It was a usual quiet Wednesday morning at Berkeley’s café.
I go to Berkeley’s every Wednesday at half past ten because Wednesday is my regular day off and it is always quiet there at that time of the day when everyone has already gone to work and the lunchtime patrons have not arrived yet.
The owner George and his wife Anne are both of Irish origin. George came from a small town in the county of Kilkenny in Ireland. Anne, on the other hand, was born and raised in the city of Dublin. They arrived in this country as a young couple and they have been running this café for nearly twenty years.
George and Anne were not here today. Their daughter Julia, who works at the café as a barista, told me that her parents went home to Ireland to visit their relatives, namely Julia’s uncles and aunts (her grandparents passed away a long time ago). Julia wanted to go with them, but they decided she had to stay behind and look after the family business. I could hear a sense of disappointment in her voice when she spoke of her parents’ arrangements.
In recent years, there have been a number of cafes opened in the neighbourhood.
With modern interior design and the sale of freshly roasted coffee of their own brand, these shops manage to steal many of Berkeley’s loyal customers. I guess this just shows that those people are not loyal after all.
But I prefer to go to Berkeley’s.
Berkeley’s the kind of a café that does not have any extravagant contemporary interior design. It’s a down-to-earth family run café decorated with mismatched tables and chairs, and several photographs hanging on the wall which believed to have been taken by George.
Berkeley’s is also the only local café that serves traditional Irish breakfast.
After chatting with Julia, I ordered my usual breakfast – a double serve of Irish black and white puddings with scramble eggs – and a large café latte that is to be served after my meal when I proceed to read my book. Julia knows my routine well. She even reserves my corner table for me by placing a reserved sign on it every Wednesday morning before my arrival.
While I was reading my book, a man walked in.
‘Good morning, can I get a large cappuccino with one sugar to go, please?’
‘Sure, would you like anything else?’
‘Nope. That’s all.’
The man looked around the shop while waiting for his coffee. There is nothing much interesting to see here at Berkeley’s except the photographs on the wall.
This man is not a regular here, I thought.
I noticed his eyes were fixed on the picture of a fallen tree. He looked serious and focused as though he’s looking at a masterpiece at a photography exhibition.
Maybe he’s trying to figure out what the image is attempting to represent, I thought.
‘Funny, I don’t normally drink coffee, but somehow about half an hour ago, I suddenly felt like one. I don’t know why but that’s why I came here,’ the man tried to struck up a conversation with Julia.
Julia didn’t say anything but she responded with a fake smile on her face trying to send him a signal that she was uninterested in the conversation because she’d rather be travelling in Ireland than being here working.
I supposed to be reading my book, but somehow I was distracted by their interaction.
So while I continued pretending to read my book, the man continued talking to Julia.
‘Where was that photo taken?’ he pointed at the picture of a fallen tree.
‘Dad took that photo in some national park in Ireland years ago,’ Julia responded reluctantly.
‘Now, tell me, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ he gave Julia a cheeky grin as he asked the question.
Attempting to sound smart, he continued, ‘If a tree had fallen in a forest and your dad wasn’t there to see it, let alone taking a photo of it, did the tree actually fall? Or rather, did it actually exist?’
This time, Julia didn’t even bother to put on a fake smile. She simply ignored him.
‘Seriously, to be is to be perceived, right? Think about it, without the perceiving mind, nothing really exists out there in reality. There is no such a thing as matter. Everything is in the mind,’ he continued.
All of a sudden, Julia put down a cup of coffee on the counter heavily. My heart skipped a beat as I heard a loud tinkling and felt a sense of annoyance in Julia.
‘What about a cup of coffee?’ she said.
Now she’s engaged.
‘I was practising making latte art just then. I made a cup of coffee and put it right here before you came. That’s about half an hour ago. And that’s when you said you felt like one, right? I remember I even said to my customer,’ Julia pointed at me and said, ‘”Look at how nice the rosetta I’ve just poured! I’m sure someone out there will want one of this.”’
The man then turned around and stared at me looking for a confirmation to the validity of Julia’s story.
I quickly nodded before returning to hide behind my book.
‘You didn’t see it, you didn’t smell it, but you certainly felt it somehow, and maybe that’s why you came! I think it’s possible that the coffee that I made has caused you to come here! Don’t you think so?’
He remained quiet. Perhaps it was because he didn’t know what to say. Or perhaps he was deeply absorbed in thought by Julia’s philosophical outburst.
I, also, didn’t know how to respond to such a comment but Julia got me thinking.
‘No, there’s no perceivable connection between that coffee and my feeling like one, so it’s unreasonable to come to such a conclusion. The two events are not related,’ he said.
‘But you don’t know that. Just because you can’t comprehend something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We live in a reality trapped in the limitations of human understanding. All our experiences are bound by space and time. Anything that is beyond our comprehension, we immediate deny its possibility. I mean, how do we know anything at all?’ said Julia.
‘Of course we do! All I know is that things cannot exist outside of the mind! All the things in the world are just ideas in the mind. That coffee only exists in your mind but not mine!’ the man raised his voice.
‘That’s what you think, it’s a theory that you came up with, but you don’t know that for sure, yet you felt the need for that coffee, feelings and emotions should be considered as a form of perception too! And then according to your ‘to be is to be perceived’ theory, that very coffee existed.’
‘No! It’s not the same. I don’t think you understand. Let me put it simply, that coffee you made half an hour ago is not the one I’m about to drink now, so it could not have caused me to come here. Hence, that coffee did not exist in my world!’
His over-reaction seems to reflect his frustration over the arguments.
‘I think we’re on different pages about the idea of existence. For me, everything that exists are just ideas, including you and your coffee! You’re just an idea!’
‘Relax, will ya?’ said Julia, ‘Ok, I hear you.’
Julia then carefully poured the milk into a cup that contained two shots of espresso and created a perfect rosetta on the surface. With a wide base, symmetric leaves and a clear contrast in the colour, it looked just like the one she made half an hour ago.
‘Now, this is the coffee you ordered. But you’re facing the same problem here. Just as you said it earlier that you didn’t normally drink coffee, but out of the blue you suddenly felt like one half an hour ago,’ Julia continued, ‘You wanted this coffee even before it came into physical existence. It existed in your mind before you realized it. It’s called reverse causality. Here you go,’ she said it confidently as she handed him the coffee.
He showed a sign of hesitation by failing to react to Julia’s comment.
‘Now you’re thinking of not taking the coffee just to prove me wrong, aren’t you?” Julia asked assertively.
There was a strong sense of tension in the air.
He stared at Julia with an angry or confused expression on his face.
He then grabbed the coffee, placed the money on the counter and left straight away.
‘What an existential coffee nut!’ Julia murmured as she put the money in the register.
Well, it seems like Berkeley’s has just lost another customer, I thought to myself before returning to read my book.
‘The only things we perceive are our perceptions.’ – George Berkeley