When observing humans, one is advised not to intervene in social dynamics lest it all goes wrong, but I’m not wired like that. Here’s a little story.
It’s a gorgeous summer evening and Cape Town is full of visitors – even our tree-house in Lakeside is full to bursting with good friends from Gauteng. They love seafood, so we choose a restaurant in Simonstown for dinner to score some great fish and catch a drive along the bay. It’s Valentine’s Day and all the tables are full as we raise our first glass of wine. Across from our loud, happy table a group of teens are seated: 6 girls, 3 boys and a set of parents. While we settle into our starters, the dynamic at the other table becomes apparent – there’s a definite pecking order amongst the girls: 3 A-listers, 2 giggling sycophants and 1 girl who is either being ignored or picked on. The parents are too busy trying to keep food-orders straight, the boys are dazzled by the A-listers and there’s nothing a stranger can do to help alleviate the misery of being a 16-year-old outsider.
We progress to the delicious main course and get into in our own celebration, but I can’t help noticing what’s happening over the way. As their food arrives, the A-listers get the boys involved in teasing the outsider and much is made of who did and didn’t get a Valentine. She eats, staring down into her plate, just treading water until whatever this is ends.
As our table sits back to contemplate the dessert menu, my friend Janine and I slip out for a cigarette on the sidewalk, and this is when it all changes. A young woman selling roses comes to the door and we conduct a little business before she heads in, passing from table to table doing a brisk trade on this, the night of roses. The table full of teens don’t buy any of the expensive blooms, but the seller selects a beautiful flower and hands it to the outsider: “It’s from an admirer,” she says, and then she’s gone.
It’s priceless. The outsider sits up straight, she scans the room, but we’re all wrapped in conversation (yeah, right) – there are other lovely kids at many of the tables and her eyes shine as she contemplates who it could be. The A-listers and their fans are also craning to figure out who it is, but the outsider just smiles into her soda and it’s incredible to see a social dynamic change right before our eyes. By the time we pay the bill and get up to leave, all the kids at the table are talking to each other, including the outsider.