A very short story about random encounters in a coffee shop

You’re sitting in Starbucks with a friend, just idly chatting about this and that; not anything in particular, just a conversation sparked off by a chance remark. Starbucks is full but that’s okay, you’re just passing the time of day and enjoying the chance to catch up with a friend.

Suddenly, a stranger comes and sits at your table with you.

“Start again,” he says. You look at him, not quite knowing what to make of either his sudden appearance or strange demand.

“From the beginning of your conversation. Start again,” he repeats.

Flummoxed, you repeat back the comment that sparked off the not exactly earth-shattering debate that the two of you were having.

“I just said that I thought Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off, and maybe Christine should have been the one to go.”

“Okay. Now, pick up exactly where you left off before I sat down.”

“But the conversation had moved on-”

“Doesn’t matter. Just go back to the last thing that you said.” You shrug, because you know it won’t make sense to him, but do it anyway because the guy seems just a bit, well, weird.

“Well, we’d moved on to talk about tablet computing and my friend here said she thought that the Nexus 7 was better value than the iPad Mini.”

“So you said, ‘Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off and that Christine should have been the one to go’ and then your friend said ‘the Nexus 7 is better value than the iPad Mini’.”

“Well yes, but that doesn’t make sense because you’re only hearing two points in the conversation that aren’t connected and–”

But it’s too late, because at that the strange stranger has already got up and left. It’s a puzzling interlude in your day, and you don’t really understand what the complete stranger picked up from that interaction. After a moment, you pick up the conversation and put the episode out of mind.

Five minutes later, the stranger comes back and sits at your table again, unbidden.

“Start again,” he says. You look at him, because now this is well past a joke and you have no idea what to make.

“From the beginning of your conversation. Start again,” he repeats. Shaking your head and assuming that this is all part of a bigger plan, you say exactly what you said before.

“I just said that I thought Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off, and maybe Christine should have been the one to go.”

“Okay. Now, pick up exactly where you left off before I sat down.”

“But I told you before, the conversation had moved on-”

“Doesn’t matter. Just go back to the last thing that you said.”

You sigh.

“She said to me that the ending of Lost wasn’t as disappointing as everyone made out.”

“So you said, ‘Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off and that Christine should have been the one to go’ and then your friend said that ‘the ending of Lost wasn’t as disappointing as everyone made out’.”

And once again, with no further explanation, the man disappeared.

You think about leaving the shop, but in the end your friend says that she’s peckish, so she orders another round of coffees and a couple of paninis. After the barista has brought over your food, you chat for a few more minutes.

Remember the part in Mr. Benn where the narrator would say, “and suddenly, the shopkeeper appeared”? In much the same fashion as that, the stranger appears at your table again.

“Start again,” he says. Now, this is getting a little annoying.

“From the beginning of your conversation. Start again,” he repeats. You have no idea what anyone is supposed to get out of this palaver.

“I just said that I thought Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off, and maybe Christine should have been the one to go.”

“Okay. Now, pick up exactly where you left off before I sat down.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, you’ve heard the start of this conversation three times, why would you want to see it again? And when you know the last thing that we said, how can you possibly draw any inference between that and the start of the conversation? And frankly, why do you even care about what we were saying?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just go back to the last thing that you said.”

You sigh again, a long drawn-out exhalation.

“My friend said, isn’t the conversation view in twitter just like having some random guy come up to you in a coffee shop, listen to the first thing you said, listen to the last thing you said, then disappear; only to keep doing the same thing over and over and over; to never get the middle, connecting points of the conversation; and how could anyone at twitter think we might enjoy or profit from that experience?”

In what way would you like to disagree with me?

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