A handsome middle-aged woman sits at a table and places her meal in front of her. Her hair is wiry and raven black. Her countenance stern and yet somehow serene. She carries herself with a distantly warm dignity. I melt at the thought of being graced by her secret warmth.

Two slightly unruly children play at a table near her. Their father attempts to corral them with passive threats that he will take them home. The children’s excitement over the small birds in the dining area is untouched by the threats. I feel tenderly toward the children for being thrilled by something so simple and pure. The dignified woman spots the children, a fleeting smile passes across her face like a ray of sunshine stealing its way through the clouds.

A older olive skinned man wearing a flamboyant fedora sits at another table. Keeping him company is a woman with long and unkempt gray hair. Her back is turned to me and I imagine that her hair would make a perfect nest for the birds. The man’s smile is youthful and lovely; his laugh gentle and free. I am filled with admiration and hatred for the lightness of his heart. I know the hatred is but my heavy heart’s envy and I let it go.

An elderly woman sitting at a table to my left pulls from her backpack a speaker, a computer tablet and a water bottle. She looks detached–lost in her own world. The lines on her face are severe and she looks worn down by an unhappy life. She holds the tablet at her chest and beneath her nose. She occupies herself immediately by busily swiping her right index finger busily over the tablet. I feel sympathy for her and then guilt for feeling sympathy.

The gray-haired woman and the laughing man stand up to leave. The former approaches the detached woman and says, “Try not to hold the device so close to your heart”. The detached woman looks up, barely registering the existence of the meddlesome gray-haired woman, and mutters something under her breath. The gray-haired woman and her laughing man walk away. I feel the tension of universes colliding. I feel protective of the detached woman. I am cross that her world was infringed upon.

I realize that I see myself in the detached woman; long to be the laughing man; yearn for the attention of the dignified woman; and admire the purity of the children. I wonder if anyone in the dining area notices me; if I am worthy of being a target for someone’s projections. I wonder if knowing this would cut through the loneliness…