Yesterday, a young man
sat in a nondescript maroon-hued
coffee franchise in a shopping centre food court,
watching a heavy-set couple of around his own age
with a baby
sitting at a small, round
table as they waited
for their order. The couple faced each
other while the baby lay
asleep in a stroller beside the table.
The young man was sitting a few feet
away, reading a book.
The couple’s order arrived
and the young man raised his head
to look at the contents
of the tray. Muffins; a carbonated soft
drink in a glass bottle;
some other kind of cake, flatter
than the muffin—a tray bake,
of course; two empty cups with saucers
and spoons all balanced
in a way that made the young man
think of a childhood game: Buckaroo!;
a jug of milk—perhaps
hot milk—could he see steam rising?
Finally, a bulbous white teapot,
which the young man gathered would be filled with freshly
brewed, boiling hot tea.
The tray was placed on the table behind the couple
by a bemused barista,
as the stroller was blocking
the path to the table they had chosen to occupy.
To the young man, the whole performance looked a mess
of disproportionate spacing
and sizing. Each segment
of the frame housing a cartoon-
like element of chaos. He watched
as the large woman pivoted
on her seat in a slow, stammered shuffle
and stood to lift the overflowing
tray from the table behind
and onto their own.
And this is where everything began to matter.
Until this moment, everything
seemed to the young man
a rather humdrum
scene in a coffee shop like this one found
anywhere in the world. But when the woman raised
the tray from the table behind, and doing so
in a way devoid of all sense
of consequence, unthinking
entirely of how its varied contents—at once
heavy, sharp, wet, and hot—might be harmful to a sleeping child
of perhaps no more
than three months of age, she attempted
to manoeuvre the tray
directly above the baby
as she or he lay
in deep slumber in the apparent
safety of the expensive-looking,
When the edge of the loaded tray crashed
into the rim of the detachable baby seat,
was nothing more
than the familiar tinny
yet chalky rattle
of teaspoons on crockery. But as the young man
watched from his own table—perhaps the actual
table the couple should have chosen
for ample size ratio—all he could hear
were screams and shattering glass,
gasps from other coffee-drinkers, panic
from the coffee shop staff, as the whole picture exploded
in a crescendo of horror and shame.
The woman caught the tray before it fell.
Her partner looked up at her
from his phone.
She placed the tray on the table and no sooner
had it made contact with the surface
when they began devouring
its contents with great zeal. The child,
still sleeping, lay dreaming
beside them, blissfully none-the-wiser.
Later, while considering
the fact that, at thirty-four, the young man
had not yet produced any children of his own
along with the strong
possibility that he never would, he sat
in his apartment kitchen reading
an article in a week-old weekend magazine
about something completely unrelated