She always comes in here, right around this time (which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me).
And when she appears — she is impossible not to notice.
You can tell a lot by the way a person enters through the door. Some come in with certainty, as if they own the joint. Some have indeed been here before: They call out to the sleepy cashiers or the slightly baffled manager, and the rest of us are meant to take notice of the commotion they’ve created. Others slip in quietly: They tread their ground with no presumption; and I would like to think they spend their days causing the least amount of damage, in the world.
Local young couples come in here, to play out yet another day in the perseverance of their love. It’s them against the harsh world — together. Them — against us! And I don’t blame them: Togetherness — is hard enough. So, I watch them seeking refuge in each other’s company, because they still haven’t lost their love’s ability to hear — to receive each other — completely. They still haven’t taken the privilege of their intimacy for granted. Lucky kids!
Other times, this is the place for friends: buds and girlfriends, best friends. And they vent to each other about the little injustices in their relationships and lives; and expect alliances from the people at the other end of the table.
But she always comes in here alone, right around the same time. It is her voice that I hear first: It sounds like baby-talk that comes from a child who’s having a hard time growing up. I’ve often heard that voice from children with newly born siblings. They aren’t ready to share their parents’ love yet, and they still cannot comprehend where their self-importance has gone. So, they regress, even if only in their voices. And that’s exactly how she sounds.
Her clothes are simple, most likely begotten from a thrift store: A pair of loose jeans of no particular label and a long-sleeved crew neck sweater of pastel color. She wears thick, beige socks around her perpetually swollen ankles and a pair of nursing shoes. It’s not that she appears poor, just not well-off. And for that, the rest of the joint finds her at fault.
Or maybe, it’s her face: Something is not right with it. Her brown skin is deeply lined, although there is an overall puffiness on her cheekbones, forehead and neck; and under her eyes. The distance between her ears and chin has collapsed due to her absent teeth; so, she protrudes the lower jaw and smacks her lips a lot. The eyes are bulging and big, striking in the lightness of their hazel color. They make you lower your own gaze when confronted with hers. They are fully present, no matter how far and how long her mind appears to have been gone, by now.
“Can I sit here?” she’ll say, in that baby voice, asking for a group of girlfriends to move their purses from the chairs at the table she prefers.
That table is the worst! It’s right by the door, in the outer row, with the draft hitting her from both the outside and the overhead vents. When sitting there, there is no way she wouldn’t get in the way of people, coming over for their refills of coffee and water; and I’ve seen a few act discombobulated by her positioning. But she is sitting right by the door, as if already apologizing for not fitting in here. And before we notice — she will be gone.
The girls always act rushed when they move their bags, and they get uncomfortably silent once she finally sits down.
“Can I have some ice for my drink?” she’ll ask the Mexican fry cook, from behind the glass counter.
It’ll take a few tries to notice her: She is tiny, plus, she’s got that baby voice on her. And sometimes, if the kid at the fry station is new, he cannot understand her while he studies her face with embarrassment.
And I suspect it is her face: We all get stuck on it a little. Something is not right — with her face.
She’ll then sit down quietly and eat her meal so methodically she betrays her lack of family and money. Only the people that have known poverty eat like that. And I wish to apologize to her — for all of that pain and injustice; and for the shunned reactions of others. They think if something isn’t right with her face — something must be not right with her.
But her only fault, really — is the lack of beauty. She is not exotic, as retired youth has a chance to become. Neither is she dignified from the excess of money to take care of herself. She is simple, plain and just a little strange.
She comes and leaves alone; and while completely alone, she starts and finishes her meal.
One of these days, I shall strike up a conversation with her (but only if she’s willing to let go of her loneliness), and we’ll share a meal. And we may even share a silence.
Because she always comes in here, right around this time, alone; which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me.