Observation and Implication

Following “The key to character“, the next section of the Coursera specialization I’m taking was on “Creating Characters on The Page” through the use of observation.

The assignment for this week is to go to a public place and observe other people. Then to create a character and put them in this place with attention to two traits: one observed behavior and one trait about myself that I find negative.

Then write 300-600 words describing the character without writing anything directly about the character, but only what is there in context.

As many people, my story takes place in a coffee shop I visit often on the weekends. The character being described is taken from several people observed over many visits, but the viewpoint is from a fictional employee of the coffee shop.

Let me know what you think.

“It’s like the strangest – no, the saddest – memorial I’ve ever seen.”

“What?” he asked over his shoulder between fielding orders from the steady stream of customers. Latte. Cappuccino. Extra foam. Sweetener. Large. Large. Large. The orders all blended together. Nothing original.

Jimmy was standing off to the side, absently letting the coffee grinder whir and groan while he stared off to the corner table by the windows.

“I said, it’s like a memorial. We should clean it up. Give it to his family. Or the police. Or something.”

The table in the corner was empty. That is to say that it was unoccupied, but there was a lot of stuff there. A coat that was definitely second – or even third – hand. Ratted cuffs and a tear on one elbow. A shoulder bag with unknown contents. A small disposable coffee cup on the table.

They had been there all morning, which was actually normal. The man they belonged too came in every morning, within five minutes of nine, and ordered a small coffee. He sat at the corner table. He kept to himself in the store, but he would go outside on a regular basis, and sometimes return with more money to get a refill cup. On each return, the stench of cigarettes was almost unbearable to Jimmy, who usually served him when the other staff would suddenly find themselves busy.

The process would go on for two or three hours with him usually consuming a minimum of four cups of very highly sugared and creamed coffee.

“Here you go, man,” Jimmy said, absently handing the bag of ground coffee to the customer in front of him. Ignoring the rest of the line – many of which who were staring out the windows at the commotion and flashing blue and red lights – he grabbed at a rag and wandered from behind the counter out to wipe at the few empty tables.

His eyes kept wandering to the table in the corner until he finished the four empty tables. Standing up tall and sighing deeply, Jimmy headed for the table in the corner.

The smell of cigarettes and sweat with a hint of urine was nauseatingly strong, but it was also a common smell when walking around the city these days.

Carefully searching the coat, all of the pockets were empty except one that had a book in it. Jimmy removed the tattered paperback from the inside left pocket. It was worn, beaten, creased, and faded.

Looking at the cover, he could tell it was at least fifteen years old. An old Bantam pocket paperback of some unknown science fiction author.

“Jimmy,” one of his coworkers called in a panic.

Jimmy carefully placed the coat and tattered bag in a plastic bag, while slipping the book into his back pocket without even thinking about it.

Then he rushed off to wash his hands to face the next caffeine-starved customer.

Outside, an ambulance was just arriving, but no one rushed. There was no need to hurry.

Next up:  “Location, Location, Location”


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