Mirror, mirror

The mornings before winter decided to ice London’s sidewalks I would walk to work. The highlight of my brisk 30-minute commute was pounding the sidewalk, drenched in the aroma of fresh coffee, outside Caffe l’Angolo Bianco. In the 18 months that I have sometimes walked down Crawford Street I never stopped for a cup. Until today.

The deli is no bigger than a largeish bedroom. Two counters and four round tables squeeze into one half of the room; a deli counter in the other half. The walls are lined with boxes of Panettone Verdi, Panettone Venezia, Il Panettone Bauli, Cantuccini alla Mandorla… in honour of Christmas. I ordered a cappuccino and a tomato-avocado-mozzarella sandwich and settled in for the morning.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was the only stranger in the room. The Italian owner knew everyone else. She asked after the gay couple’s sick dog; the soccer kid’s mum (out shopping while dad played dad); she asked the old man how he was coping after his wife’s death. For the first time that I can remember, a restaurant was more like a family’s living room and I, the gatecrasher to this party.

I order another cappuccino; I didn’t really want another but I also didn’t want to leave this family just yet. A gentle energy connected everyone in the deli and the temptation to be included was too sweet to ignore. A few more unwanted cappuccinos and several more interesting stories make me think of another party I’ve gatecrashed: London. I do a bloody good job of pretending to have settled in but no matter how well I know the streets, how much I love the X Factor, or how used to the weather I get, London will always be someone else’s city. Things changed a few months ago. The miracle of Facebook reconnected me with myself.

I found Shakha, Sailaja and Sree Lakshmi in London. Deepa, Sharmeen and Chanveen in the US. Shairi and Anuja in Bombay. They are mirrors I lost a long time ago. Today, when I stand before these mirrors they show me my reflection before life changed it, for better and for worse. I don’t just get to see what I want to see, but I see all that I am too scared, proud or hesitant to look for; the good, the bad, but especially the good.

London will never be home but through these friends from school a little bit of home is now with me in London. Being able to unhesitatingly ask a friend if she wants to meet “this evening” as opposed to “three weeks from Friday (if nothing else comes up)” is a joyous relief. And when I ask for an opinion, I know I will get nothing but kind honesty.

Its finally time to leave Caffe l’Angolo Bianco. Just as I reached for the door the lady of the house walked up to me and reached for my hand. She placed a cookie in my palm and said, “You will like it. Now come again, okay?”

-p

6 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, Cafe, Coffee, Deli, Italian, London

6 responses to “Mirror, mirror

  1. gouri dange

    lovely one again. thanks. you gone veggie?
    g

  2. Sailaja

    I love this post…reconnecting with you, Sree and Shakha has made me realise as well that in spite of all the years that have gone by…there is something quite pure about knowing each other as children, which never goes away…

    It is also so comforting as you say to know that we will get nothing less than kind honesty…and I too so cherish being able to ask at short notice if you ladies are free to do something, or even being able to say sorry for not being able to make it…as someone that shied away from Facebook for so long, I do need to say thank you for bringing these wonderful ladies back into my life!

  3. Chanveen

    Very well written Pooja.Enjoyed reading it and visualizing the cafe with the warmth of the family atmosphere.Hope to see you soon in the US.Thanks for the good wishes.If you visit after May you will get to see the new additions as well.

  4. Elie

    Did you go back???

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