The clatter of plates and the chatter of voices, some raised to deafening, alcohol- induced levels, rang out as I walked in dripping and cursing under my breath.
“Good morning!”, I sing-song to all who can hear. The replies are irrelevant because I really don’t care all that much; it’s my nature to be cheery. Someone grumbles, “it’s not morning, it’s 10:00pm”, as though I need reminding or have somehow lost track of the fact that darkness equals nighttime. Nevertheless, my day has just started.
As the time clock whizzes, stamping out the beginning of one more brain-numbing shift, I wonder again how I got to be in this awful place, slinging hash and listening one more time to a table of revelers laugh their just-a-little-too-desperate laugh. I smile my cheeriest smile and repeat to yet another clever, drunken stranger, “if we served scotch here we’d BOTH be happy! Can I get you a coke or coffee instead?”. I clench my teeth as I listen to the wet, almost weepy laughter at my clever response, and desperately refrain from rolling my eyes.
Many clandestine eye-rolls later, I step outside for a smoke. Dirty Debbie is back, seeing if any of us have left a half-smoked butt in the ashtray or on the ground. I hand her the rest of my pack, “I have another”, and the to-go cup of coffee that I snuck outside, and I sit quietly next to her wishing I could ask her what brought her to her present state, I wonder if I have any extra winter clothes I can bring in for her tomorrow. We sit in comfortable silence instead. I know how she arrived, the bad-luck bus; slow enough to ponder wrong choices, but too quick to figure out a solution.
My co-worker picked me up to drive me to work on her day off, and handed me a container as we traveled the short distance to the restaurant. It was some home-made spaghetti she had made. It was still warm. The smell wafting steamy and rich, with spices and garlic, made my stomach growl as she spoke the next words.
“Debbie, you know, the homeless lady who sits outside, well she told me she gets chicken and rice at the shelter. She’s eaten it for three weeks in a row…I thought she might like something different. Would you give this to her if she shows up tonight?”
My throat choked and I felt ashamed for a second for thinking of my own hunger, “yes, I’ll guard it like a baby egg! I didn’t know you knew about her! Thank you!”
I don’t know what ever happened to Debbie when the restaurant closed. I hope she is well. My co-worker came down with bone cancer and had her lower leg amputated, I don’t know what ever happened to her after the restaurant closed either. I call her every now and then, I want to help, I want to always know her…she has my number. I still run into “the regulars” every so often, some are even my regulars now, and we lament the passing of our little place to go. I wonder if they know how much I care? I wonder if they know the restaurant was just us, feeding soul to each other.