The shoulders were sore again. Jin couldn’t tell how many minutes she’s been looking at the blinking cursor for. It’s been hours since the morning coffee kicked in. She interlaced all her ten fingers and extended her arms as far as she could above her head. With a swift movement, she got up from her seat like stretching wasn’t enough at all and picked up her phone. She always thanked that there is a Starbucks in her building in the moments like this. She loved when bittersweet white chocolate mocha or caramel macchiato comfortably warmed her whole body and caffeine and sugar alerted each cell in her body and brain at the same time.
Starbucks in downtown Seattle always took in people who work on their laptops with serious faces and earbuds in their ears or work colleagues chatting about work and other colleagues of theirs trying to escape their work for a coffee break over sweet frappuccinos. Starbucks employees usually greeted Jin and a bunch of her colleagues and offered a smile.
Jin put a smile on her sleepy face.
“How are you doing today?”
“What can I get you?”
It woke her up a bit that the employee who’s been around didn’t answer her greeting, but she could feel that the employee was also tired. It’s already Thursday; she must be tired as I am. Jin could tell what was on the menu with her eyes closed, but she contemplated what to choose between her go-to Caramel Macchiato and White Chocolate Mocha. After about five seconds of looking at both options on the menu, she held out her phone with the Starbucks app on display, and she didn’t forget to adjust her screen to the brightest.
“Can I please have white chocolate mocha? Grande, please.”
She’s been a gold member for years thanks to her daily indulgence without skipping. The employee quickly scanned her app and turned to start making her drink. Jin moved to the corner where the drinks came out and checked her Gmail app to see if there are new emails or any colleague who needed her; in a few minutes she’s been down at Starbucks.
A blonde woman she often sees in the elevator or at Starbucks on weekday afternoons strolled in with quick steps. The employee asked, extending the end of her sentence with a high singsongy voice.
“Hi! How are you?”
“I’m good, um, Grande coffee frappuccino, please.”
The blonde woman answered and maneuvered her busy fingers on her phone at the same time. Her gaze was fixated on texting someone.
“Sure thing! What’s your name?”
She sat on a sofa nearby, still focusing on her text.
Jin’s gaze blankly followed the employee writing Catherine’s name on the paper cup with a marker. So her name is Catherine. She thought she habituated herself to this kind of thing yet couldn’t help but notice her mood slightly changing.
She wanted to be kind without expecting something back but felt rejected for the color of her skin, hair, and eyes. Jin kept on pressing the refresh button on her Gmail with no gain of a new email to distract her, and she opened her messenger app that her country uses the most, knowing there is no new notification. Everyone is sound asleep at this time of night over there. She scrolled up and down frantically and looked at her friends’ faces.
“White Chocolate Mocha!”
Spilled coffee on the lid made the white, empty paper cup dirty. Jin carefully cleaned her cup with a napkin and turned to go back to the office when she heard,
“Coffee Frappuccino for Catherine!”
Mildly cold air from February stroked her cheeks and lungs. Jin slowly walked down the hill of Seattle downtown, sniffling from cold air. She found a dry spot on a wet bench. The sky was filled with grey clouds, but she could tell there’s the sun by mere sunlight penetrating where clouds have less dense spots, where they have flaws, where they are not perfect. Breathing felt better looking down the boundless dark water of Pacific North West and heard discordant noises in her heart at the same time.
A year and a half in this wet city made her a little more numb to this kind of thing, yet she found herself pitiful to be still affected. At first, she didn’t see it. Her focus was taken by new scenery; she didn’t notice the bus that didn’t stop for her, inhospitable servers, and Starbucks cups without her name. It didn’t threaten her survival. It wasn’t until she spent a year that she unmistakenly noticed that her very own presence is dissonance in these people’s perfect harmony.
Why do people focus on differences? She thought, looking at the flock of black birds chilling in a line. They all tidied their feathers and flipped their wings in the same motion. It’s because we forget that we are one. It’s from ignorance. Once her mind reaches that thought, the whirlpool of unpretty emotions swirled up inside her. It was much easier to think that the employee and the blonde woman may be acquaintances even if it didn’t seem like it. The bus driver didn’t see me even if our eyes met. The server may have been having a bad day even if I heard him having pleasant small talks with other tables.
Whenever she tried to calm her agitated mind, this Danish ad came across her brain: a commercial dividing people by jobs, income level, appearance in boxes drawn on the ground with white chalk. People looked secure and safe in their boxes. Invisible walls were being built through the white chalk line as they looked at different others outside their own box.
The production crew asked class clowns among them to come forward and outside the box. Mischievous, playful faces across generations and genders came out of boxes and gathered. Stepparents did the same. People who believe in an afterlife were next. After them, the people who have seen UFOs. People who like to dance.
The ad left a long afterimage in Jin’s mind, but the reality didn’t seem like we are one and the same. One thing she couldn’t bear was her fragile mind helplessly and repeatedly being affected by what she can’t control no matter how much she soothes and convinces her own mind.
She missed her own environment where she could be her own element and automatically blend in the mix.
Coffee got cold a long time ago; she finally lifted herself and her heart that sunk to the bottom when a white bird glided in and sat next to the flock of birds. Its body and size were similar to the other birds, but it sat down alone, putting distance to the flock. As soon as the white bird arrived, the others flew away. The bird was too busy to notice, tidying its feathers, rubbing its beak to the feathers, picking something from the chest. Its upright head looked determined and powerful.
Jin turned to go back to the office. Her heart was back at where it was. She chuckled quietly, imagining the Starbucks employee fleeing next to her in an alien invasion. She felt invigorated to the end of her fingers from the core of her heart by just the first few sips of coffee and threw away the rest. She climbed the hill back to her office with light steps.