The Waitrose café in Camden is not a glamourous little eatery – there are paper cups and bakery wrappers scattered all over the tables, and the arrangement of the seating means that everyone is more squashed together than is entirely comfortable, but they offer free coffee and it’s a perfect little spot for people-watching. Sitting there on a drizzly Tuesday over half term, I see old ladies huddled together as they put the world to rights, and Julian Clarey peruse the Easter eggs. It’s a place to sit and gather your thoughts, or brace yourself for the long walk back up Camden Road with bags of shopping, and it is here that I meet the lovely Daria.
I can feel Daria’s warmth before I even sit down. She is breaking all the conventions of London living by making small talk with the strangers either side of her, and they respond to her kindly, refreshed by her openness and optimism. She radiates positive energy, and strikes me as someone who notices and appreciates the small things. She makes comments about how lovely the staff are here in the café, and when the old gentleman next to her gets up to leave, she turns to me and says, “He’s 90! Can you believe it? Such a smart man, and so classy.”
Daria’s hair is cut into a neat shoulder-length bob and her skin is beautifully olive. Her clothes are smart and stylish, and I detect the slightest hint of a non-native accent in her otherwise perfect English. She tells me she is originally from Turkey and that she moved to the UK as a student to study at Birmingham University, which is where she met her ex-husband. They moved to London together twenty years ago and bought a flat near Camden Road.
It is the same flat that they are now trying to sell, with little luck, and with a lot of expense lost in estate agent and solicitors’ fees over the past couple of years. She clutches her coffee with both hands and closes her eyes for the briefest of moments, before unleashing what seems like the weight of the world from her shoulders.
“There’s so much going on,” she says. “It’s all a bit crazy at the minute.”
Since her divorce a couple of years ago, she and her ex-husband have been communicating through frosty emails and taking it in turns to stay in the house for ten days at a time. This is mainly as they have nowhere else to live, but also to take care of their cat, Jasper, who is old and frail and probably doesn’t have long left. Every ten days, Daria stays with her friend in Greenwich, or other close friends around London, whom she counts her lucky stars for.
She walks to Covent Garden every day, where she works in logistics for an events company. I smile and tell her that it must be fun, but she rolls her eyes and gives a faint laugh.
“It’s really not glamourous at all. It’s just corporate events – nothing exciting.”
She confesses that she doesn't really want to do it anymore and is considering what else might be out there for her, but she’s at a bit of a loss. Beneath the cloud of everything else, this feels like less of a priority, so she’ll stick with it for now.
“I just want to get rid of this house,” she says. “So we can both move on. I am completely broke. That’s why I’m here, drinking free coffee and using the Wi-Fi to catch up on emails and try to deal with estate agents.”
In a fluster, she keeps repeating that ‘there’s so much going on’, and I wonder if she’s alluding to more than the house and the divorce. And then she reveals something else that makes me want to give her a massive hug.
“My father died when I was young and I was a complete Daddy’s girl. Since then, my mother and I have never been close. She always provided for me. She made sure I ate my vegetables, and she bought me things that I needed, but she’s never shown an interest in me. She never asks me questions. She was never my… friend. Above everything else, I needed her to be my friend. I really need her to be there for me now.”
“She doesn’t agree with the divorce. She tells me I’m too old to meet someone else. She actually just called me, but I don’t have the energy to call her back. She is very traditional. It’s all just so… complicated.”
Ahhh, complicated. She needn’t have to say any more. I know about those relationships. The ones that don’t fit into neat little boxes, that don’t follow the same rule book as everyone else, the people who never got the memo about what they’re supposed to be doing, or how they’re supposed to behave, or what they’re supposed to say. They don’t make Hallmark cards to sum up those kinds of relationships. It’s hard to explain it to anyone who’s not in it. Sometimes there just aren’t the words. It’s all just too 'complicated'.
Daria does in fact have a new partner, an artist, whom she met on a dating site. He too has been through a separation, so he is supportive of her and empathises with the stress of it all.
“We’re taking it slowly,” she says sheepishly. “There’s no pressure or anything, it’s pretty relaxed. I think we both like it that way. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Amid all these worries, I ask her what she does to relax. With a wide smile and a deep breath, she tells me how much she loves to travel. The plus side of having friends around the world is that she can visit them for holidays.
“I don’t have any money to go anywhere at the moment. But hopefully one day soon. When….if….the house eventually sells!”
An hour easily goes by before we realise that time has flown and we actually have to go. We sat down as strangers, but are now saying goodbye with a tight and genuine embrace, and she thanks me over and over again for the chat and for being interested in her story.
A saying comes to mind as I wander home thinking about all that she'd told me: Be kind to the people you meet. Everyone is fighting their own battle - even the smiley, radiant beams of light like Daria. I really hope her luck changes. This lovely lady is certainly due some good karma soon.