Friday, May 28, 2010

in a canberra cafe

A woman is weeping by the door. I turn from my early morning coffee to see her squatting by a table on the floor. Another woman wearing a red jacket and serious hair approaches and tries to console her. The sobbing is confronting. It is impossible not to listen.

"You need to pull yourself together. You are much loved here," she says.

She has received a letter, complaining about her work. The letter deals in generalities and she has no idea what the complaints are.

Red Jacket helps her onto a chair and says,
"They sent you a letter? What the hell is that? Why can't they say we need to have a chat?

She is beside herself. People walk past with coffee-to-go to wait for elevators up to the government department offices. They barely acknowledge the drama through the glass walls.

Now her sobs are punctuated by short little gasps. Red Jacket is trying to find a way through the fog.

"They need to outline the complaints clearly. They have to give you the opportunity to respond to the criticism. They mustn't have enought work to do to create all this drama. They wrote you a letter - how ironic is that!"

After some time Red Jacket makes her goodbyes.
"Are you alright? Don't come back up until you've calmed down, and then you need to go straight in and sort it out."

Time passes. Forty minutes of it, and she is still sitting there staring at the table top. Calm. Immobile. Alone. Life on pause.

A man walks past and calls, "good morning". He double-takes at her blotchy face and scurries for the lift. Late.

Letters are sent by people who lack confidence to talk face-to-face. They are serious, they assert power, and they are gutless. Letters imply there is no room for discussion. They keep a recipient at arms length, inhibiting relationship.

She has a phone call. She is speaking in a tongue I do not recognise, laughing quietly, murmuring. This is where her strength will be born. A phone call from one who grants her respect through conversation.

And suddenly I look up and she is gone. I wonder how she will redeem the day.

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  1. Lu
    This is very evocative of the drama of the moment and of the discomfort of the passersby.

    I would change 'gutless'. For me, it's too informal, and too involved. Maybe 'cowardly'?

    Can I send the link to a friend?

  2. Thanks for the feedback Kate.

    I've been thinking about 'gutless' vs 'cowardly' question. I agree with you that 'gutless' is informal, and less arms-length than 'cowardly', and I think that's why I chose it.

    For me 'gutless' intones not only the aggression of the letter-writing act, a metaphorical punch, but also alludes to the kick-in-the-guts effect of the letter on the victim.

    "Gutless' does involve me in the drama. Call me soft, but that's how it felt listening to someone pour their heart out over coffee.