The Scarf (finally)

The woolen scarf was so voluminous that it nearly obscured her face, wrapping round and round her neck before dangling dangerously close to the lip of a coffee mug perched rather precariously on the arm of the sofa on which she sat. It was the kind of scarf meant to hide the person behind it. Anyone walking in the bohemian café might see her quaint, pointed nose with simple tortoiseshell glasses in danger of sliding off the tip, but they wouldn’t see the way she seemed to nestle back in the worn red corduroy sofa, as if trying to fade into the furniture of the coffee shop.

An immaculate businesswoman striding purposefully forward to order her nonfat, no-whip, barely caffeinated milk with two shots of espresso would see the haphazard bun of hair, a brown dark enough to pass for black, pushed back by a colorful tribal headband, but she wouldn’t see the worn book of poetry by William Butler Yeats lying in the young woman’s lap, nearly concealed by the folds of her scarf, or the way she slowly turned the pages as if savoring them like truffles.

A harried barista, already late for work, would be too busy tying on her apron as she walked through the door to notice the girl who regularly occupied the left cushion of the red corduroy couch, instead counting the heads bowed in attention to cell phones while standing silently in line for a quick cappuccino.

The young assistant to the editor-in-chief of a major newspaper would walk into the café, trying to balance in heels three inches too high and half a size too large. While struggling to wrest out of her too-tiny clutch a scrap of paper, on which she’d written the coffee choices of those who’d long since ceased to fetch their own, the assistant would glance at the girl in the brown scarf on the red couch. She would wonder, while attempting to decipher her own hurried handwriting, at how peaceful it must be in sit in a café and read all day, without bothering to order anything other than what one might want to eat or drink.

The woman who married into money and fashionable brownstones on the other side of town, no longer living two blocks from the café, would faithfully stop by the coffee shop that first gave her employment. Chatting with the new baristas as she ordered a no-nonsense espresso, she’d eye the young woman who seemed rooted to her couch, a fixture at the café, and be reminded of one before her, with the same glasses and messy hair but a Grecian nose and olive skin. The other reading woman had sat in the right corner of the window, in spite of the sun that every day set, sending yellow, sinking sunbeams through the wall of glass that opened onto the street.

Regulars at the small yet busy coffee shop would only see the girl as a familiar figure, without questioning the young woman’s solitude or her lack of technological devices in a place where most conversation was tapped across a keypad rather than spoken with physical lips.

But a musician, his guitar slung across his back and his skateboard in hand, might traipse through for a quick macchiato and catch a glimpse of the way she soundlessly mouthed words, dipping her chin into the serpentine folds of rough wool. A fellow artist might pause and wonder, noticing the well-thumbed tome, how the young woman had acquired such a beautiful leather-bound copy of Yeats’ early works. A painter might first notice the open weave and the color of the woolen scarf, then stop to whether or not he could adequately capture the young woman’s poise and the way her small book consumed her.

But artists – musicians, painters, and writers all – are rare in cities like these, or at least hard to find in the masses of cubicled drones working for paychecks rather than sensations of passion and joy. And the young woman would glance up, meeting the eyes of the painter who’d paused to observe her, and gather her things, snapping open her cell phone as she breezed out the door.


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