by John Humpal
Some people are like this: they have nowhere to go. They wander in, order a coffee or tea, wander out. They'll be back. In an hour or two, or maybe the next day, they come back for more coffee, more tea. These people bring things: their keys, thin nylon wallets or a coin purse, shopping bags, a cane, wool caps, bifocals, an umbrella. They carry only as much as they need, or as much as they can manage. Most drink coffee or tea and that is all they do. Their eyes fix on a table, the floor, a window. Some are -- not yet old, not doddering. Others are not old at all. Though they have names, we know them only by what they buy, or what they bring.
One brings news: his son. Always, when this one has news, it is of his son. His boy is in college, he says, in Arizona. He makes the Dean's list. The son was in a terrible accident -- you may have heard about it: the only survivor of a plane crash in Glen Canyon. When we tell the father how lucky he is, he only squints at us. You call that luck? he says. He has not seen his son, he tells us, in eight years. Or is it nine? He says this without a trace of anger or regret. The sorrow is in the telling; we understand this. Sometimes, he takes his tea at a table and says nothing: he has no news. Other times, he drinks his tea in his car, parked at the curb outside our shop. Then he comes back. Then he goes. He either has news or he hasn't.
Another one brings great weight: we regret the need to be blunt, but she is very fat She drinks coffee and orders a plain bagel with butter and raspberry jam. If we have no plain bagels, she eats nothing. She never complains. Both arms on the counter, head in hands, she fills her cheeks with our air, then sighs. Coffee please, she says, and a plain bagel. She never complains, but cants her hips as she shifts her weight from foot to foot, and her elbows hold her up while she waits for her bagel and coffee.
A daughter is brought by one. We assume it is a daughter, for the two look so much alike. The daughter is astonishingly beautiful. The mother must have been astonishingly beautiful once, too, but her features have pulled in, hardened and sharpened. The daughter orders for both of them. She speaks in a low voice, quietly, and with an accent. We guess where she is from -- Athens, Turin, Beirut, Ankara. She is exotic, and astonishingly beautiful. They buy small cappuccinos and ruggelach. The mother gives money to the daughter, and they sit at one of the smaller tables. Not a word passes between them, but their dark eyes often meet. The mother leaves first. Alone, the daughter sips her cappuccino and darts glances around the room. She seems very curious about her surroundings. When she finishes, everyone watches her go.
There are many more of these people. Some bring medication. Lunatics enter -- walking, dancing, singing, shuffling, laughing, howling, skipping, at the very least smiling -- but after a few minutes in one of our bathrooms, emerge as calm as martyrs. Others bring a friend and drink nothing but water, which costs nothing. Another one brings great love for someone who has vanished without a trace. This one, over by the dirty dishes, hides murderous desire in his knapsack, and yet another brings an all-consuming jealousy. That one, the one who is still young, brings his loneliness folded into a money clip. He carries it in his breast pocket, near his heart. He -- they always come in, and they always come back, and they bring whatever they need or whatever they can manage. They all -- even we, who never leave this place -- bring whatever they must.