On the Inner Outsider

I don’t know why, but I am infatuated with this café, even though I didn’t get what I came here for the first time I stepped inside. In comparison, I felt like this eensy-weensy thingy, for the café is an institution nonpareil that provides a public forum for the locals, where they are welcomed to pour their hearts out without having to keep a civil tongue in their heads. One has to be wary of being ripped off, though, for what is set on the tables tastes like sheer ambrosia for good reason: fancy don’t come cheap. The fine sea views its windows give wound up prevailing on me and I sat down on one of its chairs and forked out some money for a drink.

I had just bought two books, mainly to look smarter than what my age made me seem. I was looking for someone with whom to engage in stimulating conversation and had been told to come here.

Time went by, but the increasingly-crowded café was doing little to match my expectations. Even straining my ears, I found it almost beyond the wit of man to catch any inkling of intellectual acuity that could reward my efforts to introduce myself to someone in the hopes they might turn into congenial company. I hence turned my head to the window and slipped into reverie, while trying to process the convivial atmosphere around me into background noise. I see Alexandria as a museum, the one housing my past, and from where I was standing, it seemed like a fascinating one at that.

I have grown up now, and become driven but less feisty. I am an engineer who knows to choose his battles wisely. After all, there is no point in waxing lyrical about the world and what could have been done differently. People are not interested in getting their heads churned by a maelstrom of philosophical questions, they just want a place to fritter time away and drown their sorrows, a place to belong no matter who they might be.

Looking out the window, I wondered whether the sea could be enjoyed the same from behind a sheet of glass. The noise inside the café had ceased bothering me. It almost sounded pleasing at this point.

After sitting there for an hour, I started feeling a bit woozy from the good-vibes ambience of the café and like locking gazes with strangers, including but not limiting to those in the scorching-hot outside world, scurrying by at the other side of my seat’s window. I finally decided it would do me good to fight my mingling weariness and foray into the hostile territory of social interaction.

From the exotic bamboo chairs and marble tables, to everything else contained or loitering in it, the café was complete eye-candy. I looked up and tried to read meaning and insight into people’s minds in the matrices the smoke they exhaled weaved when rising to the high ceiling. I wished the smoke could be more specific with its scurrilous allegations. The babble of talk and the clatter of dishes and clinking glasses was joined by the clamor of street vendors, baying for customers.

The sun started sinking below the horizon and I felt betrayed; I hadn’t been able to find anything nor anyone to keep me from wallowing in nostalgia, even though this specific café had looked like a promising alternative to frying in the boiling sun. With the wisdom of hindsight, I believe I might not have entered the café that day seeking to discover a new way of looking at the world, which, in turn, begs the question as to whether the experience was worth the investment I made in it.

All I can say is that it made me feel less alone, less of a stranger to myself.


Written by Mohamed El Sharnoby.