Free Refills

Dear Kind Old Lady at the Corner Coffee Place,

I am sorry I almost did not see you at first. The coffee place is such a crowded place, isn’t it? There are people that come in for a quick fix before the day’s shopping. Young students with cheap budgets and generous appetites queue up steadily for the free refills. There are people from the housing commission opposite the river that count their pennies with a fierce pride – their voices become tinny and shrill as they ask if they can have an extra drink with their order. Young kids hop from one foot to the other as they double-check their money to make sure they can get  free fries with the main meal. There are harried mothers with shopping bags that are cutting fine lines into their tired wrists even as  their tired babies fuss in their prams. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Miss A wanted some onion rings and I needed a cup of coffee desperately before we walked to the bus-stop, I would not have come in at all.

She was already tired and hungry when we got there. The serpentine queue lines did not do much for my rapidly dwindling patience. Patience does not judge anyone – impatience beats it to the line. A mild wave of annoyance washed over me – at the rate at which people were hankering for their free refills and arguing for their extra sauce, I was sure to miss the bus. The sullen teenagers serving the throngs were fairly dismissive and disinterested in it all. Humanity from close quarters can be claustrophobic.

We are so focussed on what lies ahead that we often neglect what lies awaiting behind us, do you ever feel that way? This is probably why I didn’t see you at first. I heard you when you were talking to the young lad who was cleaning the floor – he wasn’t feeling social, I could tell. I half returned your smile when you looked at me but looked away again. “Five more minutes”, I mouthed to the very grumpy Miss A even as the line crawled ahead.

So imagine my surprise when I came back after placing my order to find you at my table. You had a balloon animal in your hand and even as A and I watched, you drew a funny face on it with your trembling fingers and handed the gift over to you with a “There you go, darling. Your meal will be here soon!”

Her face broke into a shy smile. I thanked you – I hope I was profuse enough. She loved the little pink elephant you had drawn, and soon the grumpiness was forgotten.

“Why did the nice lady give me the balloon?”, she asked later.

“She wanted to cheer you up”, was my response.

I was about to elaborate but suddenly all I could see was how you had missed your place in the queue because of your generosity and how you had to go to the tail of the queue again. And how the young man in front of you had made no secret of the fact that he didn’t want to talk to you or stand anywhere near your torn clothes,  the burlap sack that you had placed at your feet and the tremors in your voice and your body as you asked him what the time was.

Would I have done the same, were I in his place? I would like to believe not. But someday I hope I can answer this question better with more conviction.

You did not seem to mind the brusque guy though, you still talked to him. And to the young lad who was now clearing the tiles with a vengeance but still wouldn’t say a word.

“There is the nice lady again”, Miss A said to me as we walked out past you, still in the queue and waiting to be served. We smiled and you waved back.

Sometimes, if you care enough to ignore the claustrophobia, you can see past the motley mess that all human beings are and you can find enough to go on believing till the next day and then the day after. We move up in the queue, you know. For some of us, it just takes longer than the others. But then someday, when you least expect it, humanity redeems itself and makes the wait worthwhile.

Thank you, dear Kind Old Lady. I hope there are more surprises like you around to remind all of us that sometimes we get a free refill without having to ask.

Warm Regards,

The woman whose child you cheered up yesterday


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ardra
    Aug 08, 2010 @ 13:48:27

    I need to travel in stuffy, overcrowded buses mostly as I go to work. I often notice that most people wear an angry scowl on their faces, they look at others standing next to them with so much of anger and even hatred that I’m taken aback. If one stamps somebody’s feet unknowingly in the scuffle, then one is done for. The reaction is as if one did it on purpose.And yet ,sometimes, rarely though there will be some unknown face who’ll be just a little kind, have a simple smile and it makes a difference.
    In these buses, I see most people harassed, tired and irritable. Most of us are only focussed on one’s own destination and seem to be surprised that there are others too who might be one’s co travellers for at least some of the distance.

    Keep posting Scarlett…


  2. Nithya
    Aug 08, 2010 @ 17:52:55

    So heartwarming! Something I can totally relate to, but cannot express as you do. Lovely!


  3. Captain Nemo
    Aug 08, 2010 @ 22:00:43

    This one was a free refill for my soul… very touching.


  4. Vivek Sharma
    Aug 08, 2010 @ 22:26:46

    Three hurrays for the balloon lady and the story.


  5. Rajavel
    Aug 08, 2010 @ 23:03:03

    That was beautifull, your ability to see and write about details is amazing. Long live kind old ladies


  6. La Louve
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 00:55:10



  7. scarlettletters
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 09:59:53

    Ardra, there are free refills all around us, aren’t there? There is so much to take if ones takes the time…
    Nits – thanks 🙂
    Captain – Thanks. For the comment and for the shout-out on FB 🙂
    Vivek – welcome. And thank you.
    Rajavel – I was so, so touched by her generosity that I had to write about this.
    La Louve – Where have you been? Welcome back. And thanks 🙂


  8. Gauri
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 12:41:57

    Yes indeed. There are free refills all around us – pretty much like the possibility of a rainbow hidden behind every cloud. For the most part, we do, however, tend to focus on the clouds, don’t we ? 🙂


  9. Aria
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 04:30:36

    “Humanity from close quarters can be claustrophobic.”

    the old lady warmed my heart..


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