The giggle was what first captured my attention.
It was one of those rare (and therefore cherished) occasions when I was sitting by myself at a coffee shop enjoying a cappuccino and the last chapters of a delicious novel.
I was about to turn the page when I heard it. A low-pitched, girlish giggle. Expecting to see a couple of teenaged girls laughing over some mutual joke, I was taken aback to see instead two silver-haired old ladies. They were seated two tables away from me, their walking sticks leaning against their chairs, their heads bent over some magazine that they had apparently been flipping through. In itself, there was nothing unusual or particularly striking about the scene. Senior citizens whiling away their time in coffee shops in an attempt to fill an otherwise empty day is, indeed, one of the most common scenarios. A scenario that is barely registered by us members of younger generations as we whizz past on our daily roller-coaster journeys to the office or supermarket or kids’ sport commitments.
I watched in amusement as the old ladies first giggled quietly behind their lace handkerchiefs like two conspirators and then burst into loud guffaws over some joke that was understood by just them. One of them had tears of mirth rolling down her eyes, while the other was shaking her head from side to side as if to imply that the hilarity of it all was too much for her. It was the loveliest sight to behold. I giggled too. Something about the infectious giggling reminded me of my college years. With a dull pang of reminiscence, I remembered the afternoons spent in the college canteen, sharing a crowded bench with my girlfriends, doubled over with laughter at something completely inane and not even really funny. One giggle led to another and before long we were laughing hysterically, no longer even remembering or caring what exactly we were laughing about. I remembered sitting in stuffy lecture halls, trying to pay attention to the stern, droning voice of the lecturer and then inevitably catching the eye of a friend who would pull a funny face. This would lead, without doubt, to a helpless fit of the giggles, and then to a bout of hiccups and coughs as we tried in vain to stem the laughter. I remembered singing movie songs with friends, and then dissolving into the customary giggling, as one by one we sang off-key and mixed up the lyrics until we were singing a medley of four different songs, the original song now a distant memory.
As I continued to watch the silver haired ladies, my thoughts spun to a more recent memory….only a couple of weeks ago, my 16 year old daughter had invited a few friends home for a sleepover. After a couple of hours of playing board games and watching movie snippets, they had settled down to browsing through old photo albums. Some funny picture must have caught their eye. There was a moment’s silence. Then they all looked at each other, their glances connecting amazingly at the same instant and they all collapsed onto each other in a fit of hysterical laughter. They reminded me so much of my younger days and of my own tender friendships, that I lingered on near the room, reluctant to distance myself from the warm glow of their shared mirth. It was as though time had stood still and then slowly melted the years away. The images merged until I was no longer sure if it was my daughter I was watching or my own younger self all those years ago.
A tear splashed on my book, startling me out of my reverie. I was surprised to realise that my eyes had filled up. I wasn’t even sure what I was crying about. Just as all those years ago, my friends and I had not been sure what we were laughing about. The two old women before me had vanished by now, obviously having finished their meal and moved on to their next shared adventure while I had been engrossed in my memories. I sat back and reflected for a moment. Nothing really changes in female friendships, does it? A kindergarten child, a high school girl, a university student, a young wife, a tired mother, an ageing grandmother…….whatever the milestone we find ourselves at, the art of giggling is what unites each and every one of us.