Purposeful Strangers: Of Delusion and Dreams


“Coffee? Or perhaps you’d like something cool?” he trailed off looking at both of them in turn, expectant, but patient.

I caught a glimpse of the sun shining in her eyes and the distant hum of Scott McKenzie singing flitted through my mind. Hiding my smile as best as I can, I looked on as he responded to the waiter with the former. It wasn’t that hot outside, but the little coffee shop was adequately chilled, and I imagined that their fingertips were cooling down as they tapped on the silvery surface of the table.

“If you are going, to San Francisco, be sure to wear sunflowers in your hair.” I hummed out silently as the laptop pinged with a notification. Quickly typing out a few sentences and sorting it out, I peered over the rim of my glasses, peeking through the top of the laptop to see their eyes catching each other’s as they took a break from looking through the window to the distant intersection on the road.

In my own mind, I was picturing another person laughing at me, “We’re not anywhere close to San Fran”. She said that with a knowing grin, adding, “And you really have to stop singing the 70s so much,” to it with a laugh.

“We’re not in San Fran, but a sunflower will look most beautiful when it’s tucked in your hair”, I would wink and open up my palm from across the table. As you place yours on top of mine, we would close the spaces in between our fingers and hum out the rest of the song together.


The warm embrace of approaching coffee wafting through the air shook me away from my thoughts. I watched as the couple at the table closest to me took slow sips from their cups. This ambient lighting, the slow whirr and pings from the laptop, and the cityscape outside the window were becoming a frequent abode to me. A comfy habit as I worked on various projects, coordinating in replies and detailing in words. Sometimes I’d imagine about someone telling me about a new thing that happened in their day that I could include in a story, or sometimes I’d just remember a song and hum, enjoying the taste and smell of a warm beverage.

As of recent, I have grown weary of writing about my own experiences. Months of writer’s block and an ensuing bout of negativity has left my inspirational activities in a more ghostly sense of expression. Mood swings showed that somewhere between “Happy” and “Total wreck” was a coin toss I seemingly took every hour. The routine of life being confined to four walls day in and day out too had started to take a toll on me.

With all the mounting pressures and tensions, the frequent visitation to the local coffee shop was a very welcome escape to me. Drawing inspiration from a young adult fiction, “Stargirl”, I made it my habit to observe the people coming and going, seated around me and imagining what their stories were, what they meant to other people, and trying to piece up how they interacted with life around them. In a way, it was as if I was trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle but without even seeing the full image from a far, each puzzle piece having needed to be “felt out” instinctively. A smile flickered on my face at the thought of that, me, the puzzle-solver.


Watching on from my “vantage point”. The towel rag was soaking up the droplets of water; condensed clouds of steam from the coffee machine that had gathered up in pools, as someone from behind the counter wiped them off. He was wearing glasses that had fogged up a bit from making the last order. If my memory serves correct, it was an espresso with a shot of caramel in it. Maybe this was his way of working extra, or as they now call it, “hustling”. Maybe this was his full time job, the joyous feeling of owning a small and thriving business in his step. Or maybe, he simply liked the smell of coffee and making workaholics and romantics happy in a comfortable space.

In this age, it wouldn’t be wrong to call him a martyr I suppose. It is seldom that people’s privacy was given a space to grow respected. Seldom too are there a safe space for the tired and weary to just relax and tone down their mental knots. Yes, I believe that inner peace in these aspects is a great requirement in the fast-paced modern age, and a more so greater act it is to provide such a safe space.


The cracks in the wooden paneling were welcome air passages for the layers of dust that was formed over the years to seep through. Glass fragments glistened in the stray sunlight that found its way through the decades of neglect. A plethora of fungi, mold and spores had taken up residence in the… I stopped typing and reread the trailing off paragraph that I just spouted out. In my mind the picture that was forming wasn’t such a bright one. A disused cottage in an acre of weed-strewn land where a sinister plot would take place in.

“Stop with the creepy nonsense…”

“Well it’s not like I’m forcing it in, it’s just what’s coming to my head now,” I replied to the voice in my head. At times that voice was rational, at times it was consoling, but almost always, it was annoying.

I looked away from the screen and to the couple nearby again. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, a different scene was playing out. One where dark chocolate fingertips grazed on a mocha palm, tracing the lines as if trying to read a future through them. “Practice was hard today?” I’d ask while kissing the blisters on the edges of her fingertips. A smile lit up in her eyes as she looked at me and leaned her forehead on mine. I chuckled and breathed her in, momentary silence following before I broke off into song. “Breathe out, so I can breathe you in – Hold you in; And now, I know you’ve always been – Out of your head – Out of my head, I sang,” I sang.


The tinkle of the doorbell of the coffee shop woke me up. The audio-visual kinesthetic experience of the past was one that came to me in twofold. Either the day would go by in relative peace as I dove into hours of work at a time and erupt as a flash of anger or sadness in the most mundane moments, like spilling some water. Or I’d wake up in the middle of a dream and be thinking about all the little tributaries that would connect to flow into the river memories that held you.

Finding closure is a process that has become overly complicated with having almost every little activity in life connected a person who didn’t exist around the bubble of your life anymore. There was a time that the fine liner outlines and watercolour splashes on paper secretly held a message that at least traced back to you, if not being about you directly. Each resonating note; clean, laden with chorus and echoing with ambience, part of a song that you would go on to call as “your song”. And the paragraphs, my way of greeting you in the morning or cheering you up, filled with inspiration and admiration, almost as if a child wrote them in awe of seeing raindrops and caterpillars.

Having lost the adoration I once held for this unbounded creativity, I’ve found solace in insomnia, fueled by an unhealthy habit of knocking a couple of cans of energy drinks daily, a mountain of chocolatey sugar and never stepping out of my room. I dared not look at the mirror, having let myself go was not a reminder I needed by a glass reflection, I already knew it with each breath.


Stepping outside to the call of the greying clouds outside, there was a gravitational pull acting on my curiosity from the top of the lane. Ambling towards where paving stones met pressed tar, t’s distant lights of the apartment in the distance caught my eyes. Wanting to photograph how the road winded off towards it, my attention was momentarily held by a jogger and a couple of dogs running seemingly alongside him, early in the vehicle-less morning. Having given a brief nod, at that moment in time and space was an old man, two dogs and me, looking at each other and crossing each other’s paths. And the very next moment, as if the clouds were holding their breath to see what would happen at that time, the rain started to break out.

It came like a flash, sudden and heavy, and within a second, like we became leptons in a collider. The old man went straight on, breaking into a run as he kept going till a shelter was found. The two dogs diverged together and chased off to find a dry spot in the shade of a tree in the far off bend. And me? I was standing at that same spot, just watching things as a slight smile crossed my face. I didn’t run, I walked back. Maybe, I twirled a bit in the rain too. At that moment in space-time though, I defied physics and had travelled backwards in time, as usual. At that moment, I was twirling someone as she screamed out in happiness at the wind.

I looked at the raindrops in my palm and I could swear I saw your dark chocolate fingers filling the gap in between my fingers again, set like a ghostly impression.


The sound of distant conversation faded in to my ears as the mental visions faded out of my eyes. I’ve always felt that I was displaced in time, but the way things displace themselves both in time and space now was a shaking experience. Composing my sanity again, I looked on at the crowd in the coffee shop thinning and expanding like the waves playing with the shoreline. The onslaught of work I took on my shoulders as a distraction distracted me from not only the past, but also from the present. Conversation was a thing I gave myself as a reward at the end of every week it seemed.

“Did I finish up that project?” I asked myself.

“Yes, take a break.”

“Mmm, wait I have an idea for something new.”

“No,” the voice in my head argued, “Whatever you do, do not take that call.”

“Just a second, it’ll be just a little while.”

And with that, my fingers would rush to dial up my best friend, and discuss a fresh slurry of ideas and plans for new projects. She has the undeniably annoying quality of arguing back with concerns for my health. I’d always laugh it back, “I’m a struggling writer and musician suffering from writer’s block. It’ll get better with work!”

The reflection of my face on the glass in front of me looked like a ghost, I looked away and asked her to remind me to bring up my ideas in the next meeting. My usually crystal memory had been for more than one time, slipping into a void these days. Cutting off her protests, I breathe in and ended the sparse conversation. I breathed out as I took a gulp of warm coffee and smiled to myself.


The warm ambience of the lights producing infinitely stretching halos of golden glow, reflecting off the walls and falling on our faces. Cozy wooden floors under us, burning breath within us, and that heavenly illumination above us.

And then time stands still and I fall into the never-ending depths of your eyes, glistening with beauty beyond the most incandescent of geodes. The word “beauty”, I had known already. But I saw sense in it right before my eyes with you. You are the meaning of “Beauty”. You are beautiful, in every way imaginable to me.

Those black pools swirl with an emotion that makes me feel alive as if never before. It is the Milky Way splitting the sky with a million stars. It is the kiss of the raindrops on my face. It’s the rhythm to which my heart beats. It is the whisper that escapes my lips to your ears.

And the Earth stops spinning, the only thing that matters is the elevation of our pulses as we close the misty gap between our whispered hearts, once, twice, the waves crashing over again.

Heavy eyelids open as the ocean calms again, the salty wind making our vision focus out to Bokeh. Your arms around me the volcano on the seabed, your voice an ultrasound echo that I will follow to the deepest of trenches. And we murmur words in the sweetest haze, the tickling sensation of our fingertips, of our lips pressed on us.

And we sail off into the ocean once more as the waves start crashing again. The spaces in between my fingers, where yours fit perfectly…


I smile as I lean on the counter while the cashier swipes my card through. Glancing behind me, I see the place we shared our first kiss, the corner where we watched movies, and the table where we worked together on projects. All these seats now filled in with strangers; lovers whispering together, friends hanging out, and families catching up.  It took me a while to accept to myself that maybe my writer’s block was because I was running away from everyone in my life who wasn’t that one person. Smiling at the stranger behind the counter, I remembered all the “strangers” who filled in my time now. Strangers that were becoming very accustomed to my presence. Strangers who were shaping up to be more purposeful to me than anyone else could be as I found my own path forward.

I stepped out and smiled again. Maybe it was time to reconnect with the outside world again. Maybe it’ll take a day, a week, and a month to go by and the cobwebs and dust would gather. But there was something in the atmosphere that assured me that a sudden spark will fill the air again; connecting dots and filling gaps as the first sentences are strung together after a long and dry spell. And then as the floodgates would open, the thoughts will spill out and ideas take wings. Pages would fill and ink stains shall spill. And the clicks and clacks of my fingers flying on the keyboard will ring out once again…



Written by: Dasith Tilakaratna


Image Courtesy: https://bit.ly/3FljaIF

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