People Watching: The Arguing Couple in Shinjuku

I was seated at a corner in the underground Starbucks at Shinjuku Subnade after a client meeting nearby this morning. Starbucks has got free Wi-Fi available and you don’t get chased out unlike a certain cafe Dirty Shoes and I visited in Yokohama some time ago even though there was still space. I’m not one with victim mentality but I could sense that it has something to do with us speaking English discussing something on paper with her Dirty Shoe’s student since I didn’t see her telling anyone else the same thing. Anyhow, if you’re thinking of doing the same thing, I hardly recommend the Starbucks in Subnade. Because it’s underground, the Wi-Fi connection is really poor.

When I looked up from my computer screen for my eyes to take a break, I spotted a couple sitting diagonally in front of me. The lady back-facing me and the guy whose face I could see. The guy’s face is flushed red, arms folded, and brows frowning as though in a deep predicament. But he was visibly uncomfortable at the atmosphere surrounding them. His face constantly tilted downward and eyes staring blank, even though they point in the direction of the table. Occasionally, he would lift his left arm up in an arc from the folded position, pivoted against his elbow, reach out his index finger and bring his head further down just enough for his finger to scratch the edge of his right brow.

The woman, on the contrary, leaned forward, both arms on the table looking straight at him. Both remained silent for a long while and I could feel the tension between them. The silence was reminescent of every fight I’ve seen a couple had, and probably some of my own in the past.

Every now and then, the woman would say something, inaudible from where I sit. That is a good sign in that at least one of them is trying to move toward a resolution, whether it is to fix what went wrong or to break up. Anything is better than a standstill in such a moment. That also means they are considerate of other patrons around and have a sense of shame, enough to keep it low and not make a scene.

The man hardly moved, but when he does, his brows remained tight and his eyes would dart about in directions apart from where the woman sits. He was clearly trying to avoid eye contact.

Some time later, the woman mumbled something to the guy and stood up. I had thought she was fed up of this stalemate and decided to end it all by leaving. But she left her belongings and walked out the cafe. She was likely heading for the bathroom.

As soon as the woman was out of sight, I could literally see the man’s shoulders drop, arms relaxed and face appearing relieved. He bent over and reached into his bag placed on the ground to pick out his mobile phone. That was probably the first time I saw him move that much. It was such an unusual sight, I forgot that was a normal movement for a human. He started meddling on his phone and suddenly looked like a man who just got revived from cryogenic freezing and was ready to share his pre-civilization wisdom.

After some time, the woman came back. Before I knew it, his phone was nowhere to be seen and they both returned to the exact same position before the missus took off to answer nature’s call. It was as though whatever happened during that short duration never happened and I had been imagining things. I suppose the title isn’t the most apt as no argument actually took place. The man never participated in it.

I decided watching them was going to take forever since only one party is trying to do something about whatever is going on between them and the guy is just staring down not doing much. I returned to work and the next time I raised my head to check on the couple as any nosey-parker would, they were gone. I wonder why they would choose such a location where the next table is at such close proximity to talk things over. It is such an awkward place to do it that I hope they managed to find some enclosed area where the two of them can properly talk it out.

I could imagine any couple be in the exact same situation. The man’s body language suggested he did something wrong and the woman was confronting the issue while he seems to just want it to be over soon. The person who made the mistake typically tries to avoid eye contact and that makes me wonder, what is it about eye contact that makes one feel vulnerable?


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