When I was 19 years old, during my first year of living in Tokyo on my own, I developed a habit of studying at coffee shops. Being a lonely young student in a big urban city, I found comfort in the cozy ambience of local coffee shops.
The school I attended was located near the area called Jin-bocho, which is most famous for its collection of secondhand bookshops. Since people usually want a place to sit and read after their shopping, there are also many coffee shops in this area.
I found a particularly nice coffee shop on the main street, and every afternoon after classes, I would go there and study until its closing time over one cup of milk coffee. While people came and left around me, I remained at the same spot like the star Polaris.
One day, I noticed another static star in the room. It was an elderly gentleman. Dressed in shabby clothes with a huge backpack full of books, he would arrive at the coffee shop around the same time as I did and spend a few hours working on what looked like a scrapbook, cutting pieces from papers and magazines. He and I were the two static stars in the busy coffee shop every weekday afternoon.
This gentleman always ordered the same plate of sandwiches and a coffee. It was very important for him to get every detail right. One afternoon, he looked very upset upon seeing his sandwich plate.
“I’ve noticed that you no longer serve pickles with your sandwiches,” he said to the young server who had brought the plate to him. The server was a little surprised, but gave him a polite answer. “We’re sorry, sir. But pickles have been removed from all of our sandwiches.”
The gentleman said he understood it, but he was very sad that the pickles had been removed. “You see, I’m not complaining. That’s not my point.” He explained eagerly. “I’m actually concerned about this coffee shop. You might think it’s just pickles. But these complimentary pickles said something about this coffee shop, that it cared for the detail.” He repeated. “I’m really concerned.”
A few months later, I was sitting at the coffee shop when two people who were about to leave made noises near the staircase. They were looking at a small paper notice on the wall. When they were gone, I also went there to check what it was. Upon reading it, my jaw dropped.
“Dear Valued Customers, we are informing you with greatest regret that our store will be closing at the end of this month.”
I immediately remembered the old gentleman’s words from the other day. He saw this coming through his missing pickles. I have never seen him since, but his story of pickles has stayed with me.