I am seated in a little known quiet restaurant loved by it’s loyal patrons for opening early in the morning. I am talking 6am early; the people are the same everyday and over time we have gotten to know each other. We don’t know each other’s names, and a year later, we are still comfortably stuck at plastic smiles instinctive nods to each other. Every now and then we shall politely ask each if we could share a table in the rare occurrence that all the tables are full. It’s our little morning family and we prefer it that way.
Interestingly we are all prisoners of routine and everyone’s is unique. I for instance will arrive at exactly 6 am and slide in to my usual spot, a corner table that faces the sunrise. I will take out my notebook and write down three things that I want to accomplish that day. It sounds stupid but I have struggled with concentration all my life because I get bored easily so this is my way of making sure I get things done. After my list I will do one of two things, depending on whether it is going to be a busy day or not. My preference is usually take out a book and read for a solid hour. Again I will remind you that I get bored easily so at any one time I am reading 3 books or more and my pick depends on what I feel is interesting for the moment. After this, I will take out my laptop and seize the day.
There is an old man who usually checks in the restaurant earlier than I do and like clockwork, he reads 3 newspapers of the day in exactly the same order every day. The waiters know his breakfast order for each day and so I have never seen him ask for a menu. He is a strange and quiet character. My wild imagination tells me he must be a former priest or a criminal or detective from the old school. He has a dead gaze that says he is not looking at you but into you. Based on my assessment, I chose to mind my own business. Ignorance is bliss.
On another table in the dimly lit corner next to the backdoor, is where some young kid in this late teens normally sits with his beat up laptop, drawing pad and comic books. I can tell he is in that age where the world is exerting undue pressure on him to behave like a focused 45 year old. He has never combed his hair and he always looks anxious. My guess is, his daily plan is to get out of the house early and only go back after his parents and siblings have gone to work. I think I am right because one day his mother walked in and scolded him for wanting to become an animator. She was loud and I could make out that she was trying to arm twist him into signing up for the traditional and ‘respectable’ university courses. She ended the conversation by telling him that no child of hers will ever become an artist and take drugs. I would rather not go into what my thoughts are about what the kid should do because that’s his monkey.
Moving on, there is this good looking middle aged woman who is always in a rush and feels the need to say hi to everyone. I find myself almost telling her that it’s against the rules but whatever, it just takes two seconds of my time to respond to her greeting. I find her disgusting though; she has a habit of always licking her cup, spoon, fork and knife when she’s done having breakfast. I have tried to understand her behaviour and I hope these are not attempts to erase her DNA from the crockery as it would be counterproductive. At this point I always bury my head in an excel sheet or something more boring.
I could tell you about all the other loyal patrons of our morning express but it would take a lot of time.
One of the insights I have gained into my morning family is that most couples fight in the morning before they go to work. This I know because every now and then there are patrons who are confronted by their partners, spouses and sometimes side dishes as they have their breakfast or go about their morning routine. Some are regular and some are one-off instances. Sadly, some have concluded their relationships here and it was dramatic. In line with the unwritten and unsaid code of the morning express crew, we (other patrons) do not interfere unless it becomes a safety issue. After all, our relationship is all nods and plastic smiles and polite requests to share tables, nothing more.
Every member of the morning express comes here for a reason. Some come to escape the miseries of the ones they live with. Some are just lonely and want to be around other people even if there is no real interaction. Others have been working on their dreams and over time you learn to read their victory and loss faces as they close in (or out) on their goals. For instance, there is a struggling music artist who always comes in early, puts on their headphones and samples music from all over the world. I know this because his laptop screen is always in my line of vision. I can tell he is struggling financially just from what his order is every morning but I respect the kid and I think he’s moving in the right direction. Persistence, I have observed, sets successful people apart from the failures.
All in all, I find this place interesting because as I do my thing I get to observe and appreciate people. Everyone is dealing with something but one thing most people have in common is the need and urgency to improve their lives. To achieve this, some quiet time everyday to dream, reflect and plan is greatly needed.
I am a mixture of personalities. I like hanging out with people but I also like having moments alone. I especially love early mornings because it is when my mind is most active and there are fewer distractions. If I miss a couple of early mornings alone I get anxious and I feel like I am losing control of everything. And yes I believe it is important for people to have time alone to meditate, strategise and most of all to be fully conscious.
Happy Africa Day!