Starbucks in Paris. A tourist’s haven from heat and culture stress, as well as a Saturday meeting place for Parisian students. The typical population—well-to-do teens, traveling families, twenty-somethings in summer fashions— filled the comfortable chairs drinking lattes, espressos, and frappucinos.
A woman “of a certain age”, as the French would say, entered an alcove by the window. In one hand, nails encrusted with black, she held a steaming beverage. In the other, she clutched two pastries encircled by a napkin. A large canvas bag, a soiled ribbon at the seams, swung from her arm. Her short graying hair curled in matted strands around her weathered face. Her steady gaze appeared not to observe anyone around her, as she focused on a soft chair by the window. Her clothing could have been called stylish, if each piece had been worn separately, instead of piled together like a quilt upon her bony frame.
Once seated, she began to eat, concentrating on small bites, alternating sips that she appeared to hold for several seconds in her mouth. From time to time she stopped consuming anything as her vacant eyes lifted toward the ceiling, then closed, as if in reverence. She sat still for long moments with her eyes closed, then rediscovered her beverage for an additional treasured sip.
Although the coffee shop was full, the three seats surrounding her remained empty. Two or three times, customers approached the empty chairs then, seeing the woman, turned away. A young boy was less discreet. He stood for several moments and stared at her, his mouth slightly agape. The woman seemed oblivious to her unacceptability. She licked her lips and mopped them with the empty napkin. After a final pause, when her head sank slightly to one side, her eyes closed, and an expression of anguish slid in and held for several seconds, she slowly stood up and left the store.