Guadalupe is walking down Darling Harbour, the grey, thick water on her left, the towering casinos and squat aquariums on her right. She is moving briskly, the wind smacking against her neck, her hands submerged in the pockets of her coat like two anchors in the woolly harbour. Guadalupe has only one thing on her mind: a flat white. There is just one café on this side of the city who she trusts to make her flat white, and she is on a mission towards it, one foot in front of the other, Dios mío, an expedition or what!
Guadalupe turns into Barangaroo, peels away from the harbour, and arrives at the beloved café. A long line at the counter slithers through the shop and out onto the street. She finds the end and joins it patriotically.
At the very front of the line, a man wearing a navy blue suit orders an espresso because he is Better Than Everyone. His companion, whose suit is also navy blue, orders a double espresso because he is Better Than Everyone (Authenticated). Both these suited men buy tubes of tooth-whitening Colgate once a fortnight and scrub viciously at their gums. Their smiles dazzle like yellow stars against their clothing.
A woman steps up to the counter and orders a cappuccino. She is immediately loved by all who overhear her order: cappuccinos are for the indulgent folks, the ones who treat themselves to froth and choc, the ones who think coffee is breakfast and dessert rolled into one, the ones who make the most of life, c’est la vie, a cappuccino for me! Who cares if the kids have been screaming since yesterday? Who cares if the essay, still unwritten, is due in two hours? Who cares about the country which is, in fact, blistering beneath a hole in the ozone? With a cappuccino in hand, the world is a good place. A cap. Not a hat or a pill but a generous coffee for people with lots of love in their hearts, etc.
Behind her, a girl whose denim jeans are overwhelming the lower half of her body, the hems flooding the café floor, orders an oat iced latte. She is most definitely an Earth Lover and/or Feminist. What a queer kid, the old crone behind her is thinking. But who cares! When she receives her oat iced latte, the girl jingles the ice against the wall of the plastic cup. She has a scrunchie on her wrist and a tote bag bumping against her hip. She considers all oat iced latte drinkers to be her family. The jingle of the ice is a platonic mating call. Further down the line, a boy with an excellent fringe perks up at the sound and, deep down, concedes that the city isn’t as cold and dark as he thought it was.
The old crone steps up to the counter and orders a mugaccino and the barista says so, a large cap? She looks at him over the frame of her glasses. What? I said mugaccino, alright, you’ve got that?
The barista has tattooed arms and cuffed pant legs. In his spare time he buys vats of olives at the supermarket and goes road tripping in his van. When he’s at work, he sips piccolos. Sometimes, when the line snakes like it does today, the dark brown foam of his coffee congeals on the lip of his glass, untouched.
A woman named Karen orders skim milk because she’s on a health kick. A man named Jasper orders soy milk. Even though he was an alternative milk trailblazer, he will never admit that society has progressed to better-tasting milks, so, as to not bruise his ego, he drinks the stuff that tastes like dirt. And the almond milk folks drink the stuff that tastes like bamboo (until they find out about the unbelievable amount of water it takes to farm almonds, and the toxins in the nut husks that poison the women who shell them, which is when they switch to oat milk). The people in the line who order good, old-fashioned, full cream milk either a) have souls so strong that they are happy to put up with the disgust of their friends and family, b) are a father, or c) came back from a trip to Italy.
A man steps up to the counter and orders a long black. He’s a purist who enjoys his six-step nighttime skin regiment and ergonomic furniture, but if people ever ask about his coffee choice, he usually pulls the lactose intolerant card. As if lactose intolerance has ever stopped anyone from a good dose of dairy!
A woman, rather loudly, orders an Americano, to which the queue behind her simultaneously and silently mutter America-NO! The woman is wearing loafers and cigarette pants and is a self-described worldly soul. She frequents the spice aisle in the supermarket and insists on serving house guests coffee boiled in a Moka pot. The barista puts long black into the till, and later, when her coffee is ready and called, long black for Millicent! She feigns deep and underserved confusion.
A woman orders a decaf latte, and everyone wonders if she is pregnant, because if she isn’t, then lord, tell us, why is this woman in a coffee shop?
The person behind her orders a latte because they despise the Western world’s complication of coffee. Everyone in the line longs to one day reach the goal of ordering a latte just like they all long to one day gut their homes of all their material belongings. Does this coffee spark joy?
Guadalupe finally steps up to the counter. Her feet are sore, her lower back is tight, her nose is numb. “A flat white, please.” She taps her credit card on the Eftpos machine. She stands aside and waits dutifully for her order.
“Flatty for Guadalupe!”
She steps up and takes the warm cardboard cup. She holds it up to her face, first to warm her cheeks, then to tip the mouthpiece against her lips. The coffee, smooth, rich, hot, swills around her mouth, then down into her body. Guadalupe is filled, sublimely, with satisfaction.