The world before the coffee shops open

Written by Ruby Flanagan

The world is a different place at 5 am. The miniscule moments in time where, for once, on this crowded planet overflowing with people that have stories and lives, it feels genuinely quiet and you feel almost assuredly on your own. I appreciated this time of the day and experienced it often working in a coffee shop.

The sound of my alarm at 4:30 am never felt harsh, the repeating din would chime and I would gently rise from my slumbered state.  With heavy feet, I would stumble to the kitchen to turn on the kettle for my hit of instant caffeine. I would stare out into the darkness in winter or to the misty dawn in the summer, sipping my small cup of joe as the rest of my mind came into operation. 

Time moves lazily at this period, the minutes felt longer as I’d kneel in front of my mirror to paint my face to take on the day. That first step into the outside world hit differently – I’d either tighten my scarf and plump up my collar, take a deep breath of the morning air, or look up to the pale sky and wispy clouds. The outside always plodded on and always shocked my system as I emerged from the mellow ambiance I was wrapped in.  

My trudge to the bus stop at 5:30 am felt like a marathon as my brain attempted to switch on. Once reaching my destination, I saw the regulars that always accompanied me on my morning commute to my shop. These individuals were a constant–sometimes we had new characters arrive and occasionally we would be missing one, but we were all normally there. We all knew each other and offered a warm smile, a kind nod when our eyes caught, or a whisper of good morning. The day was still young, and it was too early for conversation. 

There was the nurse always yawning, her hands stretched high above her head having just finished her night shift at the hospital. The builder wearing his high vis jacket, white helmet, and paint-stained jeans enjoying a cigarette while leaning against the bus stop structure. The older lady adorning a supermarket fleece sat on the bench with her small leather handbag placed on her knee. Then there was me. 

Right on cue, the green bus came up and pulled into our stop, as we all lined and clambered on, each of us taking our routine seat. It was these journeys where I found the appreciation for early mornings. The feeling of a calm sense of tenderness seeped into my consciousness; it felt like a soft deep orange with flashes of yellow and red, and the warm, soothing tones to these journeys were only felt on these special, early travels. Once time takes us past 6 am, this same wonderful journey contrasts and turns to the grey, monotonous trope we all seem to know. 

I would look at my fellow commuters, this community I was a part of, with wonder. Some with their eyes closed, thinking, maybe dreaming? Some with their mind deep in a book, and some plugged into headphones listening to the songs that get them going, and the specific melodies that would be featured on the movie soundtrack of their life. I looked at them with wonder because I had the time to. 

In this decelerated journey I get to think profoundly and intensely about them, their lives, and their world away from this commute. These moments are when you become aware of the millions of stories that are being told simultaneously on this earth – the wonderful tales that people are living, the dreams they are achieving, and the special moments they are experiencing. Life stops you from feeling this in the times after 6 am, and it’s beautiful to be able to have the chance to wonder about the world. 

When the clock hits 6 am, the sense of the day shifts and the alarms clang to signal the rest of the world to rise. By 6:30 the day has begun. The trains start to be crowded, the hum of engines get louder as the roads fill, and the sound of front doors slamming shut patters like the sound of rain. 

The world before the coffee shops open was unique, and only a few got the opportunity to experience life in this slackened state. The world that I experienced at this time of the morning was peaceful– there was hope, there was promise and a sense of optimism you could feel in the air. The start of a new day. In those moments you are able to think deeply, you could hope longingly, and you dream intensely: not of anything in particular, but of something. Then the coffee shops open.