It was June 21. A Sunday. A strange news day, my bureau chief had warned. And he was right, of course.
It began as just another news day, it was the day I learned that time-worn folktale, that D.C. is built on a swamp. The air was damp and moist and the sky went from clear to plump—thick and opaque nimbus clouds stretched their wispy fingertips and grazed me with soft pokes and prods in what seemed like a matter of minutes.
I was tired.
I was walking the two miles from American University to a local cat café. This was the cat café’s second day, and the line outside showed it.
I was supposed to meet the owner. I was supposed to have arrived at 9:00 a.m., 15 minutes earlier, for our scheduled interview. I was supposed to wait in line, probably. I didn’t. There were frowns, I remember. And a few clucking tongues.
By the time I successfully sidestepped the growing swarm of customers, I’d found the 24-year-old entrepreneur I’d been looking for. And after we embraced I saw that her shirt announced “The Time Is Meow.” She saw me grin and said, “how funny. Because you’re with TIME Magazine.” I learned that she was previously an investment banker whose gap year had entailed the realization that making money could be fulfilling, too.
She had a small lisp, which made it difficult to hear her clearly. We reached a compromise, which made me, effectively, her shadow: I observed—loitered, lingered, this time, at the side.
I watched her at once pet a one-eyed cat and reward a customer with a plush pillow stitched, in flowery print, with the phrase “Le Chat.” I felt out of place that Sunday. Out of place because I was occupying someone else’s space and crossing the not so visible line between the world within my head and the sometimes disappointing one outside my flesh.
I felt out of place mostly, though, because of what I heard in this place.
It was all so intimate.
I picked apart conversations I overheard as if the words were spools of yarn.
I met a couple in front of me who held a battered menu and spoke loudly about their least favorite beverage category, “Cat Colada.” “Doesn’t even rhyme with piña.”
I met a girl experimenting with her sexuality whose red basketball shorts stretched past her knees towards her mud-streaked Jordan’s. “Felines remind me of femininity.”
I met another café owner, located just across the street, who “majored in Mediterranean food and minored in revolutions”. He was dressed in a UPS uniform that was grease-stained at the sleeve, and smoked close to ten cigarettes in between congested heaves. “My mother used to hand feed strays in Iran.”
She was killed by a bomb in 1979.
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