation opener, you must humour them. Fascinating, funny, inspiring and informative people were everywhere, disguised by the deceptive and inadequate label of ‘stranger’.