I was at university today, sitting on one of the benches outside the library, just in front of the window of a café that’s in the library. I had a notepad out and was working on a stats problem.
A young guy and girl approached me and said “Excuse me sir, can we get you coffee?” (Who calls strangers “sir” in Australia? America, yes. But here?) I thought they must be… from the café trying to drum up business, so I asked. “No, we just noticed you working here and we wanted to buy you a coffee.” I was a bit perplexed. I wondered if I looked like I couldn’t afford a coffee. (I was wearing a pair of jeans that are a bit faded and had ink stains where a biro leaked in the right side pocket. Maybe I’m dressing too down-at-heel.)
There had been a TV show here in Australia recently that said the way to happiness included practicing random acts of kindness. I asked, “Are you doing random acts of kindness?” “We just want to buy you a coffee. What do you have?” I figured “What the hell – why not?” and said, “A latte.” They disappear. I wonder if once they get the coffee they’ll want to start talking about Jesus and I’ll be captive because I’ve accepted the coffee. They come back with a latte. Then we start talking. He looked vaguely familiar. It turns out she’s in the same calculus lectures as me, and he sits in just to be with her. She’s Ermina and he’s Tom. We start talking. They don’t want to talk about Jesus.
She tells me she’s born in Bosnia and her family fled to Germany when Yugoslavia disintegrated. We talk about her family’s life there and here. Her dad’s doing an economics degree at the same uni. Her family were Muslim, but she doesn’t wear the garb.
She tells me how after she was born, her mother tried to register her birth. The fighting had just started. For seven days, the officials at the registry office wouldn’t register her birth because they couldn’t agree on what to put on the heading of the certificate. Yugoslavia? The Republic of Bosnia? Or is it Bosnia and Herzegovina? But without a birth certificate the mother can’t get the daughter added to her passport, and they can’t get the child out to Germany.
Finally someone makes a decision on what the letterhead should read. Her birth certificate is now stored somewhere safe. If she loses it she may not get another. They’re just two likable twenty-somethings who were happy to have a conversation with a fifty-something. The world feels nicer today. After the next lecture, I must buy them a coffee.