It was a spur of the moment kind of thing, the sort of decision you make when life has become entirely dull and could use a douse of Indian curry powder.
Holyn and I walked nervously up to the cafe. It was connected to an iconic restaurant in the south of Broad Ripple (my neighborhood). We entered with a quiet confidence until we hit the bar. The place was nearly empty but for a few customers in the far corners of the room, and I had this sinking feeling I had misread the invitation.
Eight hours prior I was at work thinking about summer. I suddenly remember the French Social Club I always wanted to attend. So I shot a text to Holyn who agreed at once to go with me. Now, I was having a moment of panic at the thought of mistaking the location.
The French Social Club did say they usually met at Cornerstone Cafe. Maybe tonight was unusual. The bartender eyed us suspiciously while he polished a clean glass with his towel. A waitress with a black nose ring came over to inquire why we were wandering around, when at last we heard it.
“I hear them, but I don’t see them,” Holyn said, spinning around. To our astonishment we had walked right passed the long table of French-speakers. They were sitting in the restaurant at a table that was nearly full. And all at once we both felt too afraid to approach the group.
“They’re a friendly bunch,” the bartender assured us, setting the glass on the counter. “I bet they’d be fine if you joined them.” And so with a douse of confidence, we did. Moments later, I was introducing myself in that language I love so much. We chatted and laughed with a group of total strangers and I was reminded of the sense of adventure I had when I was abroad.
In a foreign country, everything seems so new and exciting that to attend a social meet-up is really no big deal. But for some reason when one returns to her own country, the sense of adventure begins to fade and the world resumes its dull and uneventful state.
So there I was, eating fries out of a basket, feeling so excited that I was immersing myself in something new. At first the words felt slow on my tongue. Each syllable was like moving a muscle I hadn’t used in a while. But slowly it began to return and I played off of other conversations, looking at Holyn when I was at a loss for words. We met a journalist and a software designer, a neuro psychologist and a chemistry professor.
The table was a mixture of age and ethnicity: Venezuelan, Syrian, and a man I suspected was from West Africa. When a few of our new-found friends got up to smoke outside, I was reminded of my life as a student once again.
When I studied in York England my friends and I had a small dinner party on Fat-Tuesday, or what the British call “Pancake Day”. As we cooked eggs and bacon in our friend’s apartment, one of the French girls looked over at me in the middle of our conversation. She was a beautiful woman with dark eyebrows and perfectly lined lips. I had always found her to be extremely intimidating until the week prior when she had offered to help me with my French homework.
“Do you smoke?” she asked, with a look of inquiry. I froze for a moment. No one in my life had ever asked me this. Allow me to remind you, I was a student at a Christian university back in the United States. It was a dry campus that had just legalized dancing and was flirting with the idea of mixed-gendered dormitories. But for some reason her question made me feel accepted, despite my obvious conservative background.
Smoking, where I came from, was not common among Millennials. The only time I’d ever held a cigarette was at the age of seven when my little brother and I pretended to smoke the half-used cigarette butts tossed out on the curb. We later received a serious whipping for entertaining such an idea.
I told her that I didn’t smoke and so she went out front by herself, and I realized she was looking for a smoking companion, someone to chat with as she stood outside.
As I watched the couple from the French club outside the restaurant enjoy a cigarette, I felt sort of nostalgic about my time abroad. Hearing the French-speakers around me, those who were fluent and those who were stumbling over their words, created a sense of magic in the moment. As I write these words I realize I see the world much differently than most. To me every person is a character, the waitress, running around our table refilling drinks, the bartender still polishing glasses at the empty bar, and the woman sitting in the middle of our long extended table, so focused on cutting her steak she hasn’t let out a word. They’re all characters and for some reason I want to know their stories.
But I recognize not everyone perceives the world like me. To some, the couple smoking outside is just another group polluting the environment, the man who laughs so hard his food flies out of his mouth is just a rude foreigner, and the bartender who is waiting for the girl in the corner of the cafe to take notice of him, is just another guy. Perhaps they all have a story or perhaps I just have an untamed imagination of “what ifs.”
We left together, Holyn and I, chatting about the people we met. We passed the Jazz Kitchen were a group of Hispanic men were singing a poor rendition of Despacito. Perhaps next week we will try salsa dancing and I will again venture from my comfort zone to season my life with a little bit of cross-cultural experience.