When I was 22 I worked in a coffee shop across from one of the train stations in Manchester city centre. I worked through the winter. Early-dusk starts, fidgeting at bus stops to keep warm. Purple skies from the top deck, curled up in a too-thin coat. One mascara’d eye and a soundtrack of euphoric guitars in my ears.
I was floating in a timeless space between University and My Life, waiting for it to start. Waiting to know what to do with my days.
I became obsessed with the customers at the coffee shop and primarily with the question, ‘what do you do?’ What had they, the successful, salaried of Greater Manchester chosen to do with each day of their lives? I believed that my own answer might lie within one or two of these coffee drinking customers. That if I kept my eyes and ears open to the signs, they would reveal a more meaningful path that would discharge me from 5am starts and heart-pounding pay checks.
There were little visual codes that often peaked my interest: a book, specific footwear, earphones, a certain type of notepad. And others who I felt could not possibly embody The Life I was searching for and dismissed: a lack of colour, nude bags or shoes, too much time to chat about nothing.
There were other characters too. Those who I didn’t aspire to be, but started writing a certain McCullers-esque story inside of me: the lady who pronounced ‘Macchiato’ with an accent and a flamenco tap. The dishevelled woman giving out free poetry. The florist with dreadlocks down his back. A Buddhist in a trench coat.
Having decided against journalism, I started to interview customers about themselves: what is it you do? Where do you commute from? What are you listening to? What’s the book about? I was like a bird pecking for seeds.
I believe I was hoping the name of an interesting organisation might be dropped onto the counter. One who’s office I could post a CV to. But book titles and music and esoteric topics of research could also send me in a direction where I felt meaning and a salary might lie.