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?”