I started my gig as a barista at a local 70s-themed café known for its throwback decor and superhero-named crepes about a month ago. It’s my first job…I usually intern or freelance during the school year, so the work is an exciting challenge and a welcome change. Being a barista has its perks like free coffee, unlimited Spotify access and people watching. While D.C.’s northwest hipsters and off-duty politicos busy themselves behind their MacBook Pros, I get to see how they interact. Some like to bury themselves in their work until close while others are like me – people watchers at heart, observing the atmosphere with a careful eye.
There’s this one customer that literally comes in everyday. He’s a small, unassuming Middle Eastern man who always orders the same thing – a small black coffee in the morning and a Cleopatra Jones crepe in the afternoon. He comes in at 3 p.m. and leaves at 9 p.m. like clockwork, reading his Quran and writing in a small leather-bound notebook. I watched him do the same thing everyday for two weeks…until a girl sat next to him.
She had to be around my age…22, 23. She was very pretty and obviously smart, wrapped up in a huge medical textbook. He pretended not to notice her at first, like most of the customers do with each other. But then he accidently-on-purpose knocked his coffee to the ground, causing both of them to jump up and tackle the spill. After everything was wiped up, he engaged her in conversation for the rest of the night. She didn’t seem interested, but she was polite. I thought that he’d get the hint…it’s pretty clear when we’re not interested in a guy.
The next day, instead of ordering his usual French roast, he asked me for the strangest thing – a red onion. “Do you guys have any in the back? I’ll pay whatever it costs. I just really need it.”
“Ummm, I’ll check” I replied, not hiding my quizzical look. Because wtf. We’re a coffee shop, not a grocery store. Still, I brought him the onion and rang it up.
“Can you do me a favor?” he asked with a smile dancing in his eyes. “When I leave, bring the onion to that lady at that table. And tell her Quiet Guy sent it.”
His crush was back at the shop as well, oblivious to the fact that someone was smitten. I assumed that the onion was something that they had talked about in their conversation and was impressed at his slightly weird but totally well-meaning gesture. So I did as he kindly requested and brought her the onion.
“Quiet Guy asked me to give this to you!” I said with a huge smile.
She didn’t return it and looked at me as if I had thought of it.
“Oh. Thanks,” she said dismissively.
I was so crushed. Not at the fact that she was sort of a bitch…but because Quiet Guy would be totally disappointed when he’d learn that his crush really wasn’t interested. I’m not necessarily into Quiet Guy in that way, but I know that if I were in that girl’s shoes, I’d be more flattered than freaked out. What Quiet Guy did was romantic…and I barely see grand gestures of romance happen IRL. I’m not talking about the wack dozen roses and box of candy that some of us are lucky to get once a year…I mean well planned, thought out, tangible ways that display how you feel about someone else. Poetry. Songs. Love letters. A candlelit home cooked meal. Or a red onion.
This guy that I’ve been talking to asked me out on Monday. We’ve been Skyping, texting and talking on the phone for about a month now, and I really think that he has a sense of who I am. Our schedules always clash, but we’ve been wanting to meet up for a while. I thought that he’d come up with the perfect date idea since we’ve had so much time to think it through…but he just ended up asking what I wanted to do instead of coming up with something. So not romantic. So not red onion.
They’ve been saying that romance is dead for as long as I can remember. But I just think that our generation, generally speaking, is lazy when it comes to it. We have iPhones, so we’ll use emojis instead of words to express how we feel. Or we’ll head to wherever’s open (and cheap) to eat instead of make something from scratch. I’ve yet to meet a guy who wooed me with his words and actions at the same time.
I’m a hopeless romantic. Always have been and probably always will be. Though Quiet Guy with his red onion was unsuccessful in his pursuit, it was a triumph for someone like me who believes in that kind of thing. Grand gestures of romance aren’t played out or dead just yet…I guess it’s just a lucky combo of the right thing, the right time and the right person to revive it.
When she’s not watching for Blue Ivy sightings or doing some serious Facebook creeping, Khalea moonlights as a print journalism major at the REAL HU, Howard University. Follow her on Twitter at @letsbeKHAlear, or feel free to Twatch. Whatever works for you.