By the time the afternoon of my first shift came, I was tired, emotionally, physically, mostly emotionally. And by the time he came in, my temper was short.
“Can I help you sir?” I said with a hint of annoyance.
The old man stared back at me and smacked the counter twice. Tap. Tap.
“Sir, are you having a heart attack?”
He smiled and shook his head. He smacked the counter two more times. Tap. Tap.
When he smiled at me, the wrinkles around his mouth pushed sacks of skin up to his bottom eyelashes and his white teeth were crooked. He was apparently happy to see me.
Suddenly a short plump woman wearing a vibrant purple jacket made her way around the man and put her hand on his forearm.
“Oh dear, you must be new. Two taps is the way he orders for us. Nicholas, here, cannot speak; surgery on this throat dear. I tell ya, if you are a smoker, so help me God I am going to climb over this counter and stop you myself. You aren’t a smoker, are you dear?”
“Oh, well that put my worry to rest. But what’s the matter dear? You look flushed. Are they working you too hard?” She leaned a little more over the counter and yelled into the back line. “Adam, I tell you all the time to stop working these young ones so hard. They get scared of working.” She rolled her eyes and reached over the counter. Her hand was weighted down with different sizes of rings and bangles. “Hold tight, baby doll. You look like a fighter.”
She smiled as she changed her gaze to interlock with the man. “I am sure, the reason we have been married so long is because we don’t talk to each other.” She laughed at her own joke. “How much do I owe you honey?”
Meet Nick and Karrie. She talked. He smiled and nodded.
They were the host and hostess to the morning crowd, spending their time going from table to table. Karrie mingled and gossiped. Nick followed her, sometimes holding her hand as she told stories of their children and grandchildren, promising to bring more pictures next time. Over time, I learned they had been married 68 years and had three kids and seven grand kids. “A life well lived,” is how Karrie described their adventures.
Although I loved interacting with Karrie, I identified with Nick’s slow and careful behaviors. The way he looked at Karrie, smiled as she filled the café with her laugh, the way he folded all his money into a golden money clip he kept in his right pocket, these were the details that sparked a question in me of where this man had been and what exactly would he have left to say.
One particular Sunday, it was raining. The café was empty as I occupied my time sweeping under tables. I heard the bell of the door ring behind me and when I looked over my shoulder, I saw Nick standing in the door frame. I rushed over to the counter.
His walk was slow. When he finally approached the register, I banged the counter twice as if to ask the question and smiled at him. He didn’t smile back and hit the counter once. Tap.
He avoided my gaze as he reached for the golden money clip.
“No, Nick you need two—”
The order had changed over night.