It’s eight o’clock in the morning and I get a notification that my order is ready for pick up. I’m already here, wearing a lavender-colored floral dress and an extra smile as I stand outside admiring my favorite place. I take a deep breath, push open the heavy oak doors, and re-enter The Willowvilla. The familiar aroma of freshly brewed tea and baked food makes me feel like I’m home once again.
I used to be a regular here but it has been almost a year since I visited this place, my place! I still remember the day on which I accidentally found Willowvilla eight years ago. I was feeling low and was walking around aimlessly without really thinking about where I was headed when I found a passage into a secret garden. I hadn’t noticed the hidden driveway before or the garden beside it. I was hesitant to enter at first but I decided to go in anyway.
I could hear busy murmurs at a distance, the pace of my steps increased. I curiously walked towards the noise and from behind the trees emerged this inconspicuous cafe. I don’t know what had gotten into me, I have never since been so brave — I walked straight in without thinking. Quite irregular for one as introverted as me.
I was immediately struck by its warmth and coziness; it felt almost magical. The enticing aroma of tea leaves, coffee beans, bread, and butter dragged me in. The wooden benches, wooden tables, and couches in the middle of the room encouraged open seating. Families shared benches with strangers in perfect harmony. Couples continued their love-smitten small talk without fear of eavesdroppers as another group of friends cackled loudly beside them.
I was so fascinated by this place that I ended up spending most of my free time at the cafe. For some, Willowvilla might be just another cafe, but to me, it felt like I had discovered a strangely unique place. The thing is I like blending in without attracting too much attention to myself and this homely place seemed perfect to me. I completed college assignments while munching on blueberry scones, read books late in the evening by the window, and worked on office presentations while drinking espresso shots to keep myself awake. I even made new friends here, it always started with a smile and the conversations just seemed to flow. It was easy to find like-minded people here.
Suddenly, my reverie breaks, and I find myself standing in front of a girl. Her eyes are smiling at me but this time everything feels different. She is wearing a mask and there’s a glass partition between us. I look around and my Willovilla looks rather dull and devoid of life. My heart drops and I feel as empty as the place. I quickly come back to my senses and say,
“I have an order for pick-up, my name’s Nina.”
“Sure, let me grab that for you. I will be right back!”, she replied.
Everything has changed, there are no benches, no couches, and no bar stools. This time, right at the front are sanitizers, brown paper bags, and take away orders which occupy most of the space. Posters on the walls read, “COVID-19 Safety measures: Please wear a mask for your safety and ours!”
There are only a handful of people in the cafe who are jumping between serving customers and preparing orders. The bakers are busily working in the kitchen wearing masks and gloves. I watch them work while waiting and a realization suddenly dawns upon me. They do not appear sad or overworked. In fact, they look like they are enjoying themselves, despite the added safety precautions. There are in-jokes between the bakers and the serving staff. My smile slowly returns. Yes, the place looks different but the hint of magic remains in the air.
We’re all trying to hold on to those good times even if things don’t feel the same anymore. So what, if I cannot spend time in the cafe I am grateful and relieved that it reopened after almost a year and did not shut down permanently. This time when I look around, I notice that the place is trying its best to still look inviting and beautiful. The space is filled with flower baskets and goodie bags. The bakers continue to dole out hand-crafted pastries and scrumptious cookies that look nothing less than pieces of art.
I walk out of Willowvilla with my parcel in hand feeling warm and fuzzy. In the end, it’s all about evoking emotions that help in building connections. This pandemic has taught me to support one another, to build a sense of community, to hold on, and to be patient. Things may or may not go back to how they were but together we can always make it better. I guess that’s how life is supposed to go.