"To my left, sits a woman and a boy in his school uniform. He must be about five or six and they share the same dark, sleek hair and brown eyes"Florence Brockman

It’s about 3pm and I’m in a coffee shop, a familiar setting for me. I find it easier to concentrate when other things are going on around me. It keeps me awake, not just in the physical sense. To my left, sits a woman and a boy in his school uniform. He must be about five or six and they share the same dark, sleek hair and brown eyes. I assume he is her son, because he is sitting as close to her as possible and is practically falling out of his seat with excitement to tell her something, rarely pausing for breath.

He’s not speaking English, but it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand what he’s saying. He’s probably been waiting all day to tell her about something that happened in the playground, or to talk about a story that he’s making up as he goes. I watch them with fondness because of the way that this small child is so excited about something, and because the woman is sitting and looking him in the eyes, nodding and replying when she has something thoughtful to add and mirroring his body language. Although we are in a cafe, it feels as though, to them, they are the only two people in the room.

“As soon as people stop hearing you, you lose hope”

She is listening to the boy tentatively, and I don’t know why it’s affecting me so much. There is no phone in sight. She’s not scrolling through her WhatsApp messages or work emails; she’s enjoying spending time with him. She’s really listening. It makes me feel happy for the boy; his thoughts and dreams are all still within reach, because someone is listening. Perhaps that is what’s bugging me: I know that as soon as people stop hearing you, you lose hope, and with it that spark in your eye that says ‘I am capable of anything’ begins to dim.

I’m not saying that this will happen to the child. I’m not sure it will. It’s just that I don’t like the thought. People often do a lot of listening for people who wouldn’t necessarily do the same and it becomes an unhealthy habit. My favourite thing about my friends and family is that I know they will listen if I need them to, but that doesn’t mean I choose to tell them everything. For some reason growing up sometimes leads to keeping things in, and I don’t babble like this small boy anymore.

“Sharing alleviates pain and encourages us to be more authentically ourselves”

Human beings aren’t supposed to exist as islands but sometimes it can feel all the more easy to stay afloat if you keep things to yourself, safe in your head, hidden. I get that. Outside the café, there’s a bench. A man, about my age, sits on it, wearing a blue puffer jacket, with his bike perched next to him. He’s waiting for something or someone, with a crate of beers on the floor by his feet. Five minutes have passed and his friend dismounts from his bike and joins him, embracing him in a bear hug which says ‘I know you and I’ve missed you.’ Rather than being clumsy and awkward, it reminds me that people need physical touch, and that COVID made us reject the concept of being close like we once were. I drift in and out of work and look over at the two friends; they are laughing one moment, talking seriously during another, facing towards each other and comfortable in each other’s presence. Then, after about an hour, the first friend gets up, they embrace again and he leaves smiling. I’m sure that the brief catch up did more than they quite knew at the time.


Mountain View

From au pair to self care

It’s like that scene at the end of the film Love Actually, when we are supposed to realise that ‘love actually is everywhere, if you look close enough’. Love is only there if you put the effort in, though, by trying to understand people like the mother who listens to her son and the student chatting to his friend. I’ve changed my mind as to why I sit in cafés to work. It’s not just to keep my eyes open, it’s for a reminder. People creep back into themselves when people stop listening; a boy grows quiet, friends grow distant and things start to seem that little bit less hopeful. All everyone needs is a person who will listen.

That person probably changes — you are going to put trust in a lot of different people. That can make it hard to open up, in a way. Friends drift apart, relationships end, again and again, so what’s the point in telling anyone what’s on your mind?

I can’t explain it fully but it’s something more important than we can really understand. It is inevitable that we are going to hurt and feel joy, like that little boy, but sharing alleviates pain, and encourages us to be more authentically ourselves and get better. And yes, perhaps none of us are truly capable of reverting to being a child who feels everything so acutely that they want to share their experiences of the world at every waking moment — but the next time you meet up with a friend, try to hear them just a little more. It might be the thing that makes a difference.