Monthly Mindscape – People Watching

We are officially heading into the last quarter of the year, I wonder how your year has been so far? Personally I’m very much ready for a rest and thankfully I’m actually in the midst of a break from work right now. Feel like I need a moment to pause, breathe and gear myself up for the last few months of the year.

Now though, it’s time for another Monthly Mindscape. A piece of flash fiction that I write using an image I love, found on Instagram. This month an unfinished sketch from Lyzi (@being_little) caught my eye. I’ve been following Lyzi since my early blogging days and even though we’ve never met, I feel like if we did, we would just… get on, you know? 

I loved what Lyzi said about this sketch and that she likes to leave sketches unfinished. While I don’t draw myself, I so appreciate seeing other people’s art and I also love an unfinished or ‘work in progress’ sketch, it shows process and, as Lyzi says, it allows the viewer to use their imagination to fill in the gaps.


So let’s get on with the fiction and see what my imagination does with this prompt…

People Watching

Sat inside, facing the window, she lets her gaze settle on a woman sat on a table outside. The weather is bright, but cold. Everyone else is taking refuge inside the cosy coffee shop, warming their hands on hot drinks and tucking themselves into cushioned chairs. 

She’s sat on a less comfortable bar stool, but it means she gets to people watch out of the window while staying reasonably warm. Looking back again to the woman outside, she saw a look she hadn’t seen before. The woman’s hair was long, gently moving with every gust of wind. She had a thick woollen coat on, but no hat or gloves. 

Unlike most other solo cafe-goers, she wasn’t on her phone. She wasn’t reading, she wasn’t writing, she wasn’t doing… anything. Every now and then she’d pull her coffee up to her lips for a slow sip, but other than that, she was still.  

Something about this felt magical. People watching would often bring this kind of magic, and this is why she always opted for uncomfortable seating with a view. To witness other people’s moments of magical stillness, and to capture them.

Pulling out her sketchbook and pencil, she slowly drew lines across the page. She wanted to bottle the look of contentment that was plastered all over her face. 

Sipping her own coffee, she kept looking back to the woman to check she was getting it all. The flowing hair, the half-shut eyes, the delicate hands. In these moments, she felt her own kind of stillness – time lost all meaning, nothing else around her mattered. 

Before finishing the sketch, she stopped. She realised she could never complete this sketch, because she could never fully know the woman outside. Why was she sitting outside? What was she thinking about that made her so happy? How does she like to take her coffee? What was she going to do after the coffee? What are her struggles and dreams?

The glass between them was a barrier of sorts. Separating their experiences, but allowing each other to take a peek from afar. 

The woman outside got up and walked off. To do what, who knows. But with that, the unfinished sketch was complete (well, as complete as it will ever be) and it was time to put the sketchbook away and go back to work. As she stood up from her bar stool and realised her bum was completely numb, she let out a happy sigh. 

I used to people watch a lot when I worked at a shoe shop in Southampton. It was a tiny shop that, during the week, was very quiet. Facing the entrance of the shop, perched behind the till, I would often get lost thinking up stories about the people walking by. Maybe it’s a writer thing, or, probably, just a human thing. 

It reminds me of a brilliant illustration I saw recently by Hazel Mead which just highlights that you really have no idea what other people are going through. 

Where do you find yourself people watching? Anyone else out there making up stories of stranger’s lives? 

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Short story - people watching

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