This is going to be emotional. Then my life is one emotional journey, seldom lead by head, but always, let’s face it, by heart. In this chapter, for the past two years, my heart, broken and bleeding was brought to healing and joy in a small café in Parson’s Green.
Two years ago I lost just about everything I knew, and held dear. The wings were broken, the raven deafening and the prospect of one step in front of the other, slow. Believing that I could exist was overwhelming. I had my children, dear God thank you for them, and in that wave of blackness and loss, I found a little café to hide in. So pretty, so everything I loved in the decor and atmosphere, and a small, insignificant sign in the window – help wanted. Was it that I was beyond caring, but asked the manager if the job was still going.
‘For sure’ he said. ‘Who would it be for?’
‘Me.’ I replied. I could see the look of panic on his face, but the die was cast, the sign was sure and, could I say reluctantly, he decided to take a chance on me. Let’s face it, a woman in her fifties, late fifties, wanting to work in a café was not something he had expected. I was hired. To be honest, the first few sessions meant me crawling home with legs unable to move, back and spirit broken, but I what else did I have? Pretending to be something I had forgotten what that was. I needed work, I needed a distraction and more importantly, a reason to get up in the morning.
I have seen the looks with me in the apron. Strangers, friends and children of friends popping in, going, shame, she has been reduced … I have seen it all. But in the seasons something else happened – the forming of family. The joy of the walk from Putney Bridge in the morning to get there, set up and be delighted by the doing of it. Freshly baked croissants and coffee smells lifting the very spirit of me. I have been part of a community and they have become my community. Babes growing, puppies growing, stories unfolding … the learning of the perfect cup, meeting celebrities (and of course Hugh, you have always been the one and I got meet you too), it was the everyday of everyone who came in, stayed, talked and left an impression. To the point where me going away, to South Africa, meant those coming to say goodbye. Not a job, a place of happiness and even when it got so busy, we worked as a team, delivered perfection and I could go home knowing I had met and mingled with the best.
But it was more than that.
I had found my place. I belonged to a group of people I learned from, every, single day. Young, gorgeous people, from all backgrounds, Sweden, Poland, England, Brazil … my kindred spirits. I learned from them. Energetic, ambitious, paying their own way, home far away, family far away, but never giving up. We were in it together: kitchen porters, sous chefs, waitrons, owner – it was not about me, but about us and their love was tangible, support real, love unconditional.
And I am thinking, what have I done to say goodbye to it today?
I cannot stay. My home in London has been sold. I have no address here anymore. Taking a break to re-formulate, to re-address and hopefully return. We had so much time to laugh, the Christmas parties, the sharing of break-ups and new loves, of disappointment and new babies being born. What I am trying to say is that working at this beautiful place, not only offered me sanctuary, but a home. I know your coffee orders, can do the milk art. I can bake the cakes, fill the orders and remember the long recipe of what you want, with a little of this and a little of that. I close with you in the winter, revel with you in Spring, in the love of summer and chat about the Autumn delight: do the flowers and admire your photographs of weddings, holidays and go – goodbye to those who have left, those who need to move on, and finally, it is me.
Olivia, I am forever grateful. You gave me more than you realise. Kasia, Kat, Suzi, Michael, Beth, Lucy, Lounis, Anthony, Amanda and all those I worked with, my story is yours. You are the making of me in this chapter To Janelle, Fleeta, Toni, Nova, Sam, Kyril, Lucy and all of you, you know who who you are, you are the best thing that happened to me. I am stronger and braver because of you. And I shall return.
A small café saved my life. I will take your stories with me and be the better for it. Strong now, with or without the apron, and me again. You did that, in the thrill of my favourite flower truck pulling up, the oat milk cuppaccino, the smashed avocado and the oceans of love.
We are not at goodbye. We are at we will support each other forever.
And I shall return. For I have found a family of exceptional people. How lucky am I?
Blessed. My apron on the back of the door … will pick it up again sometime. That is how great you have been St. Clements in Parson’s Green.