Today was one of those “Barely get dressed” kind of days. Today was one of those “You gotta get out of the house” kind of days. Today was one of those “You can’t let the world drain you” kind of days. Today was a “Leggings off the floor, relatively clean T-shirt and closest sneakers” kinda day.
Today was gray and weight, dull and wet, but this book needs to be finished and I am notorious for letting doubt and insecurity hand me permission to quit things in the fourth quarter.
I didn’t have the strength for the extra 10 minutes to the library and certainly none for the half hour into D.C. for a proper café, so I chose the chain café just five minutes from my house.
The parking lot is filled with cars. Lunch rush is the wrong time to be anywhere. Just as I’m about to talk myself back into my driveway, a black Escalade pulls out of a space, a few feet from the entrance.
The universe is sick of my procrastinating ass, too.
As expected, the place is packed, the line to order stretches into the second set of double doors. I don’t know how many “Excuse mes” I tossed around before I made it all the way into the restaurant.
It’s all about outlets and windows. Today they can keep their windows. Staring into a soggy and dull parking lot was not going to help me.
All I need is an outlet.
Actually, the place was so crowded that all I need is a chair; the outlet can come later.
A group of three women, nursing smoothies and water, sitting and talking, are spread across two tables. Three of them, two Asian and one white. The older woman looks like one of the younger ones; I let my brain accept that they are mother and daughter. Anything to stop myself from obsessing. Sometimes all I need is an answer; it doesn’t have to be the right one.
I stand awkwardly in the middle of the aisle, shifting uncomfortably, my backpack making me feel all of 12 years old and the new kid in a crowded cafeteria. I’m hoping that they are only eating those smoothies and will be finished soon.
I start sending them a “You must leave now” message with my mind, and two men return carrying trays of food. My heart sinks momentarily until the younger Asian woman scoots over, allowing her “mother” and friend to slide in closer as well. The men sit down, leaving a nearby table free. There’s an outlet underneath.
I step quickly toward the table when I see him: this older man with a weary look on his face. That “I have to be back at work in 20 minutes. I need to sit down. The floor is fine” look on his face. When he catches my eye, I motion to my lovely outlet oasis. He nods a thank-you and sits down.
I step to the side and he shuffles a bit, deciding between the booth side and the chair. He settles on the booth and sits. You can almost hear him breathe a sigh of relief into his soup before he eats.
The group next to him doesn’t notice him. They’re too busy talking and laughing among themselves. He folds into his bowl; one false move and his entire face will be in his soup. I can see the steam leave beads of moisture on his nose. He looks up slowly and finds me watching him. I pretend that I’m staring off into space and fake a cough.
He eats quickly; I’m not sure how he even tastes the food. He moves from soup to sandwich in one fluid motion. He takes what feels like four bites and then lifts himself from the booth. He looks up and nods toward the table. I step toward the table and sit at the chair across from him. He grabs his tray and disappears around the corner.
The lunch rush has died down. There are only a few people milling about the cashiers, heads raised trying to decide between the Pick Two and the full meal, and if they Pick Two, which two? Soup and sandwich or salad and sandwich?
I don’t unpack my things just yet. I remember the gray and wet outside. Remember the tendency I have to quit things in the fourth quarter. Remember this inexplicable sadness tugging at my otherwise solid corners. Remember the names I vowed to forget. Remember how I need something to warm the center of me. Remember the man and his soup and his can’t-slow-down-to-enjoy-it.
I decide that work can wait for a few more minutes. But first soup. I will eat it slowly.