Chapter 29- Wanderlust Cafe

In an inner suburb of Auckland, opposite a tree-lined park, was a rather shabby old two storey building, slowly being revived. Outside it looked very rustic, the faded paint was pealing in large patches, some of which the render too was coming away, giving it the appearance of something out of an ancient Mediterranean village. But its bones were solid. It was the home of the ‘Wanderlust Cafe’ and its ever growing family. What had originally begun as a small cafe had evolved into a thriving eco-friendly business. Jordan  and Gabriella first opened the doors of Wanderlust Cafe three years ago, and in such short time, they had developed a multiple stream of income business. Initially, the cafe was to offer work opportunities and a meal for those who had been living on the street, regardless of age, race or gender. Very quickly, it had evolved into also offering accommodation, had created furnishings for the cafe and accommodation from repurposed bits and pieces, developed an edible garden in the courtyard out the back, combining this with outdoor dining, a meditation/yoga room, and space for workshops. Within this time, they proved just how much fruit can be produced from one single tree. In the large walled gardens they produced most of the fresh fruit and vegetables for the menu, what began simply as garnish for the meals, now provided most salad greens, trellis tomatoes, and herbs, in season berries and a single lemon tree. In the water feature grew cress and provided a home for some koi fish. They had since purchased 10 acres of land and their home a half hours drive north of Auckland near Dairy Flat, where a team were working with the second season of large quantities of organic vegetables and fruit. This provided adequately for the Cafe and beyond, contributing the overflow to charities who also provided free meal kitchens for the Street Folk.

Gabriella and Jordan met whilst WWOOF-ing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in Australia, gaining experience for a dream they shared, first as individuals and then after they met and realised the similarities in their visions, it manifested and evolved very quickly for them. Gabriella had grown up in Porto Ricco, her parents were organic coffee and cacao farmers. She had obtained a University Degree in Social Welfare and studied Spiritual and Herbal Medicine  (her grandfather was the local shaman). Jordan’s family lived on a hippy commune in California. He was third generation on that property which he had affectionately nicknamed ‘Wanderlust’ after the movie with Jennifer Anniston, Paul Rudd and Alan Alda.

Every Sunday night the Cafe was closed to the public and open only for people in need of a feed and some company, who were living on the streets – the ‘Street Folk’ Gabriella called them. She and Jordan wanted to share with these people the experience of good food, a safe place to hang out and good wholesome conversations. Jordan was much more hands on, having learnt age old traditional crafts of wood work, joinery, design and repurposing from his grandfather. It was his vision of the interior of the building and his skills which had produced an inspiring, quirky, interesting living and working environment. Gabriella had a natural knack for garden design and companion planting. She had travelled through India studying yoga and organic farming prior to meeting Jordan on an organic farm near Byron Bay in Australia, which was a part of the Willing Workers On Organic Farms.

Three years later, they were creating and nurturing an organic community, a revival of the 1970’s revolution some called The Hippy Movement. They ran philosophy dinners once a month, meditation and yoga classes and wished to expand into art and life drawing classes in the evenings. There was also a mothers group which ran simultaneously with a Gathering of The Elders morning tea for senior citizens. The combination created magic and the sharing of wisdom for the young mums, also providing a connection with children for the older folk. There was an abundance of skills, ideas, willing people and money to provide for them all. Unlike the ’70’s where capitalism was shunned, this next generation embraced money, seeing it as an energy, an exchange which flowed in and out of the cafe providing opportunities for them all.

They had decided to call the Cafe ‘Wanderlust’, embracing an evolution of the old Hippy Era. The music played in The Cafe was of a mixture of retro and new local talent of present day musicians. On Sundays at lunchtime they had a family jam session with ‘open mic’ for all ages. Gabriella and Jordan were dreamers who dared to dream big and get things happening, creating change and opportunity for themselves and others. The ripple effect was contagious. Molly and Will both fell in love with the Cafe and the people they met there during their stay upstairs in the accommodation above the cafe. In between interviews they would help out in the kitchen and gardens. Jordan had invited them to visit again on their way back through Auckland. He had asked Will for his help regarding  the refurbishing of the exterior facade of the Cafe. He wanted the building to be wrapped in a mural, providing a community project. Another community project he had in mind, and he had already met with the local council about, was to gain permission to use of the vacant block of land next door to develop a community garden.

Little did Molly and Will know just how easily they would become involved with this lifestyle, somewhat slightly distracted from the journey they had ahead of them, and the trip to the UK yet to come. It was so ease to love this ‘cosmic family’ and to be loved by them too. 

Having found their way relatively easily through the City, to the northern suburbs, Molly parked the car under the trees opposite ‘Wanderlust Cafe’. She and Will sat in the car contemplating their new “job”. The building was in need of repainting outside and the overgrown vacant land next door added to a rather unattractive feel. Out on the footpath, beneath the old shop windows were tables and chairs made from repurposed timber and interesting pieces. There were window boxes and large terracotta pots filled with herbs and bright, colourful flowers. Faint music and delicious smells wafted out of the open doors, enough to entice people inside beyond the initial appearance of the shabby exterior of the build. The side gate which lead around the back of the cafe providing easy wheelchair and pram access, was made from wrought iron in the shape of a peace sign. Rainbow coloured banners out the front twirled in the breeze and on the wall next to the front door, was an ‘Open’ sign cut in the shape of a large simple coffee cup, made from black painted ply wood, the art work done in chalk.

Walking into the Cafe, they were welcomed by a cheerful girl, her dreadlocked hair tied up with coloured threads into a bun, she had a pierced nose and eyebrow, and her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. As she served them coffee Molly noticed a tattoo on the inside of her wrist, which said, “Dream Big and Live it”. Molly noticed that all of the staff had the same tattoo. It was not until they had finished lunch that she called the waitress over and asked to see Jordan. She and Will had agreed to enjoy the experience and observe the staff, to remain anonymous initially. It was lovely to watch the synchronicity  of these beautiful souls playfully working together. The inside of the Cafe was such a contrast to its exterior. Polished timber floors created a nice backdrop for the freshly painted bright coloured walls, a white ceiling, wood trims and numerous pot plants in a variety of sizes. The tables and chairs were a selection of odd vintage collectables. The large windows of the shop front and the large glass bi-fold doors which opened out into the glazed conservatory and courtyard beyond, both flooded the centre of the open plan cafe with light, regardless of the weather outside.

Meeting Jordan was like catching up with an old friend. Relaxed, easy, chilled, happy, cheerful, infectiously so. He apologised that Gabriella was unable to join them as she was having a ‘chat’ with a new visitor, a young boy, and would catch up with them after. In the meantime  Jordan took them on a tour of ‘Wanderlust’, their baby. He took them up the carved timber stairs into the accommodation and the room where Will and Molly would be staying for the next two weeks. The bedroom over looked the gardens out the back of the building. All of the furniture had been built with repurposed products. The knobs on the up-cycled chest of drawers were handles off 30kg gas bottles. This room had a small ensuite, compact but practical. The floor was made of tumbled river stones, pressed into concrete, continued up the walls of the shower, which was over a bathtub. White painted corrugated iron lined the remaining walls, with shelves made from old waterski’s, stripped and vanished. The vanity was an old round copper tub, set into a wine barrel. The bed was created out of old pine pallets, sanded, stained and oiled. The bedside lamps were headlights off vintage cars, mounted on chrome pipes and the backs of old chromed side mirrors as the bases.

Molly and Will were amazed at what had been made here and not just in the room allocated for them – all six bedrooms had individually created furnishings.

“Hola!” Gabriella called up the stairs, her light footsteps silent on the usually creaky timber treads. She appeared in the room looking like an Amazonian Goddess, tall, dark complexion, large doe-like brown eyes framed with thick black eyelashes. Her long, blonde streaked dreadlocks were scooped up in a bun, several dreads hung down her back, having escaped the confines of the leather laces which lashed the others into place. Her presence seemed to fill the room with vibrant energy. After introducing herself, she said, “We’ll leave you to settle in, dinner will be at 6pm. Being Sunday, you’ll get thrown into the mix quickly – as you can hear, it’s Family Jam ’n’ Lunch,” Gabriella said as she opened the windows facing the courtyard and a young boys voice raised in volume. “Today the Cafe closes to the public at 3pm and we prepare dinner for “Feed Your Soul”. We feed those in need –  in need of a break, in need of company, in need of a hug, in need of somewhere to stay, in need of someone to talk to, or in need to just feel safe. Please join us at 6pm. Anything else you may need, ask anyone downstairs. Most of the other guest rooms are full so there will be people coming and going up here. It is Quiet Time from 10pm and everyone respects this. Except for Friday nights, just to warn you, they can be late ones, sometimes they roll on into breakfast. We have a rotating roster for the staff so that everyone gets to enjoy a Friday night for themselves once a month. Anyways…see you at dinner!” Gabriella took Jordan’s hand as they walked down the stairs together. Jordan’s smile was infectious , Molly and Will sat on the bed smiling at each other, a little lost for words. All Molly could say was ‘Wow!” Will laughed and pushed her backwards onto the bed and sat on top of her, playfully he tickled and kissed her. She wrapped her legs around his waist, relishing in a precious moment of being on their own. Somehow she felt they were going to be very busy… 

After unpacking what they needed from the car, Molly left Will in the bedroom to continue his phone call with Tom, and went downstairs to explore. The staff were still preparing the evening meal and the front doors of the cafe were closed. The tables had been arranged as one long dining table. Gabriella came out of the kitchen to meet Molly. “Can I help in any way?” Molly offered.

“Nope, not tonight, you are our guests. We’ll put you to  work tomorrow,” Gabriella teased. “But now I would like to show you around our edible garden,” she said, taking Molly by the hand and leading her through the floor-to-ceiling bifold doors into the glass walled conservatory. Lined with pot plants, this space was used for meditation and yoga early in the morning before the Cafe opened and sometimes in the evenings. During the day it was a indoor play space for kids and provided access to the outside eating area set amongst the walled garden. Even the brick walls of the courtyard were used as vertical gardens. Two cats played hide and seek amongst the flowers. Molly closed her eyes and enjoyed the energy of this tiny urban farm.

“Most of our salad ingredients are grown here, you know, herbs and salad greens and year round tomatoes, although in winter they are more of a garnish than an ingredient. The vines are grown in pots in the conservatory. The other veggies  are grown at our home which is about a half hours drive from here. We pick produce fresh each day and Chef creates the menu according to what we have available daily. Don’t you love the vibe here? I love when I can start my days doing yoga in this beautiful space. Hey Molly….I have a request of you. A little bird whispered in my ear that you do tarot readings,” Gabriella wrapped her arm around Molly’s waist and squeezed her. They did share a sense of knowing each other. “Go on…” suggested Molly.

“How would you feel about doing some readings for our guests tonight, you know, just to give them a little sense of direction and hope.”

Molly paused for a moment, closed her eyes and in her mind she quickly checked in with Grace. She saw Grace smiling back at her and took this as a ‘yes’.

“yeah that sounds like a cool thing to do. I’d love that!” Molly replied excitedly.

“Awesome! Well that’s your rent for the first week!” Gabriella playfully winked at her, but was serious too, “I am a business woman and believe strongly in fair exchange, that it creates a sense of value and self esteem.”

“I am so looking forward to writing your stories,” Molly added.

“Let’s make a space for you to do the readings in the Conservatory, we can pull the bifold closed,” Gabriella suggested, and together they moved in a table and chairs. Gabriella went to the shelves behind the coffee machine and selected a scented candle. “Sandalwood, Patchouli and Lime should do it. One of our ‘graduates’ makes these. Mandy lives by the beach now in a little cottage and makes them from a studio at the back of her house. There, nice! Now let’s get ready for dinner,” Gabriella said as she placed the candle on the table. 

Will joined Molly as she sat at the dinner table and together they watched a variety of people join them. Some were shy, some obviously regulars, some crying and distressed, some hugged Jordan and Gabriella like old friends. ‘Aah, so many stories!’ Molly thought, her writers mind spinning wildly with ideas. To one side of her sat a young boy, his hood pulled over his head concealing most of his face, painfully shy, he quietly ate his meal, savouring every mouthful. Gabriella came and stood behind him, gently squeezed his shoulders and said, “Let’s see that beautiful face of yours Simon,” she patted his arm, and continued moving around the table greeting her guests. Molly had seen  Gabriella talking with this boy earlier in the day, he was the one Jordan said  she was having a ‘chat’ with, and that this was his first dinner at  The Cafe. Molly felt his slightly tensed body relax a little, his face half hidden by the hood of his jersey, she saw a smile flickered across the corner of his lips as a pretty girl entered through the back door of The Cafe. Some of the guests were chatting excitedly about the subject of Tarot Readings. There was much interest in this and Molly did quite a lot that night, but one in particular was about to bring about a big surprise.

Maggie was 15 years old and had been living on the streets for the last four months. Escaping domestic violence, she felt guilty for leaving her little brother behind. But when her uncle took advantage of her against her will, she felt both ashamed and enraged. That was more than she could take, so Maggie packed her backpack, walked out the door and did not look back. She hitchhiked from Gisborne to Auckland, hoping to link up with an old school friend who had moved there last year. 

Unbeknown to her, her little brother had left home only several weeks after her, determined to find his sister. He had to work it out for himself because Maggie was not answering her phone. Simon was turning 13 and today was his birthday. But Maggie had not had any contact with him. She had removed the SIM card from her phone, wanting to remain uncontactable. Besides, she could not afford credit for it anyway. She was feeling incredibly guilty for slipping off the radar, but she needed to get away and have a fresh start. What came through in her reading with Molly, was that her brother had followed her and that he was physically close to her. So close, he was in the same town, possibly the same street, maybe the same building…and sitting at the same dining table! They both turned to look over Maggie’s shoulder at the remaining guests still picking at food around the table. They were chatting casually, relaxed and enjoying the comfort of good friends and a full belly. At the dinner table next to where Molly had been sitting, still with his hoodie pulled over his head, enjoying the last pieces of his dinner, and trying to be inconspicuous, sat Simon.

Molly touched Maggie’s hand and said, “Honey, your brother is closer than you think,” putting all the clues together and waiting for her to join the dots for herself. A sudden gust of wind blew open the front doors, whipping up the loose serviettes from the table and knocking over several unfinished glasses of wine. People giggled as it continued across the table and swept the hoodie back off the boys head, revealing Simon’s face. For a brief moment the lights in the room dimmed except for the one directly above him, illuminating his face.  At first Maggie did not recognise him, because he had shaved his head. As realisation set in, first a look of shock,  surprise and then delight lit up Maggie’s face as it registered that her little brother had actually been sharing dinner with her! His eyes connected with hers and filled with tears. He had been watching her all evening waiting for the right moment. Molly looked on has Maggie embraced her brother and she whispered, “Grace? Was that you?” A tiny whirlwind of leaves circled around her feet beneath the table, and Molly knew that Grace was involved with this somehow.

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