This pair is not a set of inoffensively contrasting vases, or kitch salt and pepper shakers. This duo is the Unhappy Couple. They sit perched on their chairs like a pair of dusty china cats who once complemented each other, only they've been bumped some time ago and are forever offset as each stares beyond the shoulder of the other into eternity. They don't speak to each other, they don't look at each other, they glumly sip from a coffee cup or poke at a ricotta spinach filo and side salad, all with as little physical movement as possible.
In another context this quite morose human vignette would go relatively unnoticed. Catching sight of them on a train, for instance. Standing behind them in a juice bar queue. But what if you've raced down to a cafe to meet a friend in dire need of caffeine-charged personal advice and your table is jammed right up against theirs? Or imagine you and your romantic mate have chosen a spot in a quiet, practically empty restaurant - and this universal pair walk straight up and slowly lower themselves into chairs right beside yours like a couple of leering old men sinking into your turkish bath. That's a little close, don't you think?
At this point you are forced to reconsider your purpose for the day. You are no longer a couple of friends or lovers in your own bubble, the sound of your private conversation drowned out by the equal sounds at roughly equal distances of everyone else. Instead, for the next 45 minutes you become Days Of Our Lives to the Unhappy Couple watching and listening as they sullenly munch away at their tv dinners.
If you can sweat it out, I promise you, you will out-sit the Unhappy Couple. As soon as the last mouthful passes their silently bitter and twisted lips and scratches it's way down into their dried up pits of resentment, those dagger-eyes will scour for the bill or cash register. The pair will quietly gather their rather obvious baggage and drag it all to another cafe and sit down at another table beside another couple to watch more re-runs of their old life.
Although it's quite aggravating to feel like you're being listened in on and stared at for an album length by a couple of spooks from an 80s cold war movie, it does put things into perspective. We say we want to find someone to grow old with - but the part we truly desire is to grow together. Aging is just the unavoidable biological part, and the passing of time, in itself, is irrelevant compared to the journey.