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Overheard in the coffee shop: Eavesdropping your way through a working day

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Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

I’m not a talker myself, so eavesdropping is doubly interesting to me because I am always wondering: ‘What and why the hell is there so much to say?’ And well, as a favour to the public, I have spent some time collecting a bouquet of quotable, or not so quotable, quotes.

When I am not working in my home office, which is my bed, but let’s call it a very adult-looking suitable place in the home that is tidy and comes complete with desk and chair, I sit in the same coffee shop, at the same table, every day but at different times. And the ticking of the clock brings and takes different kinds of people the same way the moon does the tide. Sometimes it’s high, sometimes it’s low, but it is always very, very interesting and even though I have my headphones on, I have now made peace with the fact that I am a professional eavesdropper. Though I might be playing Nina Simone’s Baltimore, you can bet your bottom dollar it is playing with the volume all the way down so I can hear what everyone is constantly talking about.

I’m not a talker myself, so eavesdropping is doubly interesting to me because I am always wondering: “What and why the hell is there so much to say?” And well, as a favour to the public, I have spent some time collecting a bouquet of quotable, or not so quotable, quotes. Please note that said coffee shop is filled with a variety of people at different times of the day and this offering is just a small collection from said variety, which starts with the school-run stay-at-home moms in the morning – mostly Jewish because of the area I live in, and who have seemingly very small problems:

  • “I saw Kerry on a run the other day; shame, she’s trying. But her hubby was schvitzing all over her. They’re quite weird, hey?”
  • “What do those city improvement patrols even do? The other day they just drove right past a homeless man who was walking across the street. I couldn’t believe it. I mean the man wasn’t even looking where he was going, you know?”

At about 9.30am the school moms drag their athleisure-clad bodies home or to Pilates or wherever, and in strolls the elder-llennials (these are older millennials), who clutter up the space with electronics, furiously typing, typing, typing and having endless calls on their laptops or sitting across from each other having “creative” brainstorms. I am one of these people and I can tell you right now, nothing we have to say is interesting or worth listening to. We are completely forgettable as a species, and history may remember us by our insistence on wearing hats, dressing like hipsters and looking poor sometimes, even though we really aren’t. So I don’t have any quotes for you but you can quote the above if you want.

Later in the day it’s time for the middle-aged men and women to walk in in couplings, mostly heteronormative, and have deep-dive whines about their lives.

  • Woman to woman: “Stacey’s just one of those people like, whatever I do, she’s already done it, you know? Like I can make coffee, but she can make coffee better.”
  • Man to man: “My cousin’s a neuroscientist at Harvard, hey. He’s a clever oke. Says the vaccine is bullshit. I mean… Who do I believe, a guy who is basically a genius that I know and trust or this useless government?”

Someone is always renovating their house, or dealing with a plumber or another kind of service provider. These people do their business throughout the day in the coffee shop. The call to shout at renovators can only, as it turns out, be done from a coffee shop.

  • “But I drew a bloody picture for you.”
  • Finally, before close of day, grandmothers who drink worryingly large amounts of lattes sink their dentures into a good old-fashioned gossip.
  • “I’m telling you. I have always said I never want a Pisces as a daughter-in-law and obviously look what God’s given me now?”
  • “He finally came for dinner on Friday night. I haven’t seen him in two weeks, hey. Two! My own son. Then he shows up but he can’t even help me fix the WiFi. I’m telling you, Jenny, I don’t need this in my life. But I told him to come next week again.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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