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Αn Insignificant Story of a Cup of Coffee

(Original story in Greek by Francesca Megaloudi)
I had quite an insignificant experience yesterday while I was sitting in a café, in a so-called “chic” neighborhood of Athens. Two other young women, very elegantly dressed, were sitting at a nearby table, breaking the overall gloomy feeling with a sense of luxury.
An elderly man enters the café. The waitress greets him warmly, and I can only guess they know each other. The man must be in his 70s, wears round eyeglasses, has a neatly trimmed beard and such a kind and peaceful face that it made me think that he looks like the grandfather I would like to have.
He stands there long enough to stare at the menu in deep thought. Finally, he goes for a plain coffee and gets his wallet to pay in coins. From where I sit, I can see that the waitress is offering him a double coffee and a generous amount of cookies. The two girls behind me are looking down on him. The tallest of them says to the other in a whisper – but loud enough for me to hear – “There! They have to count each of their cents but they can’t let go of their coffee.”
And that’s it. A small, insignificant story that went on in an Athens café. Without realizing it, I’m suddenly looking down at my shoes. I don’t know if this is because I feel ashamed of what the young woman said or because of this old man’s downcast look while sitting down.
Later, I found out the old man is a retired professor, who lives just down the road. He used to come to this café every morning and enjoy his coffee while reading the newspaper. But now he cannot afford it any longer. However, whenever he has some money to spend, he comes here, orders a coffee and never accepts the waitresses’ offer to buy him one. It seems as if the man is trying to keep something from his previous life “unscathed” by the crisis.
Thinking about it, the point of the whole story does not lie in the coffee or the silly comment of the young woman; it rather lies in the rapid changes taking place everywhere around us and passing us by, in the way of life that is dramatically changing, in the lost dignity of thousands of people, who watch their lives going down the drain, whether they had it coming or not. Humanity and compassion cannot survive in this changing world.
I have no important comments to make and I will not start elaborating on the economic crisis and its consequences. I have no solutions to offer, not even something remarkable to say.
From the god forsaken corners of Africa to the dusty roads of Asia, and from the Middle East to the Southern European neighborhoods, the same stories of arrogance and despair can be told.
Who is responsible for this? Who is the victim of this? Who is going to pay for this?

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