I was sitting at a table facing my husband and the window behind him. The little restaurant gets all of it’s character from being in a turn of the century building. The nuance gets to stay because it makes patrons feel a little cultured. The place isn’t pretentious, but it has a flair of something that brings in the rumpled business man who likes taste more than stature, college boys having lunch with their mothers, and couples wanting to lunch in a place tucked away.
They crossed my line of vision as they walked down the sidewalk. He was young and a bit on the small side. His mechanic’s uniform was too blousy and new to have any street credit yet. Holding his hand was his young wife. She walked slightly taller and thicker than him. She was dressed a too hot for eighty-four degrees, like she worked in an office that was too cold and didn’t get a lot of business. They were just another couple grabbing an afternoon vacation, trying to feel a little human before they have to go back to jobs that just get them by.
I saw them walk in like they had never been here before. I was twisting my lemon slice into my water. I never can get all the juice out without getting it all over my hands. I don’t like to leave the lemon in my glass because I’m not sure how clean it is. If they slice the lemon too thin, it just gets mutilated and I need two or three to really give my water a little lemon bite. I sat smashing lemon bits against the bottom of my glass with my straw while the couple held my attention. It didn’t help that they were at my two o’clock, but there was something about the guy’s body language that made me watch.
He was looking around more with his eyes than with his head, like he didn’t want to be noticed, like he was feeling ‘less-than’. He was holding his own hands, now, and not hers. They were barely breathing, neither said a word. It was like they both felt they didn’t belong but wanted to see what would happen if they walked in. I think the door shutting behind them sealed their presence too tightly and he looked like he wanted to run. He had a dejected look from the moment they walked in, like he was expecting rejection, but he still stood there too afraid to move or make his presence known, but he held his head up. I liked their bravery, even though it wasn’t necessary.
Not a single person in there noticed them but me, and they became a piece of art while I listened to the sounds of glasses hitting wooden tables and forks scraping against ceramic. The low murmur of conversation wasn’t aware of the invisible battle of self-worth that followed them like dust from their road. Only two people were working in the front of the restaurant and both of them were waiters. They sat people as they came in, then waited on them once they were seated. Both were in the back when the couple came in.
The couple gave the world less than two minutes to undo a lifetime of struggle before they turned around and left. They walked in expecting to not fit in and I watched them fulfill their own prophecy. And I wondered, how many times have I done that?
They crossed my line of vision in reverse. A mechanic and his wife holding hands and walking without words. Both heavy with the rejection they brought with them.