June 22, 2020. 12:32PM. Downtown Durham, NC.
A Monday Afternoon.
“Would you like sushi rice or brown rice?” He asks me. I evaluate my options.
Today I celebrate. It’s the first day getting dressed in professional clothes in four months. I wear a white dress shirt, favorite dark blue sunrise earrings that I bought at a thrift shop in Portugal, and my absolute favorite blue dress pants. These are my lucky pants that I wear to every single interview or special event. We have spent the previous three years together. And this morning, I found $20 in one of the pockets.
Oh, I wear my mask too. “Sushi rice, please.” I smile. He can’t see my smile.
“Would you like to add avocado?” I pause. $1.50 for two small slices of avocado… I just… Wow. Do I tell him that I can buy an avocado for $0.89 up the street?
I feel the heat touch my neck as the door opens behind me. A man around 50 years old enters the restaurant. We make eye contact. He doesn’t remember me.
Five years ago, I sipped on an overpriced latte in downtown with friends. He approached and asked if we had any spare change so he could eat lunch.
Today, he wears a light gray shirt, now dark gray, covered in moisture. Sweat on his brow, unmasked, he leans forward and asks, “Excuse me. Do you have any cold water?”
The employees standing behind the corner hesitate. Shaking their heads, they say, “We don’t have any water, sorry.”
I see cups behind the counter.
I pause. The man says “thank you,” and turns towards the door.
“Wait.” I shout. “What would you like?”
Waving my hand towards the drink section, he joins me. “Take whatever you like. I’ve got it.”
He looks at me, surprised, and grabs an ice-cold Hawaiian fruit punch soda. I can’t blame him. Who prefers water over fruit punch?
He takes a sip, thanks me, and leaves.
No one behind the counter moves. No one in line acknowledges the interaction. No one blinks.
I finish ordering my lunch. At the counter, when the man asks me if I want anything else, I remind him to add the fruit punch to my order.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ll cover the fruit punch,” he says.
I pause. I adjust my mask and start to ask why the hell he didn’t just give the man cold water to begin with. Wasn’t tap water with ice better than nothing? Didn’t he know that it was 95 degrees outside? I start to point to the cups located behind the counter. I pause.
At the stoplight, I tap on my steering wheel. I realize that the restaurant had the option to give him cold water. They just deliberately chose not to.
What is to be said about someone who has and does not offer to those in need?
When I arrive at my apartment, I am no longer hungry.
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