In the overcrowded cafe, just as I
get up from the table to gather my books
and computer and put on my jacket, a couple
comes up to me and breathlessly the woman asks
Are you leaving? When I tell them I am, she
exclaims Oh good! then rapidly collects herself.
The man with her laughs and she offers
I didn’t mean that, slightly mortified. Oh yes
you did,
I laugh back. And I’ve been there
before, scanning the room for the empty seat,
angling my body toward the clearest opening
or shortest path leading to the exit or check-
out line. Whatever name you call it: selfishness,
the will to survive, an instinct for self-
preservation— you’ve got to admire the way
the gut kicks in and takes over. The way
something so sure about the situation
steps up, finds the words before you
can even think them; lays a claim,
moves in to make its presence known.

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