A man was sitting at one of the small tables in the coffee shop. A loose-leaf binder was open in front of him and on top of that sat a thick book. It was the kind of massive literature book seen in college, with tissue-paper-pages like a Bible, and easily three-thousand pages thick. The man was studious. He would read in the book, then pause and look out the plate-glass window, then bend back to the see-through page with a pen. He was drinking a large cup of coffee, but only when looking out the window in thought. The plastic lid of the cup rested on the table with a green plastic glob of gum stuck to it.
He would pause, take a drink, and look out the window. He was too old and studious and solitary to be in high school. When compared to the young high school boys and girls gathered on the couch or outside at the sidewalk tables bundled up against the cold wind and smoking cigarettes it was easy to tell he was not their peer. He was not old either. He wore a close-trimmed, full red beard. It was neat and clean. His worn jeans and unfashionable sweater showed his comfort with being comfortable.
Occasionally while looking out the window, he would watch the kids. He watched a girl light a cigarette, then share the lighter with the boy next to her. The man looking out the window watching though, They are too young to be smoking. He watched them drag the smoke into their young pink lungs and thought, That is how you know you’re getting old, when you think ‘they are too young…’ The man drank his coffee and watched the children smoke. He bent back to his book and reread the passage. When he leaned on the table it would rock. He knew this, and did not spill the coffee. He came to the coffee shop often between his classes and liked this table with its rocking. He liked to look out the window while thinking.
He watched the high school kids and smoking their cheap cigarettes, and think, They don’t know what they’re wasting. I was the same way, I did not know… Then he would read, and make notes, and then think, I was the same and now look at me. I’m twenty-seven and five years behind my peers. Make that seven years, since I won’t have a degree for two more. Then he would bend back to the little rocking table and read a while more. Later he would pack up his things and go to class.