November 16, 2011
We can never walk by the cafe without popping our heads in, or at the least, sending a goofy smile through the window. But today’s stop in to see Roberto was different than usual.
He was taking advantage of the lull in coffee making traffic to open up a book. Once he saw that it was us coming through the door though he quickly placed it aside, as he well knows that we usually manage to fill the cafe with a jovial ruckus. We began in with the comfortable banter, the exchanges formulated by the few conversational phrases that we have mastered by now. We laugh as he occasionally grimaces at our grammatical and tense-usage mistakes.
We bring attention to a photograph behind the register, one that we haven’t noticed in all the days of standing in that exact spot, of an absolutely beautiful woman. The reality hits me that we have never really inquired much about this man’s personal life. When building a relationship with the cute, aged coffee guy, sometimes it is hard to keep the espresso to milk ratio from dominating the conversation.
In response to our genuine interest, Roberto bent down and opened a drawer directly underneath the photograph that had first prompted our curiosity. He gently pulled out a small stack of photos from the depths of the dark drawer. I then wondered how many other coffee drinkers had gotten the chance to eye these images and how often he himself glances at them.
He gingerly handed us the collection of snapshots, all 5×7 snippets of time recorded, composing important people and life’s moments. As we were exclaiming over the smiling faces, I managed to catch a glimpse of Roberto’s proud face. The wrinkles in his handsomely aging face were all drawn upward, as the carved lines around his eyes and mouth grouped together to illustrate his tenderness in connection to the documented characters. All of these memories live on through the tattered photo paper, even if some of them must feel like lifetimes ago.
He then quickly shuffled the photos together in a heap, preparing to stuff them back into their designated home. His modest self must have figured that we were bored or through journeying some old man’s memory lane. And then conversation turned again, to our preferred coffee treat of the hour, as if the encounter had never happened. The brief moments which flooded his bright eyes were fleeting, as he quickly snapped back into his coffee-guy persona.