Small Joy

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I sat at a small table in The Wildflower Bread Company, drumming my fingers on the wood while I waited anxiously for my food. I tried to sip sparingly at my fresh lemonade, but I knew I would drink at least most of it by the time I got my food. I looked toward the chefs. Goodness, what was taking so long? It seemed as though all the people that had been behind me in line had received their meals already. These bakery people had it in for me, I swear.
I looked around at the other people in the restaurant. There was a short-haired olive-skinned woman sitting in the corner wearing a long flowery dress. She was drinking something steamy, and I figured that what she was reading must be very steamy too because she stared at the words so intently while sitting on the very edge of her seat. She had removed the cover sleeve, maybe to avoid the stares she'd get if it were obvious she was reading pulp fiction. A boy sat in the table next to mine. He had a very square face and thin lips and emo, jet-black hair. But he had very vintage looking navy blue boat shoes on which I admired while he fiddled with his iPod, oblivious to me. I turned to another face and met slightly younger eyes. This boy was staring at me quite intensely. Creepy. My gaze turned to an old man sitting in an arm chair. He wore tan pants and a dark red turtleneck and brown dress shoes, the kind with the tassel things on the top that older men seem to love so much. He sat with his legs crossed (I've noticed that men find this action much more acceptable as they age). His cheeks and chin were covered in a snow white beard, and his whole face seemed to sag with wrinkles. A blank expression sat on his face, and I say sat because this was not a face that was blank because it was consumed with sadness, or even deep thought. It was a casual blankness. He was thinking about nothing at all, or everything all at once. I looked away, back to the chefs, wondering how long it had been. But something crept into my peripheral vision and I turned once again to that arm chair at precisely the right moment.
I saw the woman walk around the coffee table and sit on the arm of his chair, her back to me. I don't remember what she was wearing or particularly what she looked like, except that she was about his age. As I think about it now, I realize this lack of observance is odd for me because I usually notice the small details like that. I simply could not look at her though, because I could not tear myself away from the old man's face. In that one second between his blank expression and her recognizing smile, his face had lit up like light flooding a dark room, like the sun rising from a black night. She bent down to kiss him now, and his wrinkled mouth pressed against hers. They talked for a minute; he looked inside a shopping bag she carried and smiled in what seemed to be approval. The look on his face clearly said though, that no matter what she dressed in she would look exquisite. After a while they stood up and walked out of the restaurant into the mall. He grasped her hand as they walked by me and she squeezed it back. They stood in front of one of those large mall maps talking. But he wasn't listening to what she was saying, not because he didn't care, simply because he couldn't concentrate on what color the gorgeous chair she had seen in Pottery Barn was. He could simply only concentrate on her. He suddenly pulled her close into a big bear hug and she laughed and hugged him back.
I didn't know who these people were, this older couple whom I had never met and whom I will never come across again. Maybe they had been married for forty, fifty years, and their love had lasted all the tests of time ' fights and low incomes and children and grandchildren and anniversaries and sweet nights followed by long days. Maybe after her first husband died in that accident, her best friend set her up on a blind date with the handsome, rich entrepreneur and they had immediately hit it off. Maybe they had just recently met through Match.com and had finally found in each other exactly what they'd been looking for all along. Maybe after being a deadbeat dad for five years, he quit drinking and came home to stay just before she could say she'd had enough. Maybe they met back in the seventies and he was attracted to her because of her long, hippie hair, and she was attracted to him because of his groovy, smoke-filled van. Maybe he proposed to her under a tree where they'd had their first kiss, or at a sports game, or during a candlelit dinner. And maybe when he proposed, he had begged her to not say no, again, because no matter how many times she turned him down he'd keep trying.
The thing was though, that these two wrinkled people were a happy couple. Whoever they had been in the past didn't matter as long as they could be who they were right now and as long as they could do it together. And at that moment, the future didn't carry much weight either because they weren't even thinking about how some day many things might be impossible; they didn't see the impossible while they embraced.
It wasn't a life changing experience for me. It didn't turn my world upside down. It didn't open my eyes. I believed in love long before that day. The whole experience had lasted two, maybe five minutes, yet it did leave a mark on me, no matter how subtle. I felt refreshed, invigorated, uplifted. It was just one of those small experiences that, even though they seem insignificant, really make life worth living. Just like those small smiles and simple acts of affection make people fall in love in the first place.





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