Love has always felt more accessible to me when it’s raining. Maybe it is from watching too many films where the protagonists are all over each other in a downpour. Perhaps the cold damp brings up a craving for warmth, a desire to share woolen blankets and kindles of kisses. To be more poetic, I could even confess how rain makes me acutely aware of being a vulnerable human, ultimately alone and exposed to the elements, with the only hope of shelter to be found in the arms of another. But for now, let’s just say rain is always good for a first date – you can make some small talk out of it.

To add one more item for a solid first date, I would say coffee is the perfect complement to rainy weather. If you ever try to combine the smell of rain and espresso, I’d like to think you might find something peculiarly earthy. It would be as if the roots of the earth and the drops of heaven have married themselves perfectly, their entanglement arriving with the most undeniable sense of home. I think it would be quite impossible for this aroma not to calm the nerves of a potential couple, or to not make introductions at least a little more soothing. Then again, I am a barista who has too much free time, so this may well be the fruit of boredom. Nonetheless, everytime I serve a customer on a drizzly morning I can’t help feeling like our transaction was a little more than monetary. There is something in the competing moistures of the air that is at least amicable if not some strange lingering of affection. Even the angry ones seem soothed by their coffee cup, caught off guard by the forgiving aroma that wafts through. In the quiet moments of the job I wonder who is in love and who is heartbroken, and if they know about the rain. I want to tell someone how the rain is magic, more magical than the sunshine, because it cleanses you of everything that ever got in your way. I want to chat about the coffee and how sometimes it is the only thing I can get up for, the only thing I want to hold. It is strange how these things condensate in my imagination, beads of thought carrying me far away from work. 

The Oxford coffee culture is, perhaps, not quite as romantic as I make it out to be. I see a lot of what I perceive as ‘stress coffees’: coffees that seem nervous to be drunk. They quiver in your hand and hope they’re enough to get you through your workload, but fear the moment when you find their caffeine to be suboptimal. The Pret on Cornmarket Street has scarred me with the amount of stress inside its walls, corners cramped with essay crises. I think if I had a date there we would both struggle to ignore the laptop lighting and keypad clicking, as well as the guilty feelings that we’re the only ones there not working. In fact, it is quite hard to find cafes in Oxford that don’t remind you of what you could be doing, or how you should be utilizing  the caffeine. Sometimes I wonder if, no matter how good the coffee, Oxford is just not the place to fall in love. Love takes time and slow movements, like spending a whole day just to trace the arch of the sun. It is hard not to feel like that is fantastically wasteful in Oxford, or at least a huge conflict of interest. Being a barista has allowed me to see the magic in coffee, but it has also made me see that I have been projecting a pipedream. It could be possible to fall in love here, now that I don’t have the work hanging over me, but I would have to somehow shake that feeling of guilt. I would have to know when a transformation occurs: when caffeinated flirtations are nothing more than a bad habit. 

The rain on the way home from work tastes light – I let it seep through my coffee lid and mingle with the earthy smell that I hope I haven’t completely exaggerated. All the way through town, past the RadCam and into Cowley, I try to hold onto this safe feeling and not let it get tainted by that Oxford guilt. I keep my brain fluid, holding on to the watered memories that tell me everything I am doing now is okay. I think about the first rain kiss I had and how it couldn’t have been a waste of time. Or the first time someone made me a coffee and added cinnamon, and did it matter that I didn’t care about studying just then? All these memories that feel like innocent childhood streams – is it bad I want to wade through them again? 

It is taking me a very long time to work out what is worth holding on to and what I should have let go of by now. I feel very suspended in my decision making, not knowing what I should be focusing on or how I should be using my time. I know full well I could be at least trying to fall in love whilst I am here, or if not that then starting revising, just to be on the safe side. But all I can do when I get home is make a coffee and write about doing neither. 

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