Loyalty card.

Sometimes you can perfectly predict the way your day at work will go. Sometimes you're thrown a little curve ball; a signal of hope or a slap of reality, a reminder that the universe is holding onto a lot of strings and they break all too easily.

*I am aware that my blog is fast becoming an inconsistent mostly-dormant dumping ground for my mad rambling rants about my days working in the customer service industry and fantastical tales of the more interesting customers I encounter – I promise it's not going to become so niche, there will still be creative pieces and opinions scattered about here and there. Pinky promise cross my heart I will do my best.
I just feel the need to tell stories every so often. 

Saturday after lunch time, after all the paninis are toasted and all the skinny decafs (January specials) are brewed, the queue peters out and there's time to clean up the mess behind the bar. A gentle trickle of customers is still creeping through the door, so it's enough to keep us busy once the dishwasher is loaded, the more hilarious exchanges with the paying public are discussed and the jugs have been washed out. I call out to a lady further back in the queue, she'll be my one of the two I serve simultaneously – 'Would you like to come round here?' I gesture to my till. She slowly moves towards me, wading through something heavy and thick, and orders her large latte. She hands me a pesto chicken panini, and I smile as I load it into the toaster and fiddle with the timer. Three minutes – I see it as three minutes to make the accompanying drink and three minutes to make an impression.

As I put her order through the till, I catch sight of her iPhone resting in front of her on the scratched glass bar. She's in the middle of composing a text to someone called Chris, and before I know it I'm rudely reading it upside down. I catch myself and feel awful, and I'm about to turn away when a word catches my eye – 'hopeless'. All I can catch of her epic essay message is 'I can't cope – I woke up this morning and I wanted to kill myself – I just can't do it any more – I feel so hopeless'... My mouth goes dry and my stomach drops down to my coffee-stained shoes. I look again into her eyes. Oh, she looks so tired. So lost. Her eyes are dry but full of obscure sadness, and while her clothes seem flattering if smothered by a coat and her hair is a halo of highlights, she seems void of herself.

As I'm steaming the milk for her large latte, my mind fills with manic madness. I think about what I could be doing to help her. Should I write my number down on a napkin and discreetly pass it to her across the tray? Tell her to text me if she ever feels the need? Is that creepy? It seems creepy. Also then I have the awkward moment when I have to convey that I was peering at her private messages as she wrote them when I was meant to be doing my job. Then I realise – I can't do much, but I can do my job. I can do it really well.
I set about making the best latte imaginable. The little white cloud of foam on top (1cm precisely, of course) is put in place, and the espresso muddled with milk comes around it happily in a marbled golden brown ring. I quickly grab a thermometer and effectively draw a line through the top of the drink – I make the cloud a puffy frothy carefree heart. I switch off the toastie timer but leave the tongs between the hot pieces of metal that actually do the toasting so the panini can stay in there but won't burn, as I'm giving myself more time with her. I am at a loss, and so I resort to the cheesiest most minimal gesture. She hands me her loyalty card, and I fill it up completely with stamps. I hardly ever give extra stamps to any customer – only one cheeky extra if they maybe engage with me and ask how I'm doing, or if they're just one away from a full card if I'm in a good mood... I've never filled one right there and then for a customer. What's more, I tap the screen and make her latte her loyalty card purchase – she has a freebie today. 'Oh why look, your latte is free!' I smile at her, all bright and bubbly.
She looks up, still lost. 'It's... What? My latte?'
'It's free, madam,' I nod my head earnestly. 'I'll bring your toastie over in a sec – the toastie is three ninety-five!'
She seems less lost now, and more downright baffled. That's good. My gesture has shaken her out of her muggy funk. She takes her mug; 'th-thank you' she mumbles, still confused, and goes to sit on the modest sofa across the way. I can see her while I load up the dishwasher – should I wish. I arrange her panini as best I can on the big plate, and take it over to her just as she's settled with the milky freebie. She smiles more eagerly as I approach, and I wonder if I've made her day. She's put her phone away and brought out a book. I wonder if she sent the text. I put the plate down before her and say 'If there's anything else you need, do let me know madam!' I try to convey my genuine concern for her in my eyes, as though I can write it in the air for only her to read. She smiles and thanks me, again. Later she walks by the bar, returns her tray of empties, and waits until I'm done serving to say goodbye. Still smiling.

The next day, she comes back. I can barely contain my excitement when I recognise her instantly – I just about burst when I see that she has a rugged-up gentleman with her (their thick mac coats almost match), and she's pushing a bright red pram. Without thinking I rush around the bar to say hi to her, meeting her eyes, and lean over the pram to greet the little one. The man looks a little bemused when he sees me take such an interest in his lady friend (wife? Sister? Girlfriend? Best friend? He seems a little prickly and protective when I so confidently accost them, so I assume they're together). I decide that he's Chris.
'Same again for you, madam?'
'Yes, please! And another for this one.' She indicates Chris. I smile a few hundred watts.
'Of course! This little one is beautiful, isn't he?'
She beams right back at me. 'Yes, he is. He's the reason I need this coffee!'
Back behind the bar, I knock out the handle and turn to the side as I steam and froth the milk so I can chat. 'Bless. Worth it, I'm sure.' I don't mean to make it a question, but as always my strange hybrid accent makes it come out that way. The end of the sentence gets tilted upwards. It makes her look properly up at my face.
'Of course.'

This all happened about a week ago. This lovely chick has since come in maybe every other day – once with the pram, once with a toddling brown-haired boy, once alone and once with Chris. I like to think she's found a sanctuary in our little cafe. She never makes a conscious effort to converse as much as is humanly possible in the time it takes me to prepare her daily caffeinated indulgence – she's happy to just exchange smiles and kind greetings, maybe the occasional comment on the weather or an update on the baby's rapid growth or an apology for the toddler's mischievous wandering tendencies. We never push it too far, though.
When she's in, I watch her pocket her phone and not touch it again until she's walking out the door. I wonder if that's voluntary, or if she just instinctively does it, knowing it's a good move; she needs that me-time, to silence the pestering voices and take a break from the technology that can at some times be toxic and smothering. Maybe she's just conserving her phone's battery. Who knows??
All I know is, she's my new favourite customer. My next goal, after cheering her up somewhat with a free drink: learn her name. 


  1. Gosh Gracie, this made me tear up! You're the barista I want to find in every coffee shop.


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