A cafe in Belleville
At the cross roads
I sit at a window table
To watch the world go by
As Paris taught me
Forty six years ago.

I do not take coffee any more
But I order one
In remembrance of the past
To feel the taste again
Of something so far removed from me
And yet so much a part of me
The coffee is bitter
Its taste has not changed
But sugar now comes
In paper packets
And not in lumps in a bowl
There are no waitresses here
This is still a man’s job
A black jacket and moustache
Are still its trademarks
But television has replaced the juke box
And on the street
IT technology and advertisements
Have changed the colour
Of the urban landscape

The old on the street are French
Recognisable through their agitated body language
Their dress desperately struggling to be casual
A faked blazeness
So many contradictions
And hence attractive
And yet confusing
I feel all this
In the depths of an intuition
Whose origins and evolution I cannot identify
But the young are not French
New textures of skin and facial expressions
Casualness and aggression
A new world being born

I am not a part of it
A fish out of water
In the turmoil of change

There was no sun
When I sat at this table
The trees on the avenue
Fighting a losing battle
Against the onslaught of winter
Looked sad and melancholic
A loneliness filled the congested street
The sun has now peeped
Out of the clouds
Coloured by the winds of autumn
And the avenue is transformed
Life, colour and hope
A long wait for spring
Through a winter of expectation
The cycle of seasons
And our unquestioning surrender
Birth, life, death and rebirth

While these thoughts roll over in my mind
A woman walks into the cafe
She is unwashed, unkept
Middle aged
With torn shoes
Desperation on her face
She wants a “petit piece”
I want to talk to her
What has brought her to this?
But the “patron” comes out from behind the casse
And curses her aggressively
She is shooed away
There is no place for poverty or charity
In respectable places
Affluence suppresses the expression
Of the causes of deprivation

For the first time this morning
I feel an intense loneliness
I think of home
Death, destruction, fear and coercion
A continuous winter of deception
No immediate sense of hope


  1. Simple and meaningful words.
    The website design is great!

    Posted December 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm | PermalinkReply
  2. Amal Zia Qadir (Yusuf)

    I miss you, I wish I could have been there with you- too see the lady, the hopes, the poverty through your eyes. You rethought me apathy and washed away all the bourgeoisie. I am a better person because of you. Thank you- I think I never said that!

    Posted April 20, 2013 at 6:10 am | PermalinkReply
  3. Deeply emotional and effectively crafted. This has reminded me many evening in Paris

    Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm | PermalinkReply

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