Some days I think everyone has gone mad. Other days I know that it’s me. I will sit on the train, at the bus stop, in the cafe and I will look around at all the people. I watch them closely. I see them boiling and brewing, sipping and stirring, draining and milking and I will think to myself “what is so great about tea?”
This is what I’m thinking as I sit in my third floor cubicle on a cloudy and humid Wednesday morning. It’s my first day. My third job this year. I watch a woman waddle across the room towards me. She’s past forty and plump with a shit-eating grin plastered across her rosy cheeked face. I brace myself, waiting and waiting. My jaw is wired shut, my fists clenched in my lap. She stops in front of my desk, out of breath from the stroll across the office. She tells me her name is Diana. “Hi Diana” I say. She catches her breath and then chimes “cup of tea, love?” I feel my bottom lip start to shake, my knees go weak and I stammer out my rehearsed reply. “Well… I don’t… actually…erm… I don’t drink tea.” The synchronised clicking of mouses and the tapping of keyboards vanishes into thin air. The room falls silent, the only sound coming from the whirring of the photocopier. Diana turns to the room “Oooh, a joker!” She giggles behind her hand. A man at the back of the room removes his headphones to ask what’s up. He is shushed in to submission. The woman turns back to me. Eyes hopeful, fingers clasped. “Milk and sugar then, love?” she asks, her voice rising too much at the end of the sentence. The acrid, pungent smell of soggy teabags hits the inside of my nose. I can already hear the clink clink clink of metal against china. “I’m sorry” my voice shakes “but I don’t drink tea.”
Down in the street a light rain patters against the pavement. The small brown box filled with my belongings – a plant pot, a tub of hot chocolate and a picture frame – becomes soggy and damp. I didn’t put up a fight. They said I could leave quietly or be escorted off the premises. I think about heading home but it hasn’t been the same lately. Coming out to the parents wasn’t easy. “It hasn’t been easy” my mum always says. “Just so… unexpected” she repeats. “You were always such a … normal child” she told me some time around last Christmas. I’ll look over at my Dad, sipping from his mug of milky tea, but he never says a word anymore.
A young couple stride past me hand in hand, their free hands clutching paper cups full of steaming brown liquid. I think back to my last date. An older guy, we met online. A nice meal followed by a few drinks. We split the bill and then back to his place. He slid my jacket off my shoulders and caressed my neck with his soft lips. I felt his breath against my ear and that’s when he whispered the magic words. “Shall I put the kettle on?”
He didn’t take it well, but they never do, the men. The mothers are even worse. I’ve heard them all over the years.
“Have you tried it with milk?”
“Have you tried it with sugar?”
“Have you tried earl grey? Herbal tea? Green tea? Iced tea?”
“Well have you tried one of mine?”
Then, reaching the end of their tether, the big question always comes.
“But… what do you drink!?”
I will stare at them blankly, attempting to understand the crazed logic of tea drinkers. I have to tell them that yes, I am British. No, my mother didn’t drink during pregnancy. No, I wasn’t abused as a child. Yes, I’ve tried it with milk, sugar, honey, lemon and biscuits. Yes, I have tried it hot, cold, luke-warm, on a train, on a plane, in my house and with a mouse. Yes, I have tried it with my friends, on my own and on the phone. Then I will look at their faces, slack jawed and flabbergasted, as they try and comprehend my genuine disgust towards the nation’s favourite drink. Alas, I will tell them that I have tried everything, everything, and that I simply fucking hate tea.
Finally, I will sigh and resign myself to a life of loneliness. Forever dreaming of the day my hand meets another hand reaching for the last carton of juice at the snack table. Until then, I know I was born to be different. My biscuits will never know the joy of being dunked. While I will never know the joy of belonging.