Why do Cafes Induce Existensial Angst?

by Ghani Kunto

The smell of bread, just as it’s coming out of the oven; the tastefully arranged rows of raisin bun, croissant, and freshly baked short-bread cookies; the aroma of percolating coffee; the signage behind the counter, handwritten in chalk: all led me to promise myself, “I have to have come here for breakfast one of these days.”

Then just as quickly as the thought started to take root, it lost its footing and slipped into scrutiny.

It would’ve been a great place to have breakfast, no doubt about it.  It’d be a great place to just chill out too, at any time of the day.  The throng of fashionable customers alone would be reason enough come and just people-watch over a cappuccino.  The décor, the food, the service, the shoppers, were all so very chic.

Almost opulent.

This used to be the kind of place I’d after.  But, it wasn’t anymore.

The same feeling had crept up a few weeks back, when my friends and I went to a dining lounge nearby.  It was a weekend.  The place was packed with modish young men and women socializing over cocktail and martini.  The interior was a stylish juxtaposition between industrial-era machinery and custom-made deep-cushion sofas.  The music and lighting set the perfect mood for a night out overlooking the rooftops of Jakarta’s financial district.  If I had discovered this place a few years back, this could’ve been a new favorite haunting ground.  Yet, that night, something felt off.  All the exciting stimuli had turned insipid.

A part of me wanted to scream out loud.  It felt like I’ve a veil over me, preventing my senses from enjoying what life had to offer.  Perhaps, it was not a veil that covered me.  Rather, it was a shroud, wrapped loosely around me.  The taste, the sounds, the sights, the touch, the scent: all were becoming bland because they served no purpose to the dead.  But I didn’t want to give up this world yet!

Yet, another part of me welcomed this change.  This was the part of me that refused to be a slave to The Senses.  This was the part of me that knew: pleasing The Senses was parallel to imbibing an addictive substance, the kind that required a higher dosage each time, just to get the same kick.

Commercialism is the true opiate of the masses.

And so here I am, partly enlightened, yet still in the dark.  To just follow what pleases The Senses is to lose my true path, yet I still do not have the conviction that I’ve found my true path.

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