zayn z’al barr: fair is this land

While studying inside Peet’s Coffee&Tea for the first time and loving their tall stools with the slightly-curved backs:

Little Girl: Coffee!
Mother, firmly: No coffee.
Little Girl: Coffee beans!
Mother: No, honey.

A little, fluffy white dog paces to and fro outside in front of the door, wagging its tail. The mother and daughter step outside and the little girl stoops down to hug the dog. While the door is still closing behind them, I hear the little girl ask the dog, “You like coffee beans, don’t you?” The little white dog smiles [there is really no other word for it] and wags its tail, and the little girl looks accusingly at her mother. “See, Mommy! I told you so!”

Page 45 of my NPB notes discusses the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is located in the anterior hypothalamus and is the dominant pacemaker. Something to do with circadian rhythms and internal clocks in one’s body. I cross out suprachiasmatic and write super charismatic above it. Who says neurobiology can’t be fun? I want to be super charismatic. Don’t you?

Two women are sitting outside, at a table right next to the front window. One woman does most of the talking and gesturing, pointing to the stack of photographs at her elbow, picking them out carefully, laying them in rows in front of her, pointing at details, passing them one-by-one to the woman sitting across to her. The other woman nods frequently, taking each photo as it is handed to her, smiling widely in response and asking questions interestedly, while the first lady gives elaborate explanations.

I understand some of what they are saying by watching their lips move in conversation, but mostly I spy on their body language and facial expressions and what I can see of the glossy photographs in their hands. There are imposing cathedrals and ivy-covered brick buildings, seascapes and sandy beaches, and cobblestoned streets, wide and elegant. I wonder if she had traveled to Italy or England, to Boston or DC. Maybe it was Zanzibar. But, somehow, I don’t think Zanzibar has cobblestones. But what do I know?

I go up to the counter to order a slice of cake to go with my blended mocha thingamajig.
“Would you like a broken slice of marble fudge cake for free?” asks the girl at the counter.
I must have hesitated (the idea that anyone could want to give me something for free must have been mind-boggling), because she reassures me, “It’s a whole piece. Just broken up a bit.”
“Sure! Thank you.”

Every time I look up from my notes and directly out the window, I see two men standing outside, just a few feet away from the aforementioned two women. One is middle-aged, the other looks about eighteen or in his early twenties. It’s hard to tell: close-cropped blonde hair, a couple of earrings, t-shirt and cords, an unremarkable face. They’ve been standing there for an hour. I assume they are father and son. The older guy does most of the talking, and very emphatically at that, his words frequently punctuated with forward thrusts of his head. The boy is quieter; he looks steadily at the other man and calmly adds a sentence here and there, but remains impassive for the most part. I recognize that expressionless gaze, because I myself use it quite often whenever I’m being lectured by my father. It’s my “heartless bastard” look, as my friend D calls it, because it conveys an unflinching lack of emotion. It’s the one I use when I really have nothing to say in my defense, or – as usually happens – when I know that saying something is only going to make the whole situation worse.

I feel extremely nosy and embarrassed about continually glancing over them through the window, but I’m a fidgety studier and I have to look around frequently, and they are directly in my line of vision. The photograph ladies are long gone, customers glance momentarily at them while stepping in and out of the coffee shop, and passersby weave their way around them on the sidewalk. Once, I glance up and inadvertently catch the older man’s mouth moving to say, “It’s not gonna happen.”

Finally, they enter the coffee shop, with a minute’s delay in between their entrances. I feel hopeful that everything is alright and perhaps what I misunderstood as an argument was just a heated discussion about sports or politics or the new gym that recently opened next door. The boy approaches the older gentleman, but the latter abruptly turns away. “Have a nice life,” says the older man coldly. He grabs his coffee, shoves his sunglasses down over his eyes, turns on his heel, and harshly adds the painful parting shot while striding away: “Without your daughter.”

The boy sits down at a table, coffee in hand, and picks up the newspaper.

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