sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
Martha looked towards the door from where she was perched up at the coffee counter on hearing the bell tinker. She liked such kind of cafes. That bell over the door, comfortable, old, wooden furniture, food that warms your soul and books, not just on the shelves, but thoughtfully placed within easy reach across tables and stools. Post retirement, she’d been spending most of her time here. Although she did not talk much with people around, considering herself too old to be of any interest to them, the regular customers felt like family to her. She knew their lives in and out just by having observed them quietly.
She now watched the newest entrants with a keen interest. They were walking in hand in hand, laughing, completely engrossed in each other. Happy in their own world. She smiled inwardly.
It was good to see that fine gentleman happy at last. She had seen him pine incessantly over a girl for months on end without making any attempt to befriend her. She had also seen him deeply affected when that girl stopped coming to the cafe quite abruptly, one day.
Martha did not have the heart to tell him that the girl had passed away. She was one of the few people who attended that sweet yet unfortunate girl’s funeral. That’s where she heard that her last day had been spent in absolute misery. She had had a premonition of her death and, sometime during the night, her weak heart finally gave out after years of struggle.
Martha was also present in the cafe, smiling like an indulgent granny, the day when another girl, who could pass for a replica of the first one, walked up nervously to that man. What unusual turn of fate it was that she came there to interview for the post of his assistant.
Martha almost laughed out loud as the poor guy nearly spat out his coffee, losing all his normal poise and compusure as he stared at the girl. It was difficult to say who was fidgeting more, the interviewer or the interviewee. Martha had had the time of her life that day, watching the two of them interact. It had made her wonder over the myriad mysterious ways this universe works in.
She had also been witness to a harrowing month during which the two of them had tried to deny their growing feelings towards the other and ended up fighting even in public on a regular basis. He made her run out of office at all hours to procure coffee with insane requirements. She derived sadistic pleasure in choosing only the most burnt of cookies and cakes for him to accompany his coffee back to the office.
Yet today, here they were, looking as if their world hung upon the smile on the other’s face. Today, Martha allowed herself a soft chuckle as she shook her head at the profoundly humbling “word of the day” written on the small blackboard hung over the counter. “Sonder”, it said and she chuckled again.